|Pretty Babies: An Insider's Look at the World of the Hollywood Child Star
by Andrea Darvi
McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 1983 (revised 1987)
210 pages, Photos, Index
Andrea Darvi is a former child actor, best remembered perhaps for playing little French girls on episodes of Combat! in the early 1960's. Apropos the title, evocative of the controversial Louis Malle film Pretty Baby (1978), this is a sensitive work about the business of making money from children.
More specifically, it is about the experiences child actors undergo and the effects on them of normal workday pressures in the entertainment industry. While the author draws on her own career for the principal narrative, she also uses interviews and personal anecdotes from many others, including Darlene Gillespie and Bobby Burgess.
Darvi makes it clear that the danger suggested by the title of her book, sexual abuse of minors, is extremely uncommon in show business. Instead, the most typical perils are psychological: the pressures of competitive auditions and inevitable rejections, the demands of performing to an adult timetable, the requirement to look like a child but act like a grownup on the set, and above all the necessity to appear younger as the dreaded age of thirteen approaches.
".... like most child actresses then and now, I was exploited, rejected, and subjected to work pressures that would have collapsed the composure of a thirty-year-old, much less a preteen. My ego, as well as my make-up, sometimes melted under studio lights, and my family relationships became strained and stormy. I started at six, was washed up by my early teens, and still cannot forget about the experience."
By the time she was thirteen, Andrea Darvi relates, she looked like an emaciated waif, so keenly did she feel the pressure to slip under the bar between parts for children versus teenage roles (often filled by immature-looking twenty-somethings). Few child actors are able to make the transition to teenage parts, unless they have a continuing role as a regular on a television series. The author's career was built around guest spots, and so dwindled away as she grew into a teenager.
The most fascinating parts of the book concern the bizarre network of stage mothers, child agents, and the like that enable the entertainment industry to continue to be the only legal employer of child labor in the United States.