He is 59 years old, compact and trim, with sparse white hair. There is something about the eyes. When you hear the name, if you are old enough, it comes to you.
Dick Moore, the business card says.
Of course. Dickie Moore, one of the great child stars of the '30s. Dickie Moore, an actor at 11 months, an international celebrity at 5. Those huge brown eyes. You could never forget them.
Now owner of a New York public relations agency, Moore has written a book about the golden age of Hollywood child stars, "the satellites of Shirley Temple" he calls them, and how they lived. "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (But Don't Have Sex or Take the Car)" is no ghostwritten Hollywood puff. It is a strong, angry, funny book.
As you would expect from reading it, Moore is a strong person himself, able to look back at those days with anger and humor . . . and detachment.
He had to be strong. They all had to be, and some of them weren't.
Nearly all of these people, now in their fifties or sixties, or dead -- Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney, Jackie Cooper, Jackie Coogan, Natalie Wood, Jane Withers, Gloria Jean, Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor, Margaret O'Brien, Donald O'Connor, Jane Powell, Roddy McDowall, Ann Rutherford, Dean Stockwell, Matthew (Stymie) Beard -- had to build their lives over from scratch when they found themselves "over the hill at 8," has-beens at 10 or 12.
Nearly all of them went through several marriages, alcohol or drug problems, psychiatric treatment and depressingly similar chronicles of anguish before they could adjust to life as mere people.
Start with money.
Jackie Coogan earned $10 million, mostly tax-free. After his father died, his mother married his business manager and spent it. When he sued, the studio blackballed him. He eventually got about $80,000. The case resulted in the Coogan Law of 1939, designed to protect child stars but applicable only to those under long-term contract and thus virtually useless since the death of the studio system.
Peggy Ann Garner's mother got control of her trust fund despite the law; 20 years later, the former star was still paying off debts. She died just a few weeks ago, of cancer, at 58. Diana (Baby Peggy) Cary made $2 million in the '20s before she was 6, plus another $300,000 by age 9. Her parents "fought all their lives over me and my money. They spent a tremendous amount on houses and cars, Duesenbergs and Packards. My mother had fur coats and servants. They spent a lot on entertaining. They were young. Mother was 23, a small-town girl from Lancaster, Wisconsin. My father ran away from home at 13 and became a cowboy. They spent it all, and because they never apologized for spending it, I grew up trying to apologize for them."
Edith Fellows' mother left her at age 2 with a grandmother, showed up on her doorstep years later when she was famous. The court put her thousands in the Bank of America, with the grandmother on an allowance and various accountants and lawyers getting fees. When the ex-star finally could withdraw her life savings at 21, she got a check for $900.60.
Some, like Jane Powell and Roddy McDowall, just abandoned the whole mess to their greedy guardians. McDowall wanted to go to college, but "who was going to do the work? 'Of course, dear, you can do anything you want, but . . .' "
Very few of these children went to college, or even got much of a high school education. This, after hearing all their young lives that "we're putting all your money away for your education, dear." Moore went to college on the GI Bill, thankful that he had actually learned a skill writing for the Stars and Stripes in World War II.
"Someone has called us Hollywood's Okies," Moore said in a visit here. "It was the Depression, our parents had no jobs and no other resources. As Natalie Wood told me, all our careers were the products of our parents' unfulfilled dreams."
They came from Atlanta, Pittsburgh and points west, dazzled by the Shirley Temple phenomenon. The dream was all too simple: If your kid was a star, he or she could support you and the whole family, make you all rich -- you'd never have to work again. Mothers schlepped their toddlers and tykes from studio to studio, mobbed the casting calls, entered every child beauty contest around.
"If a kid was rejected, the mothers would change their dress and hairdo and send 'em through again. I saw it happen. I worked for organizations that produced shows. It's chilling."
It's still going on, too, Moore noted, with at least 30 children starring on current prime-time TV, not to mention the dozens, from infants on up, who appear in TV commercials for everything from diapers to hot dogs.
"I don't know what's happening to those kids or their money," he said. "I can't even make a guess. If I had a child that age I'd ask if he or she wanted to do this thing, and if we went ahead with it I'd put every penny that child earned into an account and I wouldn't touch it even for carfare. People say yes, but it costs money to finance a child's career. I say it costs money to raise children who don't work, too. Any child.
"I just don't think children should work for their parents. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear this kind of advice are not the ones who will listen."
As producer Gene Reynolds, another ex-child star, put it, "For every one of us that made it, there are hundreds who don't yet are still living with these same driven parents. It's probably even worse on them."
Jackie Cooper, now a director, refuses to work with child actors, Moore said. Jackie Coogan, also a showbiz veteran, told him that " 'there's nothing charming about children any more, and there isn't a child who can hold a picture together.' I think he's right up to a point.
"It was a special time. The Depression was a very important factor. These people were looking for simplifications to attach their fantasies to. Temple's career, irrespective of her enormous talent, was a creation of the Depression. It wasn't talkies that sent Gloria Swanson into a decline, it was the Depression, because people wanted Marie Dressler, Will Rogers, Shirley Temple -- not glamor figures, but ordinary plain folks."
Another factor, of course, was the studio system. "Between 1931 and 1934 I did 40 major films, not counting the Our Gang comedies. Roddy McDowall, the year he hit it in 'How Green Was My Valley,' starred in five different films. Nowadays it takes so long to make a picture that the authentic stars -- Tatum O'Neal, Drew Barrymore -- by the time they've done three pictures they're no longer children."
Moore managed to keep acting well into the '50s, making the transition to adolescent in his favorite film, "Sergeant York," as Gary Cooper's kid brother. He was no longer a star, but he was working. And his parents -- "very penurious people from poor hard-scrabble stock . . . frightened people" -- gave him a fairly normal childhood, without the wild extravagances of many of his peers.
When he finished a picture, his parents gave him a shiny new dime.
"They were too thrifty to send me to private school, so I went to public school, a very good experience. But my father at 93 today knows less about the motion picture business than any other man I have ever met." His mother, 87, is in a nursing home.
"I had learned how to do something -- I could edit a magazine, work on a newspaper. I wouldn't have known if I hadn't gone to college. Those who had the most trouble were those who didn't have money saved for them and those who were never encouraged to do anything else."
When Roddy McDowall broke away from his family at 21 and moved to New York, "he couldn't act, he had been told he was a star and didn't need to know anything. Acting skill? What was that? He didn't even know how to go into a department store and buy a necktie."
What is remarkable about these child stars is how many of them did make it into the outside world, Moore said. "We were all perfectionists, exceptional children, bright. Many of us loved the work when we were doing it. But everything was working against our growing up. They tried to hold us back, like they bound up Judy Garland's breasts for 'The Wizard of Oz.' When you have a lot of responsibility too early, sometimes you have trouble handling it when you get it later, as an adult."
As he writes, when you have to support your parents at age 6, the thrill of being a breadwinner may pall later.
Sexually, the child stars were remarkably inexperienced -- except for the irrepressible Mickey Rooney.
"Everybody thought we were swingers, sexing it up from morning till night. The first time I ever kissed a girl was when I gave Shirley Temple her first screen kiss in 'Miss Annie Rooney.' I was 16," Moore said.
Isolated, ignorant, yet constantly pushed into "dates" by the publicity people, most child stars grew up bewildered by the whole business of sex. Nearly all of them reported they were virgins when they married.
Today, Dick Moore says he has no interest in children on TV or film.
"I'm impatient, I don't empathize with them at all, they're just too cute and adorable for words. Doesn't it make you sick to your stomach?"
Researching his book, he saw some of his old pictures. "I didn't feel any connection with the kid on the screen, not at all. I did like 'Out of the Past,' which I did in '47 with Robert Mitchum, a small part. I didn't understand the plot. I still don't. But I liked Mitchum."
A grandfather now, the twice-divorced Moore spends a lot of time with Jane Powell, a survivor like himself. "Jane's children are 32, 31 and 28, so we don't have to get married for the kiddies' sake," he chuckled.
Neither his son nor his stepson is in show business. Liza Minnelli is the only child of all his peers who is an entertainer, as far as he knows.
"My son wanted to go into the theater. He was living in Honolulu, where his stepfather was a naval officer, and he said, 'Dad, with all your connections you could help me to be an actor. I want to be in, like, "Hawaii Five-O" and run on the beach with all those girls.'
"I said, 'Well, the first thing I suggest is, let's find you a good acting school. . . .'
"He said, 'Whaaa? . . .' "
So what does his son do now?
"He's a banker."