Meet David Hoffman, professional adorable child. Height: 53 inches. Weight: 63 pounds. Age: 6 to 9, according to his publicity stills.
Six through nine?
"It must mean that I'm 6 through 8 because I'm not even 9 yet," he said, sounding perplexed. "It might have been a misprint or something. I look like I'm 9."
David Hoffman is cute. So cute that he's made a lot of money as a child model. His mother won't say how much, but insiders say a few child models like David can make between $50,000 and $100,000 a year.
David Hoffman is one of about 25 children represented in the Washington area by the Erickson Agency, a McLean modeling firm that last winter added children aged 4 to 15 to its roster. The firm says it is fielding about 15 unsolicited calls a day from parents eager -- sometimes desperate -- to get their children into modeling or on a TV commercial.
The business appears to be booming. David Hoffman has hawked Minute Rice and Banquet Chicken, Crest toothpaste and Tropicana orange juice -- all with a splash of winsome freckles, a shock of red hair and cheeks round and red as August tomatoes.
His favorite television commercial featuring himself was a spot for Eastern Airlines touting flights to Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for Donald Duck's 50th anniversary. "I got to go to Florida," he explained.
The son of a businessman and a social worker, David said that he spends so much time in front of the cameras that he doesn't have enough time with his friends in Richmond, where he lives. "When you're shooting, it takes a long time," he said. "I had a dishwashing detergent that took 2 1/2 days."
The jobs haven't affected his schoolwork, and he said he's still able to lead the life of a "regular third grader."
Most often it is the parents who push children into modeling jobs. "They always say: 'Oh, my Johnny's a little ham, he likes all the commercials on TV. He's the life of the party.' Or, 'My daughter's so pretty. Everybody tells her she should model,' " said Tricia Erickson, a former model who founded the McLean agency three years ago.
Although Erickson said the Washington market for child models is expanding and said she is seeking more children, her patience for some aspects of the business -- specifically, mothers -- is wearing thin.
"I hate people who want to exploit their children for their own self-esteem," she said. "Why is it so important to be recognized, to have their kids' faces on the cover?"
"It's the mothers," said Will Bellais, president of Communications Associates in Rockville, which helps Erickson train child models. "The mothers see other kids on television and they say, 'My kid can do that.' That's where it all begins."
Erickson said three of every four inquiries to the children's division of her agency are at a parent's initiative. It's the child who is eager to get on television for whom Erickson keeps an eye out.
Hallie Untalan, 6, of Burke, was such a child. She pestered her mother Devon for weeks about learning to star in television commercials. Finally her mother took Hallie to Erickson.
And because Devon Untalan is a former New York model, she knew what her child was getting into. "To do the things that it requires to have a little professional in this business -- it's work," she said. "You're teaching them constantly. The hair. The makeup. The turns."
Although she said Hallie "could do anything she wants -- she's pretty adaptable, and she wants to do everything," insiders say that only about one child model in 100 makes it as big as David Hoffman.
"They can be gorgeous or cute, but if they have no discipline or training we will not touch them with a 10-foot pole," said Erickson. "I want professionalism. We're not in the business to enhance ego or self-esteem."
"There's a lot of rejection in the business," said Perry Hoffman, David's mother. "You might do 25 auditions and get one commercial. You just can't be the kind of child who gets upset about that."
Hallie Untalan, a first grader, said some friends tease her about being a model. "They're mean," she said. "I just ignore them."
Erickson said she rejects many children not because they don't seem right for the job, but because of their mothers. "We will not take stage mothers," she said. "We don't want any ultra-egos here."
While there are accepted conventions for adult beauty, standards for children are hazy. Personality -- particularly when it is telegenic -- can be the key to success.
Still, certain types are in demand. "I'm always looking for red-haired kids with freckles and lots of personality," said Erickson.
"Red hair is so in," agreed Mary Pat Sperry, a spokeswoman for Rascals Unlimited, one of New York's largest child-modeling firms. Spiegel, the large, Chicago-based mail-order concern, is doing a whole catalogue with redheads, she noted.
Although New York remains the center of the modeling world, Sperry said children can begin at agencies such as Erickson.
In the Washington area, Erickson arranges with two other companies to prep children who have never modeled but who seem to have potential. The children attend weekly, 90-minute sessions, at which they learn the basics: posture, eye contact and makeup.
It isn't cheap. Parents who want to get their children into modeling can expect to pay $800 to $900 the first year for training and promotional material, Erickson said.
How much children will make depends on what jobs they land, and they can be few and far between. In Washington, a child who makes $5,000 to $10,000 a year is considered a success.
A role in a TV commercial in the Washington market pays $400 to $500 for a standard 13-week run, Erickson said. If the ad plays in other markets or runs longer than the standard time, the fee mushrooms.
A child actor can, for instance, make between $2,000 and $3,000 a day for a commercial that is shown on national television, Erickson said.
Bellais, of Communications Associates, said child modeling attracts two types of families. "You've got the people who are on the edge of poverty," he said. "They're really not poor, but their only entertainment is television. We see a lot of those.
"We also see the middle class that's on the edge of being wealthy. The $60,000-a-year people. The father has a midlevel executive job. Fame is not the issue with them. Or money. I think they think it's a great experience for the kids."
Every agency has a story of parents whose expectations outstrip their children's talents.
"We never tell a kid they haven't got it," Bellais said. "You never really have to break the news. The parents just disappear. They drift away. And they drift away, unfortunately, with an anger that nobody has been up front with them."