The history of child actors

if you find this topic interesting, which I hope you will, I urge you to read my post called My HISTORY of CHILD ACTING. (check back and this link will be live when it’s finished).

I will be detailing my childhood experiences that are mostly untold due to the vast amount of trauma I endured. Peggy Akin, my birth mother, had a dream she expected me to fulfill and in doing so, she not only stole my childhood, my money, but later in life, my son, and my adulthood.

Years before she and a child molester kidnapped my son, ruining my adult life, she robbed me of my 3 brothers and my father, stole my innocence and tainted and erased all the memories I might of had of a family.

All of this was against the law. She did not care and to this day, she shows no remorse. For that reason, I am not holding back.

In my opinion, Peggy Akin belongs in jail.

The history of Child Acting

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Cinema has played an integral role in society since its inception in the early 1900s.

With the development of motion picture film production, film has become a staple in society, reflecting current social and cultural attitudes of the time. The first child actor, Jackie Coogan, at the young age of seven appeared on film alongside Charlie Chaplin in The Kid in 1921.

Coogan’s success would come to make him “the youngest person in history to earn a million dollars.

Earning roughly four million dollars during his career, Coogan would come to only receive roughly two thousand dollars after his earnings were seized and spent by his mother and stepfather.

Having realized the extent of “Jackie-mania” that had engulfed the nation and the amount of money Coogan had generated in his career, Coogan sued his mother in 1938.

Coogan alleged that when he had confronted his mother about his missing wages, his mother had stated: “No promises were ever made to give Jackie anything. Every dollar a kid earns before he is twenty-one belongs to his parents.”

The court ultimately decided in Coogan’s favor, however Coogan would only come to recover a relatively “small portion of his earnings.”

In response to the atrocities experienced by Coogan, California would go on to pass the Coogan Law in 1939 in order to change California’s prior law allowing the parents sole ownership of the earnings of a minor.

“Such exploitation of child actors led to the California legislature passing the Coogan Act in 1939, which was intended to protect acting children’s assets.”

The Coogan Law, codified in the California Code, requires that a trust be established “for the purpose of preserving for the benefit of the minor the portion of the minor’s gross earnings.”

The code thereby “creates a fiduciary relationship between the parent and the child.”

Coogan’s Law mandates that the trustee “shall establish the trust pursuant to this section within seven business days after the minor’s contract is signed by the minor, the third–party individual or personal services corporation (loan–out company), and the employer.”

The Coogan Trust provides “no withdrawal by the beneficiary or any other individual, individuals, entity, or entities may be made of funds on deposit in trust without written order of the superior court.”

This provision remains in effect until the minor reaches the age of eighteen, and funds will only be released after providing “a certified copy of the beneficiary’s birth certificate to the financial institution where the trust is located.”

Although the Coogan Law aimed to prevent children’s wages from being wrongful consumed by the parents, the law only affected children performers in California and did not address any other issues besides issue of ownership of wages.

The Coogan law additionally did not discuss the potential conflict of interest that could potentially arise from the parent also being the trustee of the child’s trust.

Even with the plight of Coogan, that did not stop the influx of children actors that followed in his footsteps.

In the years following Coogan, Shirley Temple would break onto the Hollywood scene in the early 1930s. However, “before she made her big Hollywood debut in 1934, at the age of [five], she starred in ‘Baby Burlesks’, a very odd short film series that featured a bunch of toddlers in diapers acting out creepily grown-up plots.”

In her first speaking role in War Babies, three-year-old Temple stars as an “exotic dancer in a bar for soldiers, where she wiggles around in a little off-the-shoulder number, ogled by shirtless toddlers playing ‘army men’ with big safety pins in their diapers,” gaining her first onscreen kiss before the age of five.

(warning, some viewers might find this film disturbing)

Another film in the series, Polly Tix in Washington, features a four-year-old Temple “wearing a little bra and filing her nails when she gets a phone call from a top-hat wearing toddler telling her to go seduce a Senator to ‘get him to work.’

She walks in and greets the senator draped in pearls saying she’s been sent to ‘entertain’ him.”

(warning some viewers might find this film disturbing)

Temple garnished love from the public and politicians alike, with even President Franklin D. Roosevelt commenting on her impact on society.

The President expressed that Temple’s on screen presence was a necessity during the time of the Great Depression, going on to state:

“When the spirit of the people is lower than at any time during this Depression, it is a splendid thing that for just fifteen cents an American can go to a movie and look at the smiling face of a baby and forget his troubles.”

Shirley Temple’s rise to fame occurred during the time of the Great Depression, a time where society’s stance on child labor had shifted greatly. Motivating society, however, was mostly grounded in “the desire of of Americans in a period of high unemployment to open jobs held by children to adults.”

The President’s sentiments towards Temple and the cinematic industry would come to shape the implementation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Pressured by the public, President Roosevelt “sent Congress a special message proposing federal regulation to solve the problem of child labor, as well as set minimum wages and maximum work hours.”

However, President Roosevelt did not propose a uniform, national standard to encompass all areas of child labor, and instead specifically distinguished that certain differentiations would exist between different industries; one of these industries being children performers.

As a result of the message proposed by President Roosevelt, Congress would have to consider whether a total ban on child labor would be instituted or if, as the President suggested, it would be best for the federal government to regulate “oppressive” child labor and leave other areas of child labor to the discretion of the states.

One Representative would come to weigh in on the matter, by introducing “the exemption on the floor of Congress.” Representative Charles Paul Kramer stated:

The ability to perform in motion pictures requires an intellectual gift and quality, something which is born in the exceptional child. Not only the motion picture industry but the movie-going public would be denied much pleasure and enjoyment if children were barred from the screen. The old and young are delighted with the unassuming appeal of America’s little sweetheart, Shirley Temple. . .

These sentiments, mirroring the current public policy of the time, urged Congress to pass the so-called Shirley Temple Act.39 Congress would come to determine that child acting did not rise to the level of “oppressive child labor” and that child acting had a “positive contribution to the nation’s cultural and economic life”; thereby not arising to the level needed to require federal regulation.

However, that does not mean that everyone felt that child acting should be excluded from the Act’s provisions. “Robert H. Jackson of the Justice Department condemned the negative effect of child labor on national labor standards in that one state could subvert the nation’s labor standards by allowing child labor within its borders.

“Due to this exception from federal labor laws for child performers, states are left to draft their own statutes for regulating the treatment, protection, and experiences of child performers.”

Shirley Temple continued her career in the spotlight until the age of twenty-two, after a decline in her popularity.

Both Coogan and Temple rose to fame early in the development of the moving picture film industry and although both, and many others, experienced many issues, that did not stop others from following in their footsteps.

The Federal Labor Standards Act, although amended several times, still exempts children performers from its protections and leaves each state to dictate the rules and regulations the performers are bound by. Additionally, when the Act was developed there were certain technologies currently available now, that were unavailable at the time the Act was considered.

The biggest development since the introduction of the act is the widespread usage of the internet, where anyone can upload anything at any time.

This freedom to upload has led to a development in the amount of ways entertainment can be produced and distributed, while being compensated.

These areas of production are not covered by many state codes, including children actors performing on monetized social media platforms such as YouTube.

For more on this subject please visit the link below to read The Children of YouTube: How an Entertainment Industry Goes Around Child Labor Laws .

Guzman, J.D., Neyza (2020) “The Children of YouTube: How an Entertainment Industry Goes Around Child Labor Laws,” Child and Family Law Journal: Vol. 8 : Iss. 1 , Article 4.

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This Article is brought to you for free and open access by Digital Commons @ Barry Law. It has been accepted for inclusion in Child and Family Law Journal by an authorized editor of Digital Commons @ Barry Law.

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