Popular child stars from the year you were born
Child stars—whether gifted with a dimpled grin, soulful eyes, a contagious personality, or stellar acting chops—have captivated the public imagination since the invention of celluloid. From Depression Era darling Shirley Temple to the infectiously adorable Macaulay Culkin of “Home Alone” fame, these talented tykes routinely deliver box office gold, and they are some of Hollywood's most important players. They appear to lead charmed lives, graced with fortune, fame, and adoring fans. For some, success is full of adventure and limitless opportunity—but for many, fame brings punishing schedules, addiction, abuse, emotional breakdowns, and in a few instances, death.
Stacker sifted through movie databases, film histories, celebrity biographies, and digital archives to compile this list of popular pint-sized actors from 1919 through 2018. Only 100 Hollywood wunderkinds made the cut of the best child actors, singers, and performers of all time.
1919: Wesley “Freckles” Barry
Wesley Barry, one of Tinsel Town's first child stars, was famous for his freckled face. A Hollywood native, Barry started his show business career at just 7 years old, and by 1919 he had appeared in a dozen films. After outgrowing his boyish charm, Barry made the leap from the big screen to behind the scenes, carving out a successful career as a director and producer.
1920: Peggy Montgomery
Silent screen star “Baby” Peggy Montgomery made her Hollywood debut while still a toddler. By the age of 10, the expressive, dark-eyed Montgomery had dozens of films under her belt, out-earned her father, and lived in a Beverly Hills estate. With the arrival of both “talkies” and adulthood, Montgomery's star faded. By the 1960s, she had established a career as a journalist and published her first novel at the age of 99 in 2018.
1921: Jackie Coogan
Jackie Coogan hit the big time playing Charlie Chaplin's little buddy in the 1921 silent film “The Kid,” amassing an estimated fortune of $4 million before he was 10 years old. Money, however, didn't buy the talented child star happiness. In 1938, Coogan sued his mother and stepfather for squandering his earnings. Years later, Coogan made a triumphant return to the small screen, playing kooky Uncle Fester in the macabre 1960s sitcom “The Addams Family.”
1922: Coy Watson, Jr.
Coy Watson was born into a hardworking Hollywood family. His father, Coy Watson Sr., was a local cowboy who made a name for himself in early Westerns. Coy Jr. and his eight siblings followed their father into the business, with Coy Jr. earning the name “The Keystone Kid” for his numerous appearances in Sennett Studios' popular “Keystone Cops” series. Watson didn't make the transition to “talkies,” but he did forge a successful career as a photojournalist.
1923: Ernie Morrison
Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison is often called the first black child star. At the tender age of 3, Morrison landed his debut role in “The Soul of a Child.” A number of short films followed before he was cast as the oldest member of the legendary “Our Gang.” Morrison made 28 episodes of the classic series, raking in $10,000 per year—making him the highest paid black Hollywood actor at the time.
1924: Virginia Davis
Virginia Davis, Walt Disney's first silver screen star, shot to fame playing a character called Alice in a series of shorts inspired by Lewis Carroll's “Alice in Wonderland.” Predating Mickey Mouse by almost a decade, the spritely Davis propelled the young Disney out of bankruptcy in the early 1920s and went on to make over a dozen shorts in which she interacted with cartoon images.
1925: Bruce Guerin
Los Angeles native Bruce Guerin was the talented son of a former vaudeville dancer and the head of electrical effects on the Sennett lot. His doleful expression won him a contract with Warner Brothers and a role in legendary director Josef von Sternberg's masterpiece, “Salvation Hunters.” A musical prodigy, Guerin requested piano lessons when he was just 5 years old, and he eventually abandoned acting to pursue a career as a professional pianist.
1926: Arthur Trimble
1927: Lassie Lou Ahern
Lassie Lou Ahern made her screen debut when she was 3 years old in the 1923 adaptation of Jack London's “The Call of the Wild.” Recurring roles in the popular “Charley Chase” comedy shorts and “Helen Holmes" serials followed, rocketing Lassie to stardom. Her famous face could be found hawking everything from Sunkist oranges to her own clothing line. In 1927, she won the coveted role of Little Harry in “Uncle Tom's Cabin,” triumphing over hundreds of young boys. Ahern eventually abandoned her acting career and became a professional dancer, returning to acting in her later years with bit parts in television programs such as “The Odd Couple” and “Love American Style.”
1928: Lawrence David McKeen
Lawrence David McKeen, as Baby Snookums, lit up the silver screen while still in diapers. He starred in almost 40 “Newlyweds and Their Baby” shorts as both Snookums and, as he got older, Sunny Jim. The beloved child star, who had a candy bar named after him, died at the age of 8 from measles complications.2018 All rights reserved.