When Beckham, who played Wesley Owens, Belvedere's charge (and tormentor), for five years, showed up at former co-star Tracy ("Heather") Wells's wedding recently, he wasn't too surprised that few guests knew who he was, "A lot of people thought I was the groom," says the 23-year-old goateed actor. "They hadn't seen me in so long, they didn't recognize me." On the other hand, when Beckham is slated to go to events where he thinks he may be spotted, "I'm reluctant," he admits, because the show was "something I did so many years ago." When it began in '85, the hardest part of the job for the shy 9-year-old was making personal appearances. "It was awkward to be displayed like that," he remembers. But overall "the cast felt like a second family," and his five-year run "was a fantastic time in my life." It also set him up for life. Beckham, who belongs to the L.A. theater group Namaste, still has most of his Belvedere income and residuals from the show. "It's what I live off," he says. "I don't feel forced to take jobs I don't want."
James at 15
"Show business was a stressful thing for me," says Kerwin, 17 when his alter ego James turned 16 during the show's '77-78 run. "My heart wanted me to be good, but I smoked pot and got high," In '89 he was arrested for possession of crack cocaine. The charges were dropped when the substance proved to be nonnarcotic, but Kerwin, an AA vet, joined U-Turn for Christ, a church that provides nonmedical rehab and Bible study for addicts. Living in Perris, Calif., where he helps raise daughter Savannah, 5, Kerwin works with addicts at the church. As for a return to acting, "I'll work if it's a good show," he says. But "I'm loving life now."
Soleil Moon Frye
During her stint as freckle-faced street urchin Punky Brewster, if Frye wasn't running around the studio on her pogo stick she was probably playing hide-and-seek. "It was one of the most fun times in my life," says Frye, who was 8 when the show first aired in '84. "My mom always made sure I lived my life as a regular kid." Since Punky ended in '86, Frye, 22, who lives in Laurel Canyon with her independent-film-producer husband, Jason Goldberg, has done TV movies and been cast in two forthcoming films. "My fans grew up with me as Punky," she says, "but they'll follow me to the next thing."
Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman
After My Two Dads ended in '90 (he played Zach Nichols), "I wanted to get out of the business," says Allen, who had back-to-back gigs on Webster, Our House and St. Elsewhere. "I wanted to go on dates, play sports." But he was ready to return when the call came in '92 to play Jane Seymour's adopted son Matthew on Dr. Quinn. Allen, 24, who lives in L.A., where he works in theater and makes TV guest appearances, says Seymour was like a mother: "She watched me through some turbulent years."
Kate & Allie
A few years ago, Meyers, who played Susan Saint James's daughter Emma McArdle on Kate & Allie from '84 to '88, was in a nostalgic mood and returned to the theater where the show was taped. She found she couldn't go home again. The building is now the home of the Late Show with David Letterman, and the doorman wouldn't let her in. "I'm like, came here every day for five years,' " she says. "He was like, "Sorry.' He didn't believe me." Since graduating from Yale (her TV earnings paid the tuition) in '93, Meyers, now 29, has appeared in TV movies and written an unpublished, children's book, which Jeremy Irons recorded on tape. "I kept listening to the beginning over and over," she says. " 'By Ari Meyers.' 'By Ari Meyers.' " Although she has relocated to West L.A., Meyers credits her Manhattan upbringing with keeping her grounded. "It wasn't a very show business atmosphere," she says. These days, when she tunes into reruns, "it's like having moving baby pictures. You see yourself at different stages and go, 'Oh, God! hair was like that?' "
"Not that I would ever have one complaint," says Miller of his '85-'92 run as wisecracking Ben Seaver, "But there were a lot of things that I missed. Not going out with friends and not having a ton of time to do whatever I want" among them, Since the sitcom folded, Miller has been trying to play social catch-up. Returning to high school for his junior year, Miller was on the tennis team, "I finally got to devote two years to actually going to school," he says, "Being a normal kid for a little while was a lot of fun." Miller, 22, who lives in Burbank and attended the University of Southern California for a year, also took up skydiving. Now he hopes to re-launch his career. "I needed a break to get really passionate about acting again." But, "oh, man, I am so ready," says the actor, who's brushing up with some lessons. As for growing up on Pains, it was filled with pleasure, "For seven years we lived together, ate together, spent the night at each other's houses. I could get another series," he, says, "and it could never compare to that."
"It was comedy 24-7 on our set," she says of the eight years she played D.J. Tanner. Off the set was a different story. "It was weird for some kids at school to see me on TV at night and in science class the next morning," says Cameron (the sister of Growing Pains pinup Kirk), who was 11 when the show first aired in '87. "They'd write nasty things on my locker, and they'd pull my hair." On the plus side, she says, "a lot of people came up to me because I struggled with my weight. They liked me for not being a stick." Cameron and her husband, Calgary Flames hockey player Valeri Bure, divide their time between Alberta and L.A. Now taking a break from acting, she hopes that one day 7-month-old Natalya will watch the show: "It had so many good messages," she says.
Facts of Life
During rehearsals, Whelchel, who played spoiled rich girl Blair Warner from '79 to '88, "found the necessity to be crazy," she says. "It was really a stress-free environment." But working in California, "I only got home [to Texas] every three weeks. From the time I was 17, I lived with a roommate. I was away from my family." Now 35, Whelchel, who was tutored on the set to earn her high school diploma, is married to pastor Steven Cauble and home-schooling Tucker, 8, Haven, 7, and Clancy, 6, in Santa Clarita, Calif. The kids have seen Mom in reruns, "but the novelty runs out," she says, "and they'd rather be outside playing."
Jenna von Oÿ
Imagine being 13, buying your first bra—made of crimson lace—and having a little boy come up and ask for an autograph. "I just handed the bra to my mom, completely embarrassed," says von Oÿ, 21, who played Blossom's bubbly, boy-crazy bud Six Lemure from '91 to '95, Apart from that moment, she says, "I wouldn't change my experience for the world." When the show ended, von Oÿ enrolled in film school at the University of Southern California but quit after two years to get back into the biz. (She has scored TV guest shots and is the voice of Trinket on Disney's Pepper Ann cartoon.) The 5-foot dynamo is still recognized, most recently by hunky former costar Joey Lawrence. Sitting in a car in L.A. with her godchild, she heard "someone call out 'Jenna,'and it was Joey," says the unattached von Oÿ. "And I was like, 'This is not my child, and this is not a wedding ring.' "
One Day at a Time
At 19, Scarpelli took a chunk of the money he'd earned playing Alex Handris (the boy Bonnie Franklin, above left, took under her wing in '81) and bought a 57-foot yacht, which he named. Why Not? "People kept saying, 'Why are you buying such a big boat, and I'd say, 'Why not?' " Scarpelli says. "It was an amazing experience." So was his three-season stint on the highly rated sitcom. At 14, during his very first week on the set, rock star Eddie Van Halen walked in. Scarpelli ran to costar Valerie Bertinelli and said, "You'll never guess who's here," he recalls. "She looked at me and said, 'That's my new boyfriend.' " At the couple's '81 wedding "I realized I was in Hollywoodland. There were helicopters, and Val told my mother, 'David Lee Roth just went into the Jacuzzi. Don't let Glenn near there,' " Scarpelli, 32, majored in film at New York University. Though he'd like to return to acting, he opened a digital-editing and cassette-duplication business in L.A. in '94. "It's a nice foundation for myself," he says, "the acting business being the way it is."
"As a former sitcom kid you have one of two choices," says Price, who from age 14 to 21 played the Keatons' nerdy next-door neighbor Skippy Handelman. "You either rob a 7-Eleven and end up on the cover of the National Enquirer. Or, you go the Opie, Meathead, Laverne approach," says Price, referring to sitcom stars-turned-directors Ron Howard, Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall. For now, the 31-year-old, who got his start at age 7 swapping jokes with his comedian dad, Al Bernie, refines his stand-up act at clubs like the Comedy Store and is working on ideas for films and TV shows. An emancipated adult at 14, "I was in charge of my own money," says Price, who shrewdly invested the $20,000-plus he earned per episode: "I have the real estate." He shares his Laurel Canyon home with his dalmatian Tyler ("she's my girlfriend right now"). Price, who was educated on the set, didn't go to college, "but Skippy did," he says. "Anything I didn't get to do in life, I got to do on TV."
Keshia Knight Pulliam
The Cosby Show
Choosing a college was a no-brainer for the youngest member of Cosbys Huxtable clan. She wanted to go to Atlanta's all-female Spelman College, the model for Hillman, to which her TV sister Denise (Lisa Bonet) spun off in A Different World, "When I was little, we had actually taped on the campus," says Pulliam, 19 and a sophomore sociology major. "All of these beautiful, intelligent women were there. That was the only school I applied to early-decision." Pulliam, who from age 4 to 12 played Rudy Huxtable, can laugh now at the ribbing she took from her New Jersey middle school classmates who watched the Cosby episode where she got her period. "When you're that age," she says, "everything is embarrassing. But looking back, it's funny."
The Cosby Show
Warner, 28, was at an event recently where children kept calling him Malcolm. "This is great," he thought. "They're not calling me Theo [the character he played from 1984 to 1992 as the Huxtables' only son]. Then one of them asked, 'Is Malcolm your real name?' And I realized they knew me from Malcolm & Eddie," his '96 UPN sitcom. Now directing and the voice of the producer on PBS's animated The Magic School Bus, Warner (who lives in L.A.) says Cosby would have given him a hard time about the pierced tongue he currently sports. "But I had two earrings, a ponytail. He allowed me to do my thing."
My So-Called Life
"I never worried about being stereotyped, because I was so different from Rayanne," says Langer (above left, with Claire Danes
) of the party girl she played in the '94-'95 show that became a cult classic only after it went into reruns. The 24-year-old, who has appeared with Kurt Russell in Escape from L.A. and Pamela Anderson
in Baywatch, is glad her pace has been slow and steady. "If Life were to have blown up immediately, I wouldn't have become as good an actress," she says. "And I haven't had to deal with as much celebrity as some other kid stars." Longer, who says she's "totally single," shares an apartment in L.A. with her brother Kirk. Though she'll appear soon with Jennifer Grey in the highly hyped ABC series it's like, You Know..., she backpacked incognito last summer in Costa Rica. "I still have some privacy," she says, "I mean, in a Third World country there aren't that many TVs."
The Wonder Years
There were unshakable memories (getting her first kiss from costar Fred Savage at age 12) and plenty of recognition (one couple told her they were naming their daughter after her). But what means the most to McKellar, who played Wonder's Winnie Cooper from 1988 to 1993, is being a role model. Girls tell her that they're studying math because of her (McKellar posts math problems on her Web site), she says, and "I feel I'm helping them find a talent they didn't expect they had." Now 24, she graduated summa cum laude last June from UCLA, where she wrote her senior thesis on "Percolation and Gibbs State Multiplicity for Ferromagnetic Ashkin-Teller Models in Two Dimensions." Still, she set aside plans to pursue a Ph.D. to return to acting; she has appeared on Savage's sitcom Working. McKellar says her Wonder years had a downside. "It was hard to tell whether someone wanted to be a friend," she says, "or was kissing up."
Amy Brooks, Ulrica Wihlborg and Irene Zutell in Los Angeles
- Amy Brooks,
- Ulrica Wihlborg,
- Irene Zutell.