From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
You don't even have to see Home Alone to know that Macaulay Culkin, its 10-year-old star, is adorable. Just look at the ads (and note, please, that he has top billing). Hands smushing his face, his mouth opened wide to a panicked O, he could make even Edvard Munch's The Scream look...adorable. Or check the reviews. "He may push more buttons with women than Mel Gibson," declared the Washington Post. Conclusion: "He's..." You guessed it. And then there are the through-the-snow-topped-roof grosses—$66.7 million in the first three weeks alone for the John Hughes Christmas comedy about an 8-year-old accidentally left behind while his family goes off on a vacation to Paris.

Seldom has someone so toothachingly adorable—both impish and heartwarming, as if the Little Prince had played hooky with Bart Simpson—had so much clout, and so suddenly. "Clearly, he is a hot property in town right now," says Jim Wiatt, the president of ICM, which represents Culkin. "He's the draw—people are going to see Macaulay. It's the same way people would go to see Robert Redford or Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger." And, adds Wiatt, "he's..." (Don't ask.)

"Every single studio in town is scrambling to make a deal with him," says Mindy Marin, an independent casting director. "Every network wants him too." Culkin—nicknamed Mac—was reportedly paid in the low six figures for Home Alone, but the film's success has sent his price soaring to an estimated $1 million for his next, not-yet-titled movie about a precocious kid who befriends a frightened, motherless girl next door. Imagine Films Entertainment's David Friendly, who'll produce that movie, caught a preview of Home Alone and promptly had a Mac attack. "We said after that screening, 'We have to have that kid!'" he recalls. "He had more presence than any child actor I can remember since Shirley Temple."

Meanwhile, the male Shirley Temple, veteran of six feature films (and nephew of Presumed Innocent's Bonnie Bedelia), doesn't even have his own bedroom. Macaulay Culkin lives in a four-room apartment on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He and six unforgettably named siblings—brothers Shane, 14, Kieran, 8, Christian, 3, and Rory, 17 months, and sisters Dakota, 12, and Quinn, 6—share one bedroom (each has designated bunks and shelves for toys). Elsewhere in the flat are dad Kit, a former New York City actor (and Bedelia's brother) who recently retired to handle Mac's career, and mom Pat. The star does need to withdraw to reflect on life and career but, not having a trailer, makes do with the bathroom. "I only stay in two to three minutes," he has said. "I can think pretty fast."

So far, he doesn't seem to mind the attention. He's gracious when people compliment him on how much they loved the movie, loved him, although one such interruption provoked him to grouse, "I need a ski mask!" And, after he played John Candy's nephew in Uncle Buck, a boy followed him home from school (he's currently in the fifth grade at a parochial school in New York). Was it true, the boy asked Macaulay, that he lived with Candy? "Yes," Mac answered, "he's upstairs microwaving my socks right now."

He and brother Kieran recently filmed cameos for another Candy movie, Only the Lonely. His other movies, all within the past three years, were Rocket Gibraltar, See You in the Morning, Born on the Fourth of July (he ended up on the cutting-room floor) and the current Jacob's Ladder.

Even though he finds himself now occupying a top rung as America's child star, Mac still likes skateboarding, professional wrestling and—like every American boy, regardless of cuteness—Bart Simpson. But acting is apparently as natural to a Culkin as, well, dimples were to Temple. Virtually all of his brothers and sisters have done theater or films. But it was Mac, with his uncommon kiddie charisma, who distinguished himself from the start. New York casting director Billy Hopkins, who first worked with Culkin in the 1987 stage comedy After School Special, says, "He is the perfect mini Dennis the Menace."

"He does have a mischievous streak," says Friendly, remembering a screen test with Culkin. "Every time [director] Howard Zieff would ask him to do something, he'd say, "Director, may I?' But then at the end he went around and thanked everybody—a real professional."

And a real rarity. "Some people get smaller on the screen," producer-writer Hughes has said. "Some just disappear. But this kid gets bigger, and I don't know why that is." Nor does Friendly expect many other kids to reach such Gulliver proportions. "A Macaulay Culkin doesn't come along very often," he says. "It would be a mistake to think there are a lot of 10-year-olds who can do what he does. And kids do change—Macaulay could be a different person a year or two from now. It's hard to predict how he will change, but he will change." What—not be adorable!? "Yes," Friendly says. "He could turn into a dweeb." But he doubts it, and Hopkins, who also cast Culkin in Buck and Ladder, compares him with Jodie Foster.

For now "Mac is what he is, a sort of goofy, charming kid," says Tom Jacobson, producer of Uncle Buck and production head of Home Alone. "Home Alone was a perfect idea with the perfect person—that's what creates movie stars." Once a star is created, of course, "people want to capture that magic and put it in a bottle," adds Jacobson. "Can that magic be captured again? We'll see."

—Tom Gliatto, Maria Eftimiades in New York City, Vickie Sheff in Los Angeles

  • Contributors:
  • Maria Eftimiades,
  • Vickie Sheff.