Ensconced at a British boarding school, the youngest daughter of English actor Sir John Mills and writer Mary Hayley Bell didn't learn she had won an Oscar until months after the awards were handed out. "My parents told me it had been given to me, and that it was a great honor," recalls Mills, who says she understands why her folks kept her from the ceremony. "They wanted me to lead as normal a life as possible. I think there was real concern that I might get hideously puffed up." Besides, in their acting family, explains sister Juliet Mills, 58 (Tabitha on NBC's Passions), "we didn't set too much stock in critics or awards." After her Oscar—an honorary one, for "outstanding juvenile performance"—Mills, 53, soared to greater fame playing twins in 1961's The Parent Trap. At 19, she shed her wholesome image by appearing nude in The Family Way, and later moved in with its director Roy Boulting, 32 years her senior, whom she wed in 1971. Their son Crispian, 27, is lead singer of the band Kula Shaker. Divorced in 1977, Mills also has a son, Jason, 23, with actor Leigh Lawson. She kept working on TV and in theater, and in three Parent Trap sequels. Last month she made her New York City stage debut in Noel Coward's Suite in 2 Keys. As for her Oscar, which she claims has been misplaced, Mills says, "the older I got, the more I appreciated it."
Justin Henry 1979
Talk about beginner's luck. Justin Henry had no acting experience when he auditioned for the role of Billy, the son Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep battle over in 1979's Kramer vs. Kramer. Spotted in his second-grade classroom in Rye, N.Y., by a casting director, Henry beat out 900 boys for the part. "I just imitated Dustin," he recalls. "I didn't know who he was, but we got along like peas and carrots." Mom Michele remembers another of her son's acting tricks: "I asked how he could cry on cue, and he said he would think about something bad happening to our golden retriever Chipper." But Henry was all smiles as a Best Supporting Actor nominee at the Oscars ceremony in 1980. He remembers a preshow luncheon where ailing actor Melvyn Douglas, then 79, sat him on his lap in his wheelchair and said, " 'Kid, I'm old and I'm dying. They're going to give it to me.' " (They did, for Being There.) After a few more roles (1984's Sixteen Candles, 1988's Sweet Hearts Dance), Henry says he decided to "bow out for a while and be normal." He enrolled at Skidmore College and, after graduating in 1993, returned to acting (mainly in TV guest spots and indie films). "I ran into Dustin last year," says Henry, who lives alone in Venice, Calif. "And he was like, 'You've grown up into a person!' "
Margaret O'Brien 1944, 1945
Eight-year-old Margaret O'Brien knew in advance that she would receive a special Oscar in 1945 for the four films she'd made the previous year, but it didn't dampen her enthusiasm when the big moment came. "My mother wrote my speech, which I forgot," O'Brien, now 63, says. "I was so excited about meeting [emcee] Bob Hope. I said, 'Oh, Mr. Hope, it's so wonderful to see you...and thank you for my Oscar.' I said that last part, 'thank you,' really fast." Fellow MGM star Ann Miller, now 76, says about her friend's prize, "We were thrilled. It was a great honor for someone in the MGM gang to win." Four years later, O'Brien costarred in Little Women with Elizabeth Taylor and played the lead in The Secret Garden, both in 1949. As an adult she worked on TV shows including Love, American Style and Murder, She Wrote. Separated from her second husband, O'Brien, who has a 21-year-old daughter, is now an active fund-raiser for AIDS charities. She says it's still a treat to hold her Oscar—and for good reason. The statue disappeared from her former home in Beverly Hills in 1954. "A maid left and took it with her," she says. It turned up 41 years later at a flea market. The Academy arranged its return. "The poor thing has been through a lot," says O'Brien, who was represented with the award in 1995. "I thought I'd never see it again. I was so happy to get it back."
Jack Wild 1968, 1969
It's Hollywood's biggest honor, but Oliver!'s Jack Wild, nominated for the 1968 Best Supporting Actor award at 16, wasn't impressed. "I didn't even know an Oscar existed," says Wild, now 47. He was discovered in his working-class London neighborhood by talent agent June Collins while playing soccer with her future rock-star son, Phil. Soon after, Wild was cast in a London stage production of Oliver! and later in the movie. Although the Oscar went to Jack Albertson for The Subject Was Roses, Wild's newfound stardom earned him the lead in the TV series H.R. Pufnstuf, which helped make him a teen idol. "It went to his head," says Collins. "He didn't understand what fame was about, so he wasn't ready for it." Wild agrees: "I began to think I was God's gift to the world." In the early 1970s, work began to dry up, and as his money disappeared, Wild grew dispirited. His nine-year marriage to Gaynor Jones, a singer, ended in 1985. "My wife would worry whether she was coming home to someone dead on the sofa, in a coma or just drunk," he says. "The only time I left the house was to buy dog food and stock up on booze." In 1989, Wild went to a support-group meeting for alcoholics and says he has been sober ever since. By '91, he was back onscreen, in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and now works steadily in regional theater in England. "I'm only one step above somebody just starting out," he says. "But the Oscar nomination has to have some standing, even today."
Jackie Cooper 1931
"I was much more interested in not having to go to school that day than I was in the ceremony," recalls Jackie Cooper, 77, of his 1931 Oscar night, most of which he spent asleep on actress Marie Dressler's lap. His mother, Mabel, had promised to wake him if he won, but since Lionel Barrymore got the prize, for A Free Soul, the little boy kept dozing. One of Hollywood's most venerable performers, Cooper has appeared in more than 70 films, from the 1930s Our Gang comedies to the '80s Superman movies, in which he played crusty editor Perry White. He has directed dozens of TV shows, including episodes of M *A *S *H and Magnum, P.I., and in the 1960s he served as head of Screen Gems Television (where he cast a then-unknown Sally Field as Gidget). Despite his accomplishments, pal Robert Clary (Hogan's Heroes) insists, "He's not boastful. Jackie's one of the most unassuming people I know." Cooper, who says his even keel in a stormy business has been his wife of 46 years, Barbara, was delighted when, in 1985, the Academy presented him with a nomination certificate for Skippy. "They didn't have those things in 1931," he says. "And I was awake for this one."
Shirley Temple Black 1935
"Mom, can we go home now?" Those are unexpected words for a movie star to utter moments after being handed an Oscar, but in 1935 Shirley Temple wasn't just a movie star, she was a 6-year-old. "It was a long evening," recalls Black, who was honored for her work in several films, including the 1934 classic Little Miss Marker. "I passed the time by breaking rolls at our table and making pyramids from the crumbs." The big night was no big deal for the actress, says her former on-set tutor Frances Klamt Willis, because "there wasn't a lot of fussing about her at home." As the first child to receive an Oscar, Black was given a miniature statuette because "someone thought it would be clever," she says. (Until Patty Duke's win in 1963, all child winners got small Oscars.) Black retired from films in 1949, going on to raise three children and serve as U.S. ambassador to Ghana and, later, Czechoslovakia. But the Academy didn't forget her: In 1985 it honored Black with a full-size Oscar, which she keeps atop a piano in the Woodside, Calif., home she shares with her second husband, Charles Black. (The mini statue is locked away.) Her grown-up Oscar night, she says, "was one of the biggest thrills of my life."
Patty McCormack 1957
In 1956 a chilling character captivated movie audiences: The Bad Seed's adorable but murderous Rhoda Penmark. "It was such an oddity in the mid-'50s," says Patty McCormack, now 54, of the evil role. "After that, we leapt right into the Sandra Dee era." McCormack's star turn at age 10 (for which she thinks she earned $10,000) won her a Best Supporting Actress nod. When the nominations were read, McCormack recalls, "I heard my name, but I didn't expect to hear it again. [She didn't: Dorothy Malone won for Written on the Wind]. The best thing was it made people aware of me." McCormack, who began modeling at 4, has been a steady trouper for five decades, appearing in the national tour of Neil Simon's Rumors and in TV guest spots including Dallas, Baywatch and, most recently, The Sopranos and ER. But she remains loyal to fans of The Bad Seed, which has become a cult classic. Last year, she participated in a fund-raiser screening of the film in San Francisco. "I saw more guys with blond pigtails than I've ever seen in my life," she says. "It was amazing to see the passion people have for the film," adds her nephew Fred Cerullo, who accompanied her. Twice divorced, McCormack raised a son, Robert, now 30, and a daughter, Danielle, 29. "You're home a lot, so acting's not a bad profession for being a mom," says McCormack, who this month will become a first-time grandmother when Robert's wife gives birth. Looking back, she says The Bad Seed was nothing but good for her: "I know there are horror stories, but I can't connect anything I would feel bad about in my life with having been a child actor."
Mary Badham Wilt 1962
The memory of losing the Best Supporting Actress Oscar at age 10 for playing Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird rarely crosses Mary Badham Wilt's mind. (Patty Duke won for The Miracle Worker.) But what she was told later by a dean of Auburn University's veterinary program, that memory lingers. "He said I shouldn't even bother applying because I was a woman," says Wilt, 47. "I'm still disappointed. It was the only thing I ever really wanted to do." Today, Wilt administers the equine program at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Goochland, Va., and lives nearby with her husband, Dick, a computer science teacher at the school, and their two children. Though she made only one other film, 1966's This Property Is Condemned, Wilt maintains Hollywood ties to her brother, Saturday Night Fever director John Badham, 60, and to her Mockingbird costar Gregory Peck, named Best Actor for his work as a southern lawyer defending a black man accused of rape. "Our bond remains very close," says Peck, 84, adding that on the set, "Mary remembered her lines and everyone else's!"
Tatum O'Neal 1973, 1974
The tux "was her idea," says designer Nolan Miller of 10-year-old Tatum O'Neal's memorable outfit for the 1974 Oscars. "Her father was dating Bianca Jagger, who wore lots of suits. Tatum was in awe of her." And Hollywood soon became in awe of Tatum, the youngest person ever to win an Oscar in a competitive category. O'Neal, now 36, followed up her Best Supporting Actress award for Paper Moon with starring roles in 1976's The Bad News Bears and 1980's coming-of-age film Little Darlings. But offscreen, she was shuttled between her paternal grandparents and divorced parents (her mother, actress Joanna Moore, died of lung cancer in 1997) and educated by tutors on movie sets. "When Tatum was 19 or 20, she told me she wished she'd just gone to school and lived a normal life," says Paper Moon director Peter Bogdanovich. In 1986, she wed tennis star John McEnroe and settled in Manhattan. The couple split in 1992. Later, amid reports that she was abusing drugs, which she denied, O'Neal lost primary guardianship of their three children, Kevin, now 13, Sean, 12, and Emily, 8. O'Neal and McEnroe now share custody. Says her manager, Glenn Rigberg: "She wants to resume her acting career. Right now, she's reading scripts."
Linda Blair 1973, 1974
As devil incarnate Regan MacNeil in 1973's The Exorcist, Linda Blair levitated, and her head did a 360. At the Oscars the floating and spinning returned. "The whole night was a cloud because it was so exciting," says Blair, a Best Supporting Actress nominee. Out of some 600 girls who auditioned for the part, Exorcist writer and coproducer William Peter Blatty says Blair was chosen because "she was the most wholesome, healthy, cheerful and therefore least likely candidate for demonic possession." After The Exorcist, which has just been rereleased with unseen footage, Blair specialized in troubled-teen TV movies. Her own life became troubled as well: At 18, she was arrested on cocaine charges. She pleaded guilty to a lesser violation but maintained her innocence. Although Blair left the fast lane in the 1980s to train horses, she took on occasional movie work, such as 1981's Hell Night and 1990's Repossessed. Now 41, she uses her Exorcist fame to help animals, recently appearing in a public service ad stating, "Animal experiments make my head in spin." Despite long-term relationships with singer Rick Springfield and actor Wings Hauser, Blair remains single. She stays busy writing her autobiography and tending her small farm in L.A. county. "I do all the work myself," she says. "It keeps me grounded."