The Hollywood machine loves a fresh-faced, button-nosed, apple-cheeked, sassy child performer. Once that precocious kid dares to grow up, however, the system is not kind.
The unfortunate trend is that for every well-adjusted former child star, there are two troubled Coreys. Behind them is a staggering rogues gallery of has-beens such as Lindsay Lohan, Dustin Diamond, and so on, with each of them doing one or more of the following: falling down drunk, overdosing on drugs, crashing a car, committing a crime and/or making a porno. Or they end up stuck in a purgatory of appearing in one reality TV show after another. At worst, their demons lead them to an early demise.
Happily, however, some child stars, such as Natalie Portman, Anna Paquin, and Leonardo DiCaprio, do transition smoothly into acclaimed adult acting careers. Others venture into different fields altogether.
We assembled a list of child stars that have moved on from acting (for the most part) to achieve success in other fields—a handful still in the entertainment world. Click ahead to see where they are now.
By Colleen Kane12 September 2011
Best known as: The adorable ragamuffin Punky Brewster in the 1980s TV sitcom of the same name.
What she’s been up to since then: At age 35, Frye is a self-styled "momtrepreneur"—she just released her parenting memoir "Happy Chaos," she’s Target’s Mommy Ambassador, and she has nearly 1.5 million followers on Twitter.
You can still catch her in: Frye voiced a character in the pilot and a few other episodes of the Jimmy Neutron spinoff cartoon, "Planet Sheen."
Best known as: Gordie Lachance in the 1986 film "Stand By Me."
What he’s been up to since then: In his 20s, Wil also became well-known as Wesley Crusher on the TV series "Star Trek: The Next Generation." Now 39, Wil is a writer of numerous books, such as "Just a Geek." He’s also a generally popular guy on the Internet, with his personal blog and his participation on forums such as Reddit and Slashdot.
You can still catch him in: Wil plays Dr. Isaac Parrish in the TV series "Eureka," and his voiceover work includes Robin in the "DC Universe Online" video game.
Best known as: The sunny, dimpled, sausage-curled, tap-dancing cutie of the "Good Ship Lollypop" is one of the original child stars.
What she’s been up to since then: The actress retired in 1950, though she made some appearances after that. She once sat on boards of corporations such as The Walt Disney Co., she ran for Congress, and she served as an ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She also wrote a best-selling memoir, "Child Star."
You can still catch her in: Now 83, and having worked since she was a tyke, we say Shirley Temple Black has earned a break from doing anything.
Best known as: Wise-cracking little sister Dee from the 1970s TV sitcom “What’s Happening!!” and the spinoff, “What’s Happening Now!”
What she’s been up to since then: Spencer, now 45, is a veterinarian.
You can still catch her in: Neither is very recent, but Spencer played a veterinarian in 1997’s "As Good as it Gets," as well as in a 2001 short called "Peter Rabbit and the Crucifix."
Best known as: Chunk from the 1985 kids’ adventure flick “The Goonies.”
What he’s been up to since then: Now 37, Cohen is a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer and a partner at Cohen Gardner. In 2008, the Hollywood Reporter named him one of the top 35 entertainment executives under 35. He also writes articles for Backstage, covering business and legal trends in the entertainment industry.
You can still catch him in: Cohen hasn’t acted since 1991, but he was known to do the Truffle Shuffle on the sidelines of games while an undergrad at University of California, Berkeley.
Best known as: In the 1960s, he became famous as the pint-sized redhead Opie Taylor from TV’s “The Andy Griffith Show,” and in the next decade he played Richie Cunningham in the TV sitcom “Happy Days.”
What he’s been up to since then: Now 64, he’s an accomplished director and producer, with recent producing titles including “Cowboys & Aliens,” “Restless,” and “The Dilemma.” Recent directing credits for upcoming films include “Under the Banner of Heaven” and “Rush.”
You can still catch him in: The voiceover narration of the promised “Arrested Development” movie. (Here’s hoping!)
Best known as: Kevin Arnold, young, all-American protagonist in the 1990s TV paean to 1970s childhood, “The Wonder Years.”
What he’s been up to since then: Now 35, Savage has directed the great TV comedies “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Party Down,” as well as episodes of “Franklin & Bash,” “Modern Family,” and many more.
You can still catch him in: The TV movie “Being Bin Laden” and voiceovers on the animated TV series “Generator Rex.”
Best known as: Winnie Cooper, Kevin Arnold’s prim temptress on the TV show “The Wonder Years.”
What she’s been up to since then: McKellar majored in math at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and she co-authored a paper on mathematical theorem. Now 36, she is the author of three best-selling books: “Math Doesn’t Suck,” “Kiss My Math,” and “Hot X: Algebra Exposed,” which encourage girls of different grade levels to get involved with math.
You can still catch her in: The in-production film “Mancation,” the animated series “Young Justice,” and, like former co-star Savage, she provides voiceovers on the animated series “Generator Rex.”
Best known as: The kookily clad individualist Blossom in the 1990s TV sitcom of the same name.
What she’s been up to since then: Oh, not too much. She only earned a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA after turning down Harvard and Yale universities. Now 35, Bialik is a mom, and, while not a neuroscientist, she plays one on TV.
You can still catch her in: “The Big Bang Theory” and the upcoming movie release “The Chicago 8.”
Best known as: In his role as Cousin Oliver from the 1970s big-happy-family sitcom, “The Brady Bunch,” his character pioneered the TV tactic of adding a cute little kid to a cast when the other kids were getting too old.
What he’s been up to since then: Now 47, Robbie is a pop musician and producer who has performed in hundreds of West Coast bands, one of the current ones being Your Favorite Trainwreck. Less recently, he supplied the voice of Michelangelo in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” film series.
You can still catch him in: The voiceover in the video games “Final Fantasy XIII” and “Terminator Salvation.”
Best known as: The Olsen twins rose to fame as infants, when they took turns playing little Michelle Tanner in the squeaky-clean 1990s TV family sitcom "Full House."
What they’ve been up to since then: Now 25, these two are pint-sized moguls. After "Full House," the pair became a brand that extended to albums, videos, books, movies, and a fashion line. In 2009, CBS put their escalating net worth at an estimated $40 million each.
You can still catch them in: They don’t really need to work ever again, but Mary-Kate has remained (slightly) more active in the entertainment industry than Ashley, with about one project a year—this year’s was the role of Kendra in the fairy tale update "Beastly."
Best known as: Ralphie, the kid who wanted nothing more than a Red Ryder carbine action BB gun, from the 1983 film "A Christmas Story."
What he’s been up to since then: Now 40, Billingsley directed the film "Couples Retreat," he executive produced "Four Christmases" and "Iron Man," as well as a stage musical production of "A Christmas Story."
You can still catch him in: Billingsley has made a few film cameos and had a small role in "Iron Man."
Honorable mention must be made for the 1970s-80s family drama "Little House on the Prairie." Despite the high percentage of young actors, its cast has fared particularly well in the decades since the program ended. Maybe it was the caring influence of lead actor Michael Landon, but whatever the reason, the show was practically an incubator for well-adjusted former child stars.
Still active in show business are "Little House" stars Melissa Gilbert (who played central character Laura Ingalls) and Jason Bateman (James Cooper Ingalls).
Achieving success in non-acting fields, we have CNBC’s own Melissa Francis, anchor of "The Call," who played Cassandra Cooper on the show. Pictured here is Allison Arngrim, who played mean girl Nellie Oleson. She recently released her memoir “Confessions of a Prairie Bitch,” and has worked as an AIDS activist and an advocate to prevent child abuse. Finally, Melissa Sue Anderson (Mary Ingalls) is a stay-at-home mom who released her own memoir of the Little House days last year: "The Way I See It: a Look Back at My Life on Little House."