Corey Feldman and Melissa Joan Hart were both among the biggest child stars of the late 1980s and early ’90s. They both got started in Hollywood at a very young age, appearing in commercials and TV shows before their age hit double digits. Feldman was a teen heartthrob in movies like License to Drive, and Hart’s portrayal of brainy oddball Clarissa on Nickelodeon’s Clarissa Explains It All became a generational touch-point. But offscreen, their lives couldn’t have been more different, as revealed in two candid autobiographies released this fall. The books are like mirror images, filled with many of the same names, the same young stars who populated the era’s entertainment—but one is light and funny, and the other filled with darkness and anger.
As suggested by the title of her book, Melissa Explains It All: Tales From My Abnormally Normal Life, Hart was able to stay grounded despite her precocious fame. In stark contrast to the next generation of preteen starlets, like Britney Spears and Amanda Bynes, Hart stayed out of the tabloids throughout her teen years, working steadily in movies and as the lead character on Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Her book offers little in the way of sordid revelations, aside from a few mild anecdotes about experimentation with drugs that aren’t too far from what most kids who’ve been to college could fess up to—though Paris Hilton probably wasn’t the one offering you the cocaine, a charge Hilton has denied. (Hart says she declined to partake). These days, Hart is still working steadily, headlining a TV series and raising three children. The most controversial thing she’s done in years is come out as a Republican prior to the 2012 election, a move that gained her as many new fans as detractors.
Feldman’s book, Coreyography, offers a much darker picture of what a life in the spotlight can do to a child. On the surface, he seemed to have it all, appearing in iconic movies like The Goonies and Stand By Me, hanging out with Michael Jackson (before that got weird), and being drooled over by girls in Tiger Beat. But it was all a façade: the stories of his troubled friendship with the late Corey Haim, his struggles with drugs and alcohol while still a teen, being sexually abused by a family friend—all are well-known and have become tabloid fodder. But hearing about it in Feldman’s own words makes it that much more sobering. “People always ask me about life after childhood stardom,” he writes. “What would I say to parents of children in the industry? My only advice, honestly, is to get these kids out of Hollywood and let them lead normal lives.”
So, what differentiated the two young stars? Why is Hart’s book ultimately a happy, life-affirming one, and why is Feldman’s so filled with sadness? The texts themselves offer some explanations, including the fact that Hart had very involved parents and a stable home life, while Feldman didn’t have much of a home life at all—his abusive mother was a drug addict and struggled with mental illness and his father viewed him as little more than a meal ticket (ultimately he emancipated himself from his dysfunctional clan at age 15, the $1 million he’d made by that point already spent by his parents).
But the harder truth might just be the fact that a Hollywood life carries as many risks as rewards—if not more. Hart found equilibrium and emerged on the other side. Despite years of clean living, Feldman still bears the scars of his past and struggles to rebuild his career.
After reading both books, I can’t imagine ever taking my daughter to an audition.
What’s your favorite books about Hollywood behind the scenes?