Forever My Girl
Anna Chlumsky, Teen Angel
by Veronica Chambers
from Premiere March 1994
It's that Lolita thing. The way girl starts change into a woman, both
quickly and softly, like a piece of pottery being thrown at top spin. Anna
Chlumsky was just ten years old when her first movie, "My Girl" was shot.
Now she is thirteen - an age that might be less awkward for her than it's
been for the makers of "My Girl 2", who at the outset of filming hadn't seen
Anna in two (hormonically significant) years. As producer Brian Grazer
delicately puts it, "She's starting to have breasts and stuff you know what
Director Howard Zieff, who back in 1990 chose an unknown Anna over hundreds
of other little girls, is positively wistful on the subject. "She's much
more womanly now", he says "And she behaves like a woman: much more adult,
much more intelligent. In some ways I hated to see the child dissappear,
'cause she had a great appeal as a child. It's so startling to see this
woman's figure up on this little girl."
Today she strolls through the Art Institute of Chicago with her mother, Anna
Chlumsky looks like any other suburban girl. Dressed in an extra large
blue-and-coral sweater and jeans, she does seem substantially changed from
the little girl she played in "My Girl" - taller, less pixieish. She's
pretty but in that odd way that differentiates actresses from models, an
adolescent Juliette Lewis opposed to the junior high school Cindy Crawford.
At the age when psychologists say most girls start to cave in to societal
definitions of feminity and are less likely to voice their own opinions, she
seems confident and comfortable expressing her point of view.
"This is my favorite painting", she says pointing to "In the Circus
Fernando: The Ringmaster". Why? "I just like Toulouse-Lautrec. I've seen
this one since I was in second grade and have liked it ever since." She
passes by a Monet and suggest her guest visit Giverny in France: "You have
to go in the summer. June is the best." Then she stares at the museum's
prize piece, Seurat's "A Sunday on la Grande Jatte - 1884". She seems
puzzled. "Don't you remember this painting being much bigger?" she asks her
Her mother laughs sweetly, like the mom in any feel-good movie. "But of
course, Anna," she says. "You were much smaller then.
Nancy Chlumsky remembers that when she brought her ten-year-old Anna to
Orlando, Florida, for the filming of the first "My Girl", she purchased two
season passes to nearby Sea World. "I thought, This is great - we can see
whales anytime we want to." They went just twice. I had no idea how busy
(she) would be," says Nancy.
Anna became the darling of the set, and while stage mothers are often movie
pariahs, both Zieff and Grazer speak highly of Nancy. "Ron (Howard) is the
most unique case of a person who grew up onstage and is still a normanl,
cool person," says Grazer. "It's so rare; I've been involved in some really
sad situations. It won't happen to Anna 'cause her mom doesn't live the same
way. her mom's kind of spiritual, a little hippie, you know? She's cool."
Cool, perhaps, but Nancy says she spent much of "My Girl worrying whether
she had done the right to her daughter. At night, she says, "I just prayed
and prayed that we did the right thing. I didn't want her to be unhappy. I
just wanted her to be happy. She doesn't have to be a movie star."
In fact Anna might have been playing the lead but she wasn't really the
movie's star. That honor belonged to Macaulay Culkin, who had hit
megastardom the year before with "Home Alone". Culkin was actually casted
two weeks before "Home Alone" opened, hired by Grazer for a supporting role
in "My Girl" and paid what at the time seemed an astronomical sum: $1
million. "Everybody in the whole town critisized me," he recalls. "'What a
stupid thing, Grazer.'" When "Home Alone went through the roof and "My Girl"
did $60 million, Grazer says with satisfaction, "It all worked out."
What didn't work out was that the script for "My Girl" killed of the movie's
golden child. It took the filmmakers a year to come up with a plausible
sequel to the life and times of young Vada Sultenfuss (Chlumsky). The new
story line sends Vada off to California to stay with her Uncle Phil (Richard
Masur) in order to learn more about her mother, who died in childbirth.
Hoping to recapture the chemistry Anna had with Mac, the script also has a
love interest for young Vada and, yes, another kiss. Anna was hoping that
her pal Matt Doherty ("The Mighty Ducks") would get the role but Columbia
Pictures had another idea: "Last Action Hero"'s Austin O'Brien.
"The studio felt... the studio suggested Austin to me,because they felt
"Last Action Hero" was gonna be a big hit.," says Zieff. "They thought he
would be a major star coming out of there." But Zieff insists, "When I met
him, I liked him very much."
All the same, the success of "My Girl 2" now rests squarely on the appeal of
Anna, who has passed on nearly all projects since the first movie and is
starting to comprehend the new ways people are thinking of her. On the first
movie, she says, "since Mac and I were younger, a lot of people thought,
Well, they're kids. I'm not really good with kids, and just left us alone.
On the second one, since I was older, more people would talk to me."
But at a time when concern is rising over the potentially exploitative
relationships between child actors and their parents, Anna and Nancy
Chlumsky offer a salubrious example of what such a relationship would be
like. For a while she enjoys performing, Anna thrives her life in Chicago
and expresses particular contempt for any sort of special treatment, like
the prospect of attending a performing arts school or a professional
children's school. "That's a bunch of stupid stuff," she says dismissively.
"That's for people who think they're big hotshot professional people. I just
want to be a regular kid - and movies are for money."
"What kind of music do you like?" Anna asks her guest as they drive the
Chlumsky Mitsubishi. Hiphop, she is told. Anna, sitting in the front seat
reaches the radio dial and deftly finds the local rap station. Her mother
smiles, then grimaces. "I think I can stand about five minutes of this
before I go crazy." The guest concours, and Anna moves the knob to her
favorite oldies station.
Anna has show biz in her genes: Her father was a saxophone player who now
owns a restaurant in Wisconsin; he and Nancy Chlumsky were divorced when
Anna was two, but she still plays his clarinet in the school band. Her
great-grandfather owned a trained bear that appeared in Three Stooges
movies. Her grandmother's prom dress was a costume for "Frankenstein". Now
41, Nancy has worked as a Chicago stage actress, "but I'm not in the same
cathegory as Anna . I'm more a day player."
Despite Nancy's acting background, it was one of her day jobs that began
Anna's career. A coworker at Eastern Airlines had children who did local
modeling and suggested that Nancy list Anna with agency when she was three
months old. Anna modeled periodically for the next six or seven years,
appearing in department store ads and the zenith of Chicago modeling jobs,
the Sears catalog.
Then at age eight, Anna decided it was time for career change. "I quit
(modeling) because I didn't like it anymore. I was getting so tired of it."
Having accompanied her mother on the auditions, Anna begged for a chance to
act. They tried a local production of "Annie" and they both got in. One play
later the audition for "My Girl" came up, and Anna won the role after Zieff
flew to Chicago to meet her.
Once cast, Nancy told the filmmakers that "she wasn't a prima donna and they
shouldn't spoil her." They didn't but it wasn't for lack of trying: "It was
weird to have everyone waiting on you," says Anna. "It's, like, 'Anna wants
milk!' 'Anna wants milk!' 'Anna wants milk!'"
By all accounts, Anna's gut instict is as good as it gets. Zieff tells the
story of how, on the first "My Girl", Anna had to cry all day for the
consecutive days: "She hadto come running to her schoolteacher's house and
tell him she loves him. She'd just come from a funeral and she had run out
of tears. And she said, 'Okay, give me a minute, Howard.' This was the last
shooting day of the movie, and she walked around and looked at all the crew
members' face. Then she started to cry."
"It's really hard to end a movie", says Anna. I made really, really good
friends with the soundmen on the first one. It was really hard to leave."
"We went to the wrap party and Anna cried hr eyes out," Nancy recalls. "She
was just devastated. But she kept in touch with people and little by little,
she was able to deal with it."
While the toughest scene for Anna in the first "My Girl" was Mac's funeral,
the second movie also has it's teary moments. "Vada sees movies of her
mother before she dies," says Nancy. "And of course she's supposed to be sad
and happy - a mix of feelings. Before that scene my dad had come to visit us
and he'd brought movies of my mother, Anna's grandmother. My mother has had
Alzheimer's ever since Anna can remember - but (in) these black-and-white
movies that my dad shot some 30 or 40 years ago, my mom was really
beautiful. We didn't have sound, but there she was, having fun with my dad
at a masquerade party. We were all so moved watching it - Anna, my dad and
I. Anna was able to use that for the sequel of the movie.
Although they received "lots and lots of scripts" after "My Girl", Nancy
Chlumsky keeps a form in rule: "One project a year and maybe a summer
project, if there is such a thing." She says they passed "Beethoven" and the
upcoming "Lassie"; one producer was so interested in developing a sitcom
around Anna that he offered to shoot it in Chicago. Nancy said no to that
too, because it would have kept Anna out of the school.
"We took baths most of the last year," Nancy says "because the shower was
broken." Why didn't she simply get it fixed? "Couldn't afford it," she says.
Anna may be a child star but she lives within her mother's means. The
Chlumskys live in a sweet, modest house in a lower-middle-class suburb of
Chicago, and Anna attends a small private school in a small Illinois town.
"When 'My Girl' come out, I wanted to talk to her about a private screening
we were having at the school," says her principal. "She came in looking very
ominous: 'Did I do something wrong?' I said no, and we talked. But as she
left, she put her hands over her face and burst into tears, saying, 'Oh! He
hit me!' Then she gave me this big smirk. That's Anna.
Anna's made only one movie besides the two "My Girl" projects, a feature
with Sissy Spacek called "Trading Mom". But she has some very definite ideas
of whom she'd like to work with next: "Robert Sean Leonard," she says
blushing. "Elijah Wood. He's good in everything."
On the subject of romance, Anna says, "I have a boyfriend but I'm not dating
yet. It's like the preteen thing of 'Do you wanna be my girlfrien' 'Yeah'"
Nancy still seems uneasy about the choises she's making regarding her
daughter's career. Is it right for children to be pressed into making such
high-profile movies? "Kit Culkin (Macaulay's father) put it real well to me
a long time ago: 'Everybody says this isn't normal for a child.
But somebody put that baseball bat in that child's hand.' He was talking
about these little boys in Little League, playing five days a week and
All the same Nancy refuses to move to L.A., and Anna agrees. "I really don't
like L.A. at all, "Anna says. "It's, like, you can have it. I just want to
stay home and be a regular kid."