ANNA CHLUMSKY DODGES CELEBRITY-KID SYNDROME
WITH GOOD GRADES, CHURCH AND DETERMINATION.
CHICAGO -- The conversation drifts to staying centered, and Anna
Chlumsky, not quite 15, smiles shyly, then makes a fine point. "I
go to church every Sunday when I can, but that's not really what
centers me," she says. "There's really two kinds of praying. When
you go to church and you pray and there's the music and
everything, you're celebrating."
October 28, 1995
By Susan Stark, News Film Critic.
The conversation drifts to staying centered, and Anna Chlumsky,
not quite 15, smiles shyly, then makes a fine point.
"I go to church every Sunday when I can, but that's not really what centers
me," she says. "There's really two kinds of praying. When you go to church
and you pray and there's the music and everything, you're celebrating."
"Then there's another kind of praying. Praying-praying."
"I pray every night," Anna explains. "I just talk to God and I can go to
sleep. I don't worry anymore."
Chlumsky -- say KLUM-skee -- came to movie fame five years ago as Vada
Sultenfuss, the offbeat charmer with the strikingly lively blue eyes in My
Girl. My Girl 2 followed in 1994, as well as a little-seen film with Sissy
Spacek, The Mommy Market. Anna's new film, Gold Diggers, in which she and
Christina Ricci share high adventure, opens Friday.
Before Anna ever reached movie starlet status, she had nearly a decade of
professional experience as a model and stage performer under her belt.
Indeed, she made her modeling bow at the age of 10 months. From the start,
her mother, Nancy, a sometimes actress, has been her manager and her coach.
If that's not an uh-oh resume, what is?
Stories of emotionally and psychologically damaged showbiz tykes are a dime
a dozen. Judy Garland and Gypsy Rose Lee may be prototypical cases in
point, but the case of Macaulay Culkin, whose meddlesome, autocratic father
has made him the most dreaded little celebrity in modern moviedom, provides
Now comes Anna Chlumsky, in startling and immensely encouraging contrast to
the longstanding rule. By both looks and personal style, she's the
pleasant, mannerly kid down the street; the one who gets good grades in
school, adores her parents, considers the price before ordering from a
When she walks into the lobby dining room of Chicago's swanky Ritz-Carlton
Hotel, she turns not one single head. She wears a striped cotton sweater,
jeans and high-tops, precisely the look favored by millions of noncelebrity
teens for a weekend afternoon in early autumn.
Her jewels? Little silver bits at the ears, wrists and fingers, the kind
that kids her age like to exchange as friendship tokens.
On her face, hardly a trace of makeup. She pulls a few strands of dirty
blond hair from the sides of her head to a topknot and lets the rest fall
as it will. There are spaces between her teeth. She has the kind of nose
that seems to want to become part of her cheeks.
No wonder heads don't turn.
Years ago, you can't help thinking, Chlumsky would have been dressed,
coiffed, painted and worse into some studio executive's artificial ideal of
youthful perfection. Years ago, even her name would have been polished up.
Frances Gumm to Judy Garland. Anna Chlumsky to ... what? Anna Turner?
Anna laughs knowingly.
"Well, when I got My Girl, my mom and I were trying to think what we should
do with our name," she allows. "It's just so hard to spell, so hard to
pronounce. But Howard Zieff, the director, he said: 'No! We already put
your name in the paper.' So that was it."
Anna's experience in Hollywood hasn't been totally devoid of the old-style
With more amusement than bitterness or animosity, she recalls being put on
a low-calorie diet and being ordered to work out during lunch breaks when
she was making My Girl 2.
"They thought I was getting fat, but I was just growing up," she says
airily. "Just getting bigger. Anyway, the workouts helped me sharpen my
Nancy Chlumsky put a stop to those workouts, though:
"I told our agent, 'We can't do this. She comes back to the set after lunch
and she's pooped.'"
There's more to it than that, though, in Nancy Chlumsky's view: "I can't
stress it enough. Whenever parents run into this kind of situation, we have
to say, 'We don't want anorexic kids, kids who think that skinny is right
and growing is wrong.'"
"Anna may be an actor, but she has a family, friends, school. We're not
rich people, but we're people who are interested in books, music, history,
culture. She's been in movies, but she's also had the experience of bussing
a table and running a cash register at her father's restaurant."
"Anna has a life. She has a soul. She has a mind. And none of these things
For her part, Anna recognizes the value system at work in the movie world,
but seems able to just steer her own steady course.
"Sure, there's a lot of pressure when it comes to appearance," she says.
"For teens, it's even harder: 'Oh, gee. I'm not getting roles. I wonder if
it's because I'm not pretty."
"But my concentration is on a totally different level. It's just the way I
was brought up: Who cares about what's on the outside? It's what's on the
inside that counts. If I'm disciplined in my acting, hopefully people won't
care about the way I look."
"So for me, all that stuff is not as important. What happens, happens. If I
get overweight, I'll just cut down on the chocolate. I won't go crazy."
At the moment, Anna is 5-foot-2 and weighs 112 pounds. She does hesitate a
moment before going for the creme brulee at dessert time, but takes the
plunge and savors every spoonful. It's a sight that testifies to her sanity
as much as anything she says.
So much for weight. Now what about moviedom's program for the spaces
between Anna's top teeth, particularly noticeable when she laughs. Surely
there was some little flap about that. After all, veteran
model-turned-actress Lauren Hutton had to wear a bite plate to plug up the
gap between her two front teeth for decades.
"No one ever said anything about my teeth except my orthodontist," Anna
"But keep in mind that there are computers, that they do touch things up.
Like when I got a hold of the poster for Gold Diggers, I said: 'Hey, wait a
minute! Those aren't my teeth!'"
The money thing
On this damp, windy day, Anna's outer jacket is the pricey, prebattered
leather job with the Planet Hollywood logo -- a gift for an appearance at
one of the restaurants, no doubt. Everything else about her getup testifies
to life on a tight budget.
Does she get an allowance?
"Not really," she says. "I pretty much still have some of the money from
last Christmas. Easter. Confirmation. And if I don't have any, I ask my
mom. Like for homecoming at school.
"I think I might want to get an afterschool job, though, so I can have some
money in my wallet on a regular basis."
And what of the money she has been earning from modeling and acting all
"College," Anna says without a second's hesitation. "It's a lot and I don't
want to throw it away, either."
She has no idea of the size of the savings account in her name and, at this
point, she doesn't want to know.
"That's my mom's job," she chirps. "I'll find out when I'm 18. If you can't
trust your mom, who can you trust?"
The case of Culkin, who was Chlumsky's co-star in My Girl 2, comes to the
"I know, I know," Anna says, as if to brush away the sadness she feels
about her onetime pal's troubles. "I keep meaning to write to him, but I
just haven't. Procrastination, I guess."
When Anna speaks of the parent who's guiding her career, she quite
naturally slips from "I" and "my" to "we" and "our." Anna on the
"From the very begining, my mom has read the scripts first, and if she
likes something, she lets me read it. And she tells our agent what kinds of
parts we want. They know who we are, what we like, what we're against.
"Then once we get a movie, she helps me with the acting. I wouldn't be able
to do it by myself at this age. I'd just want to go say the lines and slack
off. But she makes me knuckle down."
Nancy Chlumsky, divorced from but still friendly with Anna's father, brings
conviction and energy to her role as Anna's principal advocate. She is
parent, protector, professional guide. It's a job that regularly makes her
put aside her own career as a stage actress so she can travel when Anna's
work requires it.
"I work whenever I can," Nancy Chlumsky says. "I just finished a six-month
run in Fiddler on the Roof. But the way things have turned out, Anna's
talent is so much more noticeable than mine that we want to share it and
take advantage of it.
"Isn't that what it's all about? The reason you become an actor is to give,
to make people happy. And God gave her so many gifts. And God gave me so
Nancy Chlumsky's easy, broad smile becomes a laugh at that point: "And I'm
When Anna was 7, her mother reports, she had had it with modeling -- it was
a 'Please, Mom, enough!' kind of thing. The modeling career ended right
then, on a dime. Anna's getting the title role in My Girl out of a field of
some 1,000 hopefuls was a defining moment for both mother and daughter, a
moment Nancy Chlumsky still refers to as "a miracle."
Yet it was a miracle that took a toll in anxiety for the mother.
"There were plenty of sleepless nights before we started that movie," she
"I kept asking myself, 'What am I doing to my child? Is this going to
change her life for the better or is this going to change her life for the
"I tried to put myself in her footprints and to understand how overwhelming
it might be: 13-hour days, including three hours of school.
"While we were making the movie, I tried to keep things as normal as
possible for her. I cooked dinner as much as I could so she didn't have to
go out after work. I decided that she deserved some sort of compensation
every week, and I let her choose it herself. First it was a bridal
magazine. After she got a stack of those, she started choosing books about
names -- what they mean.
"She loved doing the movie, but after we got back home to Chicago, she felt
she had no control over her life. It was, like, 'I want to be able to walk
around the block.'
"That kind of recognition, especially from children your own age, takes
away your confidence in being able to walk around the block or go to the
shopping mall. But it gives you a lot of confidence in your talent, your
intelligence, maybe even your purpose in being on this earth."
The mother's remarks bring to mind the daughter's comment on private
prayer. ... "I can go to sleep and I don't have to worry."
Nancy Chlumsky listens intently as Anna's statement is read to her.
"I never heard her say that," the mother says with a characteristically
generous smile. "I really never heard that before."
Then, overtaken with emotion, she lifts a fist to her chin to steady it.
Tears flood her eyes. It's a moment that somehow both explains and
validates Anna Chlumsky's status as a happy exception to the deeply
discouraging rule for celebrity children.
Copyright 1995, The Detroit News