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."


She shrugs.




"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

terrifying continuity.


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."


Stress tests


Anna's experience in Hollywood hasn't been totally devoid of the old-style

pressures, though.


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

basketball skills."


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

are wasted."


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

these years?


"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."


Star parenting


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

many gifts."


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