LAGUNA DEL RAY, California.Â As Beverly Gillespie strolls through this seaside community on a Sunday morning, she presents a picture of faded glamour with her large sunglasses, silk scarf anc white Capri pants.Â A visitor from out of town on a "Homes of the Stars" bus tour spots her and struggles to recall where she has seen the 60 year-old former actress before.
Shake 'n Bake
"She looks kinda like Loretta Young," says Otile McShann of Ottumwa, Iowa.Â "Or maybe it's Donna Reed," she muses out loud, recalling two stars from the early days of television.
"You are mistaken," Beverly says as sees the tourist's consternation.Â "Let me refresh your memory," she says as she puts on an ear-to-ear grin and launches into her routine.Â "Friday isn't 'fry-day' anymore--get it?' she recites in a sing-song manner with a Southern accent.
Dick Vitale:Â HeÂ brought "Shake 'n Bake" to millions of college basketball fans who only eat pizza.Â
"Shake 'n Bake!" McShann says with a shock of recognition asÂ she gleefully thrusts out a pen and an autograph book to the fading star, whose role as a little girl inÂ the commercial that her starstruck admirer recalls so easily was simply to say "And I helped!" before an announcer extolled the virtues of the chicken coating product whose name has since beenÂ used to refer to everything from sun-tanning contestsÂ to drives to the hoop in college basketball.
Home for commercial child actors.
But Gillespie's life hasn't been all smiles and easy-to-make recipes.Â Once one of the most famous children in America, she slipped from public view after the commercial went off the air and began a downward spiral that landed her in a home for former child commercial actors.Â "Once I was no longer Little Miss Shake 'n Bake, I turned into a binge candy eater," she says as a waitress brings her a tuna melt and a cup of coffee that this reporter buys her, knowing that she has trouble making ends meet.
"Chuckles Ju Jubes were my favorite, because my mom would never let me have them," Gillespie says with a trace of bitterness.Â "She said they'd ruin my teeth, but I figured what the hell--I'm not going to be eight years old for the rest of my life."
Gillespie's plight is common among former child actors and actresses whose brief moment of fame leaves them caught in a no-kids-land between ordinary children and genuine child stars.Â "They can't relate to either," says Hollywood psychiatrist Morton Levine.Â "Your David Cassidy-types look down their noses at them, while real kids think they're stuck up."
"Ma's happy as a clam since she switched to Ivory Liquid!"
When a young boy or girl becomes known by a five-secondÂ appearance in a widely-viewed commercial, other children seize upon it and use it to taunt the act"or for the rest of their lives, says Iris Barnes, who became known for her line "Ma's happy as a clam since she switched to Ivory Liquid!"Â "Children can be so cruel," she says as she nurses a double vodka at a bar on Sunset Strip.Â "Every time I asked to jump into a double-dutch jump rope the other girls would yell 'Happy as a clam, face like spam, legs like hams and smells like a yam'."
"I lived on nothing but Nestle's Quik and Keebler Fudge Shop Grasshopper Cookies."
Television channel VH1, whose program "Behind the Music" focusses on drug and alcohol problems of former rock stars, says its fall line-up will include a spin-off "Behind the Jingles", a look at the fate of child actors and actresses who appeared in some of the most famous commercials during the "golden years" of child commercial stars.Â "To a lot of us, those kids were like Hendrix, and Janis Joplin and Jim Morrisson," said producer Ian Fantini.Â "We grew up with them, and we're just lucky we didn't end up OD'ing on pizza-flavored goldfish."
Copyright 2007, Con Chapman