Just what lives did old school commercial kids lead? Well, for starters, to be a commercial actor, the less experience an actor had, the better, casting director Kate Evans revealed to Business Insider. "Lots of people are trained in theater and drama schools for years, so they act everything. In commercials, they just need to be themselves." Luckily for children, being themselves is what they do best.
Talent agent Pamela Goldman revealed what she looks for in a child actor — and the ability to act isn’t high on the list. To Backstage, Goldman revealed that she chooses children with big personalities. "They smile. They react. And they are not shy at all," she wrote. She looks to cast "unique"-looking children, but it’s most important that they’re able to remain focused. "This is an aspect that a lot of parents overlook when they make an assessment on whether their child is cut out for this business," she explained.
Lastly, Goldman looks for kids who excel at cold reads. "Those are the kids that I remember," she wrote. As viewers, we, too, remember the stand-out stars — like the boy behind Oscar Mayer’s bologna commercial and Life’s Mikey. Whatever happened to these talented kiddos?
One kid from old school commercials went from Burger King to Scream queen
In 1981, Burger King aired an ad beginning with the statement, "A very, very big message for grownups." A little girl with pigtails and purple overalls came on the screen to deliver an adorable monologue — with a side of shade thrown at a rival chain.
"Do I look 20 percent smaller to you?" the child asks. "I must to McDonald’s. When I order a regular burger at McDonald’s, they make it with 20 percent less meat than Burger King. Unbelievable!" Although you probably found the commercial cute and harmless at the time, the Golden Arches company was pissed. The old school commercial reportedly got the then-4-year-old sued and banned from eating at McDonald’s — for life.
Being barred from Mickey D’s didn’t prevent her from forging a successful acting career, though. She grew up to be our favorite vampire slayer and a Scream queen. Yes, that adorable little girl is Sarah Michelle Gellar. Gellar has since starred in numerous television series and even returned to her commercial roots in 2019. During the 53rd Super Bowl, the actress appeared in Olay’s "Killer Skin" ad, a hilarious horror movie spoof.
This kid went from cheesy old school commercials to The Lord of the Rings
Long before Elijah Wood would transform into a hobbit named Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, he made a memorable impression on viewers in old school commercials. Wood once promoted cheddar cheese as the star of a commercial for America’s Dairy Farmers. Although the TV spot aged about as well as, uh, milk, it’s easy to see how the adorable young actor catapulted into fame.
Due to his big personality, Wood continued to star in commercials, but he also secured roles in films like Back to the Future II. In 2001, the actor became a household name thanks to Peter Jackson’s film series. Since then, Wood has turned away from big blockbuster hits and has instead taken roles in what IndieWire dubbed "wild genre movies."
In an interview with IndieWire, Wood explained, "It’s such an organic process. My intention is not to circumvent agents, but it’s just interesting to find work where it kind of comes to you. Some of these things are the ones representative of a portion of my taste and the kind of movies I really like to make."
This old school commercial kid went on to star in That ’70s Show
In the ’90s, Mattel made sure kids were always informed of their latest Barbie doll. In the 1990s, the company released Glitter Hair Barbie and her accompanying commercial. Long hair? Sparkly gel? SOLD. At the time though, we Barbie fans were too distracted by the new doll to notice the dark-haired girl remarking "wow" throughout the television spot. Before long, though, we’d wind up seeing the star in more than a dozen different old school commercials and, in 1998, we’d all learn her name: Mila Kunis.
Just before landing her first commercial, Kunis secured manager Susan Curtis. "She took me on my first audition the next day, and I ended up getting it. It was a Barbie commercial. That’s how it started," Kunis confirmed to Interview. Kunis was just 14 when the pilot for That ’70s Show was filmed. "So from 9 to 14 [years old] I probably did 20 commercials," the actress revealed.
The "Zoom zoom" kid from those old school commercials for Mazda still wears a suit
In the early aughts, Doner, automaker of Mazda, retired its tagline "Get in. Be Moved," and introduced "Zoom zoom." At the time, Mazda didn’t think of the phrase as a new tagline. Kristen Simmons, then marketing vice president at Mazda North American Operations in California, dubbed it a "mantra" when speaking to Adweek. She said, "’Zoom zoom’ sums up everything that we stand for as a company." Doner’s automotive president, Tim Blett, referred to the phrase as "an emotional promise." Regardless of its label, "Zoom zoom" became a hit when Micah Kanters, the boy dressed in a suit and tie, whispered the two words at the camera during an old school commercial for Mazda.
Over a decade later, Mazda still made good use of the "Zoom zoom" phrase, but Kanters — having all grown up — was no longer the unofficial face of the company. So, what happened to him? As of this writing, he is no longer acting, but still wears a suit and tie as an associate attorney at Stein Sperling law firm in Maryland. We can only hope he drives a Mazda. And whispers.
This old school commercial kid always knew he’d be famous
In a 1990 Atari Lynx commercial, a young Tobey Maguire asks his teacher for a bathroom pass so he can sneakily get in some gaming while at school. Watching the old school commercial today, it’s immediately apparent that both gaming and the actor have changed a whole lot since then.
After doing commercial work, Maguire scored the lead role in Spider-Man — but he always knew he’d make it big. "I’m self-aware enough to understand that it’s statistically very hard to achieve the position I’m in," Maguire told The Guardian. "But I also think I have a lot of ingredients that are right for the path that I’ve chosen. … And since I was around 15, I knew I’d be successful. Since I was 17 or 18, I always knew I wanted to live a great version of my life. And so I got those ideas, and they have been north stars to me," he explained.
This kid went from old school commercials for bubblegum to Hollywood movies
Tobey Maguire was a hit with casting directors because he looked much younger than his actual age. And, unlike many children auditioning for commercials, he already had acting experience from attending drama school. However, there was one child actor in Maguire’s circle that was able to pull in even more work: Leonardo DiCaprio. "The two men go back a long way, having met as teenagers at auditions in the 1990s, most of which DiCaprio won at Maguire’s expense…," The Guardian revealed. "Later, DiCaprio would recommend his friend for parts when he could."
In a 1994 interview with DiCaprio, the star said he "did about 30, 40 commercials" before starring in Growing Pains. Yes, just like Maguire, DiCaprio’s career stemmed from old school commercials, like one for Bubble Yum and one for Kraft Singles.
While the two are friends, Maguire told the publication, "Our lives are very different." As different as, say, Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby. DiCaprio has since lost his boyish ’90s look, but he continues to secure lead roles in major films like The Wolf of Wall Street and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
This child actor went from old school commercials for JELL-O to reality television
Long before Mean Girls and even before The Parent Trap, Lindsay Lohan was working on building her career. According to her biography, Lohan started acting and modeling when she was just 3 years old. By the time she appeared in the 1998 hit remake film with her onscreen parents Dennis Quaid and Natasha Richardson, Lohan had already been featured in over 60 old school commercials, including one for grape JELL-O, and 100 print advertisements.
Although Lohan’s dedication to her career culminated in her becoming a huge star in the early aughts, it wasn’t long before she began earning a reputation for her problematic behavior. A series of drug- and alcohol-related offenses and criminal activity made her a huge hiring risk. As such, many of the powers that be in Hollywood were unwilling to take her on.
Lohan has made several comeback attempts, including a return to the small screen with the reality show Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club on MTV, but Page Six revealed in June 2019 that there would not be a second season.
The girl in that old school Pepsi commercial has a famous brother
In the ’90s, Hallie Eisenberg stole everyone’s hearts in a series of Pepsi commercials when she, the curly-haired, dimpled little girl, would not accept a Coke as a substitute for her beloved Pepsi. This wasn’t Eisenberg’s first gig though. She first starred in an old school commercial for Blue’s Clues, Observer reported, but Eisenberg’s stardom hit a new level after starring in the Pepsi campaign. It led to her getting bigger roles, like a spot in Bicentennial Man and Disney’s The Miracle Worker.
Eisenberg’s older siblings were also in the acting business at the time and secured roles in Broadway plays. Although you may not be familiar with the Pepsi girl’s older sister, you certainly know her brother. In case you didn’t already spot the resemblance, Hallie Eisenberg is Jessie Eisenberg‘s little sister.
While her brother’s acting career is still going strong, the actress hasn’t starred in anything since 2010. From time to time, she shares photos to Instagram of her and the Zombieland star traveling together.
This old school commercial kid’s bologna has a first name
In the 1970s, Oscar Mayer aired their bologna commercial and it became an instant classic. But it was almost a very different ad. In an interview, Jerry Ringlien, former vice president of marketing for Oscar Mayer, said it was challenging to advertise bologna because, well, it’s bologna. Nevertheless, the company realized it needed its own commercial.
Ringlien said the old school commercial was originally meant to feature a montage of several children singing snippets of the song. But, at the end of a long day of filming and with just 20 minutes of daylight left, the director asked the kids if anyone could sing the entirety of the song without making a mistake. One boy excitedly raised his hand. "His name was Andy Lambros, I remember," Ringlien revealed.
The director took the child down to the dock and filmed him singing the song, which ended with the iconic and completely authentic "How’s that?" line. As soon as Ringlien saw it, he knew it was the one, and it soon became a "fabulously successful" ad. Today, Lambros is an entrepreneur and president of The Dream Builders, a site-building company.
This old school commercial star made a big name for herself
"This is what I want to do for the rest of my life and I hope to get to, and this is definitely something that I really love," a young Dakota Fanning said of acting when speaking with Movie Web in 2005. Now with several projects under her belt, Fanning appears to still be passionate about acting. But how did her career begin? "When we lived in Georgia my mom put me in plays at school," she explained, "and one day they told her you should get her an agent, so we got one, and then came to [California] for [six] weeks during pilot season and it all pretty much took off from there."
Although moving to California jumpstarted her career, her first gig was actually in the southeast when she was just 5 years old. "I did a Tide commercial in Florida," she confirmed, recalling her days of starring in an old school commercial. From there, she went on to star in one-off episodes of popular shows like ER, CSI, and Spin City. Her big break came when she starred in I Am Sam in 2001.
This old school commercial kid became a music star
Before Jenny Lewis became a singer, she was a child actor. In the ’80s, she was the star of cereal commercials and Barbie ads, as reported by NPR. From there, she was able to find work in films like The Wizard.
Then, in the ’90s, she tapped into her musical talent and became the lead singer for Rilo Kiley. Lewis’ parents were also artists. "She was a lounge singer in Las Vegas," she said of her mother, "where I was born, with my father who was a virtuoso harmonica player."
In an old school commercial for’ Kellogg’s Corn Pops, the young actress interacts with her onscreen mom as would a typical young teen, but her life with her real parents was very different. Lewis told NPR that her mom "was an addict and struggled with the disease of addiction for her entire life." Still, Lewis, who has been a solo artist since 2014, has found joy "in the creation and the collaboration and the process" of songwriting as well as "the catharsis on tour" of "being able to feel these songs and finally understand the meaning."
Rodney Allen Rippy is taking life a little easier since starring in old school commericals
At the age of 3, Rodney Allen Rippy starred in a hit old school commercial for Jack in the Box. After the ad aired in 1976, Rippy’s fame grew. "Soon the cute, chubby-cheeked youngster with the Afro as big as his head was hanging out in Hollywood with Michael Jackson," The Christian Science Monitor reported. "He made movie cameos and recorded a hit album called Take Life a Little Easier."
Despite signs of a promising career, Rippy’s stardom fizzled out by the ’80s. "I wanted to continue to act, but at the time acting was a thing that unless you were really burning hot, you better have something on the back burner," he revealed to the publication.
After Rippy graduated high school, he attended college and earned a degree in marketing. Some three decades later, Rippy made headlines once more. He was no longer singing or acting, but instead running for mayor of Compton, Calif. Ultimately, Rippy decided to leave the race and, as of this writing, has not run again for political office.
The star of an old school commercial for Welch’s probably doesn’t drink grape juice anymore
Before becoming the face of Welch’s Grape Juice, Travis Tedford starred as Spanky in 1994’s The Little Rascals. There were other children who were better able to read the lines, Mimi Cotter, then-senior vice president and creative director at the company, admitted to The New York Times. "But there was a quality about him that was so compelling," she continued. "He’s very authoritative and mature on one hand, but a little boy on the other."
Everett Baldwin, then-president and chief executive at Welch Foods, revealed to the publication that Tedford was "a link to the fond childhood memories our consumers have of Welch brands, which have been in homes for generations." He added, "But since we like to be modern, too, we felt that was properly addressed by a kid describing our products, and relishing them, today."
In a 2013 Reddit AMA, Tedford revealed that he was given "a s*** ton of grape juice" for starring in the old school commercial. "I had diarrhea for months lol," he added. Although Tedford is no longer in show business, he said he receives royalties for his part in The Little Rascals.
What happened to this award-winning old school commercial star?
In the 1970s and ’80s, Mason Reese was a young, charismatic commercial actor. According to The New York Times, the child actor starred in over 75 old school commercials and won Clio awards for his performances.
After captivating audiences with his commercials for brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Underwood Deviled Ham, he went on to publish an autobiography at the young age of 7. He also became the co-host of The Mike Douglas Show. After his childhood career fizzled out, he "spent years club-hopping and drumming in bands, a process prolonged by a series of accidents that have left him now, at 31, walking with a cane," the publication revealed in 1996.
"I don’t necessarily think I will ever have the popularity as an actor I once did," Reese revealed. "In that business you’re only as good as your last job and you have to scrape the rust off to remember what mine was." The former child star did, however, attempt to return to TV in 2017’s Life Interrupted. In June 2019, Reese was also interviewed on This Morning about his unconventional relationship with his girlfriend, a model 27 years his junior.
This is what happened to Mikey from those old school commercials for Life cereal
At just 3 years old, John Gilchrist starred in his third old school commercial. The boy played the iconic "Mikey" in a TV spot for Life cereal, and, although he didn’t actually have any lines, the little one — and the commercial — became an instant hit. The ad also jumpstarted his career. Gilchrist went on to appear in over 200 additional commercials, including another for Life in 1986.
Although Gilchrist later told Newsday that the famous campaign is "a part" of who he is, it is but one part of his life. Gilchrist ultimately moved on from acting. He attended college and became a director of media sales, which means he negotiates with advertisers on television ads.
Gilchrist will forever be linked with the character Mikey, but he doesn’t mind. "It doesn’t bother me — to the contrary," he told the publication. "I just never looked at it like some huge, big deal. Maybe that comes off to some people like I don’t want to talk about it. Totally not the case. I love talking about it." Yes, he likes it!