Screen actors have agents. Most have publicists. Some have managers and attorneys. And for actors under 18, there’s the compulsory consultancy of Mom or Dad or a guardian or two-unless they go the route of Edward Furlong and seek legal emancipation.
The motives for emancipation aren’t always as clouded as Furlong’s. For many of Hollywood’s youths, legal-adult status is a first step toward recouping any earnings usurped by their guardians. A minor’s only protection is a 1939 California law named for Jackie Coogan, Charlie Chaplin’s costar in The Kid, who sued his mother and stepfather for what remained of his $4 million fortune. The law compels parents or a guardian to deposit up to 50 percent of an underage actor’s net salary in a trust. The Coogan law is no panacea, however, as was proved by a 1993 decision awarding $1.3 million to Diff’rent Strokes star Gary Coleman after his parents and a trustee pocketed too much of his salary. But then again, neither is emancipation, as these celebrated cases attest:
Corey Feldman won emancipation in 1987, at age 15, after starring roles in several hits, including Stand by Me, apparently yielded him only $40,000 in savings. Freed from his parents, he married at 17, indulged a drug habit that led to a 1990 arrest for possession, and is now divorced.
Tiffany filed for emancipation in 1988, at 16, after her breakout first album, Tiffany-and didn’t get it. The court denied her claims that her mother was stifling her career. Tiffany’s travails of the last several years have included drug dependency and two failed albums.
Drew Barrymore’s tales of club-hopping with her mom from the age of 10 probably didn’t hurt the emancipation suit she filed and won at 15, after a ’89 rehab stint. Subsequently she racked up big ratings for ABC playing Amy Fisher and last month got married.