When you stop and think about it, you'll realize that so much of the most memorable '70s entertainment was driven by actors under the age of 18. From iconic sitcoms like The Brady Bunch to movies like Willy Wonka&the Chocolate Factory, Hollywood as we know it during that time period simply wouldn't have existed without the talented child stars we were introduced to… but despite the fame they gained at a young age, many of them ultimately decided not to stick with the business in adulthood.
And it makes sense! Acting as a child is a lot different than definitively choosing to make it your career as an adult, and in so many cases, the entertainment industry chews up and spits out those who may not have been cut out for it in the beginning—or those whose real passions lie elsewhere.
Read on for 11 of the most famous child stars of the '70s and to find out what made them take a different path.
On The Brady Bunch, we got to know Mike Lookinland as the youngest Brady son, Bobby. Now 61 years old, Lookinland was just eight when the show premiered, and when it ended, his acting career effectively ended with it. Though he'd reprise his role for related projects including A Very Brady Christmas and The Brady Bunch Movie (and even played himself in the comedy Dickie Roberts: Child Star), he hasn't done much else in front of the camera since.
In a 2019 interview with Deseret News, Mike explained that after moving to Utah at 17, his whole life's trajectory changed, ultimately leading him to start his own business making concrete countertops. Today, he runs his company, Just Add Water, out of Midvale, where he's joined by one of his sons, Scott. (He and wife Kelly Wurmuth also have another son, Joe.)
"I had never really been the kind of person who said to himself, 'I want to be an actor. This is what I want to do.' But it turns out that I ended up on one of the most popular shows ever," he admitted. "I guess I just felt like I could go see what a normal kid would do with his life."
"I tell ya, it hasn't been in the news so much lately, but there was a time when child actors who made it big and then got into their 20s got in serious trouble," he added. "Where you're a big star but you became a big star when you were a child and screwed up your life in your 20s. It's a bit of a miracle that all six of us made it through that."
Peter Ostrum's role alongside Gene Wilder as Charlie Bucket in Willy Wonka&the Chocolate Factory was both his first and only acting job. Rather than try to snag another gig, Ostrum—who was 14 when the movie hit theaters—decided to walk away from Hollywood entirely. After watching a veterinarian care for the horses his family owned, he decided that was the career path he wanted to follow.
"This person really enjoyed what he did for a living. My father was a lawyer, and I really didn't have a clue what he did all day. But I knew exactly what the veterinarian did. Someone making a living from something he enjoyed so much really sparked my interest," he told the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2000.
At 64, Ostrum works with the Countryside Veterinary Clinic in upstate New York, where he primarily works with cows and on dairy farms. He's married to Loretta Ostrum, and they have two children together: Helenka and Leif.
Erin Murphy famously played Tabitha—the daughter of Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery) and Darrin (Dick York and later, Dick Sargent) on the sitcom Bewitched. As far as her later TV career goes, she's appeared on several different reality shows, including The Comeback Kids in 2014 and TV Therapy in 2019, but acting seems to be entirely in her past.
Murphy, who is now 57, realized that being in show business so young just wasn't for her, she told Closer Weekly in 2020.
"I was offered jobs right after Bewitched and I turned them down. I went to Girl Scout camp instead of doing a part on The Waltons," she continued. "So I kind of walked away from the business. We moved down to Orange County, and I continued to go up to L.A. when there were guaranteed jobs, but I stopped doing the crazy auditions where I'd be sitting in a room with a hundred kids who looked just like me being rejected."
From her three marriages to Darren Dunckel (who she's still married to today), Eric Eden, and Terry Rodgers, Murphy has six children, and it sounds like they're the center of her world these days.
"I still have three kids at home and I'm just kind of, you know, figuring out what I want to do for the rest of my life; whether I want to work at all or maybe just do a couple of fun projects," she told Closer.
In the '70s, Lance Kerwin was best known for his roles in James at 15 and a few ABC Afternoon Specials. But as the '80s came to an end, Kerwin began acting less and less frequently. His final Hollywood role was playing a mercenary in 1995's Outbreak.
In the years that followed, Kerwin hit a few bumps in the road. After becoming a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Hawaii, he pled guilty to theft after he was accused of falsifying documents for state assistance. In 2010, he was sentenced to five years of probation and 300 hours of community service.
Things seem to have turned around for him since then, and he doesn't blame his childhood fame for his mistakes. In a 2019 interview with the blog The College Crowd Digs Me, Kerwin called his experience as a child star "a positive one." Today, the 61-year-old is married to Yvonne Kerwin, and they have a big family.
"Raising five kids, ya know, my life's on a different trip now. And in fact, just yesterday my wife and I celebrated our anniversary of 19 years. But I have a fan base that's super, super loyal," he said. "People that were affected by the shows or liked them, or just appreciated me. That's a whole aspect of it I never counted on. I wanted to act. But there was a whole other blessing that came with it. That's pretty cool."
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Though his first claim to fame was starring in Oliver! in 1968, Mark Lester continued to act through the '70s in big movies including Black Beauty. His 1977 role in Crossed Swords would be his last (minus a part in a short called Metered in 2011). Lester recently told From The Mixed Up Files all about the totally different industry he's working in these days.
"I've been practicing as an osteopath and acupuncturist for about 25, 26 years. I got into it through sports injuries," he said. "I did a high level of karate. I trained starting back in the late '80s. I used to have a practice in the town where I live, but now since COVID, I built a log cabin on my property, and I'm working from here, and it's working out pretty well."
And though Lester is credited in an upcoming movie called Fighting Talk, he said he did it simply to "help a mate out"—though he's not necessarily discounting a return to film and TV in the future.
"It would be fun to do something if the opportunity arose," the now 63-year-old said.
Kathy Coleman, who is now 60, is best known for playing Holly Marshall in the '70s TV series Land of the Lost. After the show ended, she walked away from Hollywood entirely, save for appearing in the reality show TV Therapy and in a couple of roles in the '00s.
Speaking to Fox News in 2019, Coleman said that though she's been through some difficult periods, her life is "much better today than it's ever been," particularly because of the husband she gets to come home to.
"You lose your self-confidence and then you have to find that self-love again. It's a journey, one that shouldn't require a camera," she said on being a child star. "I went on that journey and found myself again. But it wasn't always easy. I lost my mother when I was 24. She was my rock. And I only had a mother. I wasn't raised with a father. Then I went through a really rough divorce. But you get through it. You have to find a way to get through it… And I didn't want to look back and blame anyone for anything. There were lessons to be learned and some were incredibly difficult. But eventually, l learned them. I came out OK."
Since leaving show business, Coleman has written two memoirs: Lost Girl: The Truth and Nothing But the Truth, So Help Me Kathleen in 2015 and Run Holly Run in 2017.
Fans of What's Happening!! remember Danielle Spencer best as Dee Thomas, a role she would reprise in the sequel series What's Happening Now!!. But for a couple of small roles since then, Spencer hasn't pursued acting much.
In the time since she found TV fame, she's also faced with several health challenges. After recovering from a 1977 car accident that claimed the life of her stepfather, Tim Pelt, and battling breast cancer in 2014, a hematoma that resulted from the car accident more than 40 years earlier required brain surgery in 2018, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
Today, Spencer is 56, and she has been a veterinarian for more than 20 years. She hasn't counted acting again out completely, however.
"While practicing veterinary medicine for the past couple of decades, I wasn't able to just leave or come and go as I pleased because the animals were depending on me in certain cases," she told Jet in 2014. "I dedicated that time to my profession to learn as much as I could. I suppose it was a semi-retirement. The great thing is that I can always change my mind so that I can pursue my other love again: acting."
Susan Swift is best remembered for her roles in Audrey Rose and the TV series The Chisholms. But after appearing in Simon&Simon in 1987, she disappeared off the Hollywood map, aside from an appearance in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers in 1995.
Now a 57-year-old mother of seven children, Swift goes by Susan Swift Arnall (she took husband Alan Arnall's last name when they got married in 1993) and is an attorney and conservative writer, who pens books and contributes to the site Politichicks to share her views.
Famous for starring in The Goodbye Girl and Family in the '70s, Quinn Cummings, now 54, left Hollywood after a role in a 1992 episode of Evening Shade. And her post-acting life couldn't possibly be more different from a childhood on set. Cummings invented a baby carrying device called The HipHugger (which is no longer in production), creating a business that she sold in 2006.
Since then, she's written several books, including a memoir titled Notes From the Underwire: Adventures From My Awkward&Lovely Life. And in 2017, she published an essay in Esquire about predatory behavior in Hollywood, noting that she was aware of it early on—her mother was warned never to leave her alone with the star of one of her TV shows.
"As an adult, I worked in commercial casting and came to dread the callbacks, when we'd have the producers and the ad guys in the room—brioche-shaped men in Tommy Bahama shirts feeling free to try out their best pickup lines on any actress between 13 and 39, then rate and speculate about each one before she even left the room," she wrote. "Like all young women working in the business, I understood part of my job was to smile and stay quiet."
After Eric Scott (pictured above right with co-stars John Walmsley and Ellen Corby) famously played Ben Walton on The Waltons, his acting roles became fewer and farther between—and most of them were reprising his role as Ben. That's because Scott's heart just wasn't in it, as he explained to American Profile.
"The love of the business was not as artistic for me as it was money," he said. "I just wanted to make money, and when the money dried up, I said, 'I have to do something with my time, and the money will happen.'"
Today, Scott is 63 and owns Chase Messengers, a delivery service in California. A father of three, he has been married to Cynthia Ullman Wolfen since 2000.
Harvey Stephens' acting resumé is a short one. After playing Damien in 1976's The Omen, he'd only play two more parts before leaving acting behind.
His post-Hollywood adult life hasn't been without challenges. In 2017, a UK court sentenced Stephens to 12 months in jail and financial restitution after he was involved in a road rage incident, as reported by The Guardian.
Though Stephens has largely stayed out of the public eye, at the time, his lawyer said that continuing his acting career "wasn't a route [Stephens] wanted to go down," and that he had become a stock trader instead.