Beloved Child Stars Of The 1950s: What They Did With Their Lives

The 1950s gave us classic television shows like Father Knows Best and films such as Old Yeller, which featured budding child actors that fans of the same age could relate to. Ever wonder what happened to some of those favorite child stars of the 1950s? Take a look and find out!

Jerry Mathers Never Stepped Away From The Business

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Bettmann/Getty Images/Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Festival of Arts / Pageant of the Masters
Bettmann/Getty Images/Jerod Harris/Getty Images for Festival of Arts / Pageant of the Masters

Jerry Mathers appeared in a series of films in the 1950s that included This is My Love, Men of the Fighting Lady, The Trouble with Harry, and others. Yet, what he is best known for was his role of Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver in the television sitcom Leave it to Beaver.

In high school, Mathers joined the United States Air Force Reserve, eventually attending the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy. He has since continued to make appearances in various films, television series, and Broadway productions.

Keith Thibodeaux (Richard Keith) Was Making Big Money At A Young Age

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Bettmann/Getty Images/Barry King/WireImage
Bettmann/Getty Images/Barry King/WireImage

By the age of three, Keith Thibodeaux (Richard Keith) made $500 a week while playing the drums with the Horace Heidt Orchestra. It was in 1955 that he received his famous role of Little Ricky in I Love Lucy. As a child, he would also make appearances on The Andy Griffith Show.

After both series ended, Thibodeaux turned his attention to music, joining the rock band David and the Giants in 1969. In 1990, he became the Executive Director of his wife’s ballet company, Ballet Magnificat!, before they started Ballet Magnificat! Brasil together in 2017.

Jay North Found His Place In Voice Acting

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beachgal/Pinterest

Jay North’s acting career began in the late 1950s with roles in both television and film. What he’s truly remembered for, however, was his role as Dennis Mitchell in the hit comedy series Dennis the Menace. As a teenager, North appeared in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer films Zebra in the Kitchen and Maya before becoming a voice actor as an adult.

Some of his most famous credits include The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and The Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm Show. He then began mentoring young children in the entertainment industry.

Johnny Crawford Was An Original Mouseketeer

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Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/Tasia Wells/Getty Images
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/Tasia Wells/Getty Images

Not only was Johnny Crawford was one of the original Mouseketeers in 1955, but he was also the son of Lucas McCain in the hit Western series The Rifleman. For his work on the show, Crawford was nominated for Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award at the age of 13 before having a short-lived career as a recording artist.

As an adult, Crawford would continue to make appearances in television and film and would go on to lead a vintage dance orchestra known as the Johnny Crawford Orchestra. Sadly, he passed away on April 29, 2021.

Jon Provost Went Into Real Estate

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CBS/Getty Images/ Mark Sullivan/WireImage
CBS/Getty Images/ Mark Sullivan/WireImage

Born in 1950, at four years old, Jon Provost began his acting career in films such as The Country Girl, Back from Eternity, and Escapade in Japan. In 1957, he then took on the role of Timmy Martin in the television series Lassie, eventually becoming the star of the show.

After declining to renew his contract in 1964 when he was 14, Provost continued in television and film on and off until attending Sonoma State University. He then sold real estate in Sonoma County and is involved with various causes.

Tommy Kirk Opened A Carpet Cleaning Business

Tommy-Kirk-51353
Film Favorites/Getty Images/stumptownblogger/Pinterest
Film Favorites/Getty Images/stumptownblogger/Pinterest

Tommy Kirk won the hearts of the American public with his early roles in television series such as The Hardy Boys and was also involved in a number of big-name Disney films such as Old Yeller, The Shaggy Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, and more.

However, in the early 1960s, his personal life came under scrutiny, and he was fired by Disney. By the mid-1970s, Kirk had given up on acting and worked as a waiter and driver before opening a carpet cleaning business that he ran for 20 years.

Patty McCormack Acted Her Whole Life

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Warner Brothers/De Carvalho Collection/Getty Images/Dr. Billy Ingram/WireImage

Patty McCormack came into popularity as a young girl as Rhonda Penmark in the 1956 psychological drama The Bad Seed, for which she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance.

McCormack would continue acting throughout her life including in popular television shows such as Dallas, Murder, She Wrote, and The Sopranos. McCormack was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960 at age 15, making her the youngest person to be given one.

Bobby Driscoll Burned Out

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United Artists/Getty Images/Elaine Evans/Pinterest

As a child, Bobby Driscoll was involved in some of Walt Disney’s most popular live-action films of the time which included Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart, The Window, and Treasure Island. In 1953, he also provided the voice for the title role in Peter Pan.

Although his career was initially going well, by the mid-1950s, it began to decline and he found himself appearing in anthology series. Not long after, he started having some personal and legal issues. Sadly, he was discovered deceased in March of 1968.

Kathryn Beaumont Became A School Teacher

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Bettmann/Getty Images/Clara Molden – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images/Clara Molden – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

Kathryn Beaumont started her career in entertainment in the 1940s. After moving to Los Angeles, she caught her big break when she received the role of Alice in Disney’s animated version of Alice in Wonderland. Her performance as Alice quickly led her to the role of Wendy Darling in Peter Pan. She also served as the animators’ model in both films.

Beaumont would later be awarded a Disney Legend award for her work in both movies. After Peter Pan, Beaumont attended the University of Southern California and worked as an elementary school teacher for 36 years.

Kevin Corcoran Returned To Disney

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Film Favorites/Getty Images/Stephanie/Pinterest

Between 1956 and 1960, Kevin Corcoran played several characters with the same name, “Moochie.” He appeared in the Mickey Mouse Club, Adventures in Dairyland, and films including, The Shaggy Dog, Old Yeller, The Rabbit Trap, and more.

Corcoran would go on to graduate from California State University, Northridge, with a degree in theater arts. He then returned to Disney, this time working as an assistant director and producer for a number of films and series over the course of his career. Sadly, Corcoran passed away in 2015.

Tony Dow Is A Sculptor

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images/John M. Heller/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images/John M. Heller/Getty Images

In 1957, with no prior acting experience, Tony Dow received the role of Wally Cleaver in Leave it to Beaver, which he worked on for six years until the series ended in 1963. Following Leave it to Beaver, he appeared in several other shows before serving in the National Guard.

In the 1970s, Dow continued making guest appearances in various shows. He also worked in the construction industry while simultaneously studying journalism and filmmaking. Today, he is a skilled sculptor, with some of his works being displayed around the world.

Tommy Rettig Got Into The Computer Industry

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Tommy Rettig came into popularity after playing the character Jeff Miller in the first three seasons of CBS’s Lassie, from 1954 to 1957. Impressively, Rettig also appeared in 17 feature films in his career, although he longed to live a normal teenage life, which resulted in him stepping away from acting.

After leaving the profession and getting into some legal troubles, Rettig became a motivational speaker and eventually a computer database programmer. He was involved with the early days of personal computers. Tommy Rettig passed away in 1996, when he was just 54 years old.

Zina Bethune Was Always A Dancer

picture of Zina Bethune
Reddit/Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage
Reddit/Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage

As a young girl, Zina Bethune was a ballet dancer and, by 14, was dancing with the New York City Ballet in theatrical performances such as The Nutcracker.

In the 1950s, she was also featured in a number of television dramas such as The Most Happy Fella, The Guiding Light, and films such as a musical adaptation of Little Women. In 1981, Bethune founded Bethune Theatredanse, a nonprofit dance and drama company, as well as Dance Outreach for disabled children. Tragically, Zina Bethune died in a hit-and-run accident in 2012.

Lauren Chapin Had A Hard Life

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sitcomsonline/Pinterest/Pinterest

Lauren Chapin was known during the 1950s for playing the youngest child, Kathy Anderson, in the television series Father Knows Best. She appeared in 196 of the 203 episodes between 1954 and 1960, and when the show ended, she spent her time working as a flight attendant, dog groomer, cocktail waitress, and other odd jobs.

After some time going in and out of jail, in the 1980s, she taught natural childbirth and worked for a brokerage firm. She is also the co-author of the book Father Does Know Best: The Lauren Chapin Story.

George Winslow Retired From Acting When He Was 12

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Pinterest

George Winslow was a childhood actor known for his unique voice and humor. He starred in films with notable actors such as Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Ginger Rogers, Dean Martin, and Jerry Lewis. His film credits include Room for One More, Monkey Business, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and more.

He retired from acting in the late 1950s, when he was just 12 years old. He went on to serve in the Navy during the Vietnam War, and after the war moved to Camp Meeker in Sonoma County. Winslow worked for the Postal Service until a few years before his death in 2015.

Elinor Donahue Got Her Start On Father Knows Best

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Screen Gems/Archive Photos/Getty Images/Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic
Screen Gems/Archive Photos/Getty Images/Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic

Elinor Donahue began appearing in dancing-chorus film roles when she was just five years old, eventually transitioning to acting. Her most notable role was as Betty Anderson, the eldest daughter of Jim and Margaret Anderson, in the 1950s sitcom Father Knows Best.

For the rest of her career, Donahue would continue to appear in television shows and feature films with countless credits to her name. In 1998, she also published a memoir titled In the Kitchen with Elinore Donahue about her experiences in Hollywood and some of her favorite recipes.

Annette Funicello Became A Teen Idol

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images/ Harry Langdon/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images/ Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Already an experienced performer by the age of 12, Annette Funicello was one of the original members of The Mickey Mouse Club and was one of the most popular Mouseketeers. As a teenager, she transitioned into music and came out with numerous successful singles including “Tall Paul” and “Pineapple Princess.”

During this time, she was also in a series of “Beach Party” movies with Frankie Avalon. She became a teen idol before eventually taking a step back from her career to focus on her family. Annette Funicello passed away in 2013, at the age of 70.

Sal Mineo Went From Films To The Stage

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Archive Photos/Getty Images/Terry Disney/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Archive Photos/Getty Images/Terry Disney/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Sal Mineo came into popularity for his role as John “Plato” Crawford in the 1955 film Rebel Without a Cause, for which he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, making him the fifth-youngest nominee in history.

Mineo then went on to act in films such as Crime in the Streets, Exodus, The Longest Day, and others. He later transitioned to theater, in which he saw some success in shows such as Fortune and Men’s Eyes and P.S. Your Cat Is Dead.

Carol Lynley Tried To Stay In The Business For As Long s Possible

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Dove/Daily Express/Getty Images/Bobby Bank/Getty Images
Dove/Daily Express/Getty Images/Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Carol Lynley started her career as a child model before becoming an actress. For her performance in the play The Potting Shed, she won the Theatre World Award as “one of the most promising personalities for 1956-57.”

She then continued to films in the late 1950s, such as The Light in the Forest, Holiday for Lovers, and Blue Denim. As she aged, Lynley continued to act in films, with some critics proclaiming that the pinnacle of her career was in 1965, before it started to decline in the late 1960s and ’70s. Carol Lynley died of a heart attack in 2019. She was 77.

Cubby O’Brien Stuck With The Drums

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Kitchen Kabaret/Reddit/Ross Anthony Willis/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Carl Patrick O’Brien, better known by the nickname “Cubby,” was a drummer who was personally selected to audition for The Mickey Mouse Club by Walt Disney. Despite the fact that O’Brien had little experience performing, he was placed on the first-string “Red Team” and appeared on the show for all three seasons.

Following his time with Disney, O’Brien pursued music and worked as a drummer for bands such as The Carpenters. Since the 1980s, he has played drums for Broadway shows and participated in Mouseketeer reunion performances.