When someone experiences fame early in life, it can be either a good thing or something that leads to destruction. The reason why is because most children can’t cope with all the pressure from the media and being under the limelight.
Being a huge name in the film industry during the 50s changed the life of child actress Lauren Chapin forever. Before the age of 10, she was cast in the TV series Father Knows Best and appeared in 196 episodes of the 203 in the series. It was her mom Lauren who took her to audition together with Lauren’s brother Michael who read for the role of Bud in the same series.
“In fact, one day when he and Lauren were both reading, [producer] Mr. Rodney told me you might hit the jackpot and have two of your children in this series”. It turned out, however, that Michael looked too mature for the part,” Lauren’s mother recalled.
Lauren couldn’t even read when the producers of the show decided to give her the role of Kathy “Kitten” Anderson, turning her into a child star who ended up winning five Junior Emmys for Best Child Actress.
Lauren starred alongside Robert Young, Elinor Donahue, and Jane Wyatt.
She remembers the years on the set as one of the best of her life. On her 12th birthday, the producers surprised Lauren with a trip to Disneyland. She went there with a friend of hers and the moment they arrived and stepped out of the car, even bigger surprise awaited them. Elvis Presley presented her with a cake and sang her “Happy Birthday.”
“We were so enamored with him. It was just amazing,” Lauren said. “I think the both of us were running fevers.”
Everything seemed perfect in the life of Lauren, at least until the show that helped her rise to stardom was on. Unfortunately, once Father Knows Best was canceled, it was the start of the downfall of Lauren Chapin. As everyone saw her as Kathy from the show, she had a hard time finding a job and that affected her relationship with her mother.
“I couldn’t get a job; I’d been typecast as Kathy Anderson,” Lauren said. “The more I didn’t work, the more my mother drank, and the more belligerent I became, I started running away from home. I became an incorrigible child.
“I want to be married, have the piece of paper, the ring on the finger, and have a neat partnership.”
Eventually, she ran away from home and married one of her classmates at the age of 16. The marriage only lasted 2 years. As time passed by, she replaced her depression medications with illegal substances and ended up in a mental institution.
“I saw these people walking around wearing diapers and baby bonnets and sucking from bottles, and I thought, “Oh my God, I’m in the nuthouse, and I’ll never get out,” she said in a 1983 interview with Reading Eagle.
“But they train you to give up all your identity and go back to the beginning. A lot of people don’t make it, but the ones who do, make it for life.”
Luckily, after that dark period, she managed to regain control of her life. In 1989, she co-wrote the book Father Does Know Best: The Lauren Chapin Story, in which she wrote about her life on the television show and the horror that faced her when she left.
Lauren became a mother of two, son Matthew and daughter Summer.
“I know that Matthew and Summer are going to hear bad things about me from their friends. People can be so cruel sometimes. But, again, I have to trust Jesus to solve the problem,” Lauren said.
“I really can’t blame anyone but myself for the past,” she added. “And I can’t thank anyone but Jesus for the present and the future. My goal now is to spread His word and honor His name.”
Today, Lauren Chapin is 76 and works as a motivational speaker and is focused on helping others.