For every child actress who vanishes for years but then suddenly and successfully reemerges in an HBO series or hit sitcom, there’s another who transitions into a series of septum surgeries and appearances in creepy soft-core photo shoots for foreign magazines with names like SCHLOSS. The recent returns of Mayim Bialik (The Big Bang Theory), Gaby Hoffmann (Homeland, The Good Wife), and Anna Chlumsky (the upcoming Veep) gave us a zap of nostalgic joy, but it only made us even more curious about the ones whom we haven’t seen in a long time. Where’s Mara “Matilda” Wilson’s comeback role? Blossom can get a second chance, but not Curly Sue? In order to do our part to bring every former sassy or dimpled teen star back to their rightful place in the pop-culture firmament, whether they want to or not, we’ve picked nine of these actresses and studied their post-hit careers to come up with a plan to get them back on top.
MEMORABLE ROLE: Curly Sue (1991)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: Alisan briefly scared us by appearing on the para-pornagraphic Undressed, MTV’s bizarre late-night experiment in blue balling teenagers. She’s now in a band and mostly works in musical theatre.
COMEBACK PLAN: Here’s a two-step plan: Use her musical talents to secure a small guest role on Glee; once she catches Ryan Murphy’s eye, he’ll be sure to cast her on American Horror Story. Judging from what he’s done with Connie Britton and Jessica Lange, Murphy loves to take actresses upon whom his audiences look back fondly and make them do horrible, horrible things. Curly Sue is probably his dream get, right after Pepsi girl Hallie Eisenberg.
MEMORABLE ROLES: My Two Dads (1987–1990), Step by Step (1991–1998)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: She had a run of faith-based films in the aughts, including a comedy called Holyman Undercover and Sarah’s Choice, a straight-to-DVD pro-life film about a woman who chooses not to have an abortion. But she seems to have broadened her role selection to consider the less pious: Her most recent credits are Kristen Bell’s You Again and Death and Cremation, in which Brad Dourif murders and burns the bodies of bullies.
COMEBACK PLAN: How about a reality series that has her teaming up with Kirk Cameron and Lisa Welchel to do drop-in proselytizing with surprised past co-stars Paul Reiser, Greg Evigan, Alan Thicke, and Charlotte Rae? You could even edit the footage two ways and sell it twice, once to CBN as an earnest doc and once to A&E as a kooky hidden-camera show.
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MEMORABLE ROLES: Whale Rider (2002), The Nativity Story (2006)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: Some Australian movies? And TV shows? Whenever we try to concentrate on it, we keep coming back to the factoid that she had a child at 17 after starring in The Nativity Story. But no judgments!
COMEBACK PLAN: Why not follow the path of Anna Paquin, another Kiwi-associated actress who got an Oscar nomination at a young age? She had a mainstream breakout in X-Men, so Castle-Hughes should start hitting up the Marvel bunch: They’ve got so many superhero movies to keep track of that if she lied and told them that “Whale Rider” was actually an old sixties hero, they’d throw her into the next Avengers without checking.
MEMORABLE ROLES: Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Miracle on 34th Street (1994), and Matilda (1996)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: Mara has been voluntarily out of commission for over a decade—in 2009, as an NYU senior, she told the student newspaper that she isn’t interested in being famous.
COMEBACK PLAN: Considering that she made those comments in an article touting her own autobiographical one-woman show, she clearly hasn’t been that scarred by acting. In the same article she said, “I think I might like to try film again just as an experiment but I know that I could never do the mainstream thing again.” Okay, then how about the stage, but a show far off of Matilda-fetishizing tourists’ itineraries; maybe a high-profile ensemble drama like Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia? Is The Coast of Utopia still going on? Long play, that Coast of Utopia.
MEMORABLE ROLES: The Wonder Years (1988–1993)
POST-HEYDAY RESUME: In between sporadic acting gigs, Winnie Cooper made a name for herself as a professional math genius and best-selling author.
COMEBACK PLAN: Mayim Bialik took ten years off to get a Ph.D. and is now on Big Bang Theory, so why can’t McKellar take a short break from academia? We figure that if Hollywood won’t bankroll it, about 10 million thirtysomethings would all chip in to fund a special epilogue episode of The Wonder Years in which Winnie and Fred Savage’s Kevin have gotten married and had 30,000 babies. The closure would be worth it.
MEMORABLE ROLES: Saved By the Bell (1989–1994)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: The former Lisa Turtle has done pretty much everything, from dating Martin Lawrence to fronting an alternative band to starting a management company to being in that movie where Method Man goes to Harvard.
COMEBACK PLAN: A few years back, there were rumblings about a starring role in a Whitney Houston biopic. Clear everything on this woman’s calendar until this happens.
MEMORABLE ROLE: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (1990–1996)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: After taking a decidedly un–Hillary Banks role in the criminally underappreciated movie version of The Ladies Man, Karyn now produces animated films.
COMEBACK PLAN: If you are a gay man or you know one with a cellular phone, you may have heard about Lifetime’s plans for an all-black reboot of Steel Magnolias. Lifetime: presenting your Annelle.
MEMORABLE ROLE: Hey, Dude (1989–1991)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: What’s Kelly been up to? Avoiding humanity, apparently! Kelly Bermuda-Triangles after her first and only role as tomboy Brad “The Brown Haired One” Taylor and is like, next to impossible to IMDb, Wikipedia, or web search in any way.
COMEBACK PLAN: Do people still write novelty country songs? A really great novelty country song would be, “Where the Hell Is Kelly Brown (So Hard to Google You).” Get her in the video?
MEMORABLE ROLE: Small Wonder (1985–1989)
POST-HEYDAY RÉSUMÉ: Tiffany is now a nurse in Boulder, Colorado.
COMEBACK PLAN: It feels medically irresponsible to tell her to do anything when there’s a nursing shortage. Maybe a reality show about nurses? Is that a compromise?