What the 'Harvard for Hollywood' Gets You

If there ever was a Harvard for Hollywood, it would probably be the Oakwood Apartments. A sprawling complex of more than 1,000 units in Los Angeles, it's where would-be child actors come to live, act, study -- and be discovered during pilot season.

Oakwood owes its reputation to its location -- just down the road from many of the major studios.

Hilary Duff and Jennifer Love Hewitt are among the many stars who were discovered at Oakwood. The complex is now a destination for kids from every corner of the country, who arrive with the hope they will be able to join that list of distinguished alums.

But Oakwood is not cheap. Rent alone costs $3,000 a month -- everything else is extra: headshots for $500; private acting coaches for $100 an hour; private singing coaches for up to $150 an hour -- and agents and managers each take 15 percent.

Five Aspiring Stars

"Primetime Live" recently spent three months at the Oakwood Apartments, following the paths of five kids chasing the Hollywood dream -- as well as the parents who came with them.

Taylor Bright, 11, came from Chicago with her mother, Shane, leaving her dad to run the auto repair shop back home. Taylor had already appeared in commercials and was paying for the trip herself.

Diandra Newlin, 13, from Richmond, Va., had already been living at the Oakwood on and off for a year and a half when "Primetime" arrived. She was there with her mother, Donna, and already had a manager, two agents and a résumé that included victories at Junior Miss beauty pageants and a Faith Hill video.

"I just have this passion of being on the set," she told "Primetime Live" co-anchor Cynthia McFadden.

Zach Green, 11, arrived with his mother from Madison, Wis., leaving his dad at home. His idol is the comic Gene Wilder.

Chase Edwards, 10, arrived from Flint, Mich., where he performed in school plays and local theater. His mother, Corinne, arranged to take a two-month leave of absence from her job, but his father remained at home.

And finally, there was 14-year-old Derek Jinks, who said "a lot of people tell me I look like Brad Pitt." After three years of small parts at home in Fenton, Mich., he got an agent, and a call to come to Hollywood. He and his mom lived down the road from Oakwood, but visited often.

"It's a field trip," said Sandy Jinks. "No matter what field they ever decide to be in, you know I wanted to just give them that chance."

Whose Career Is It Anyway?

One of the perennial questions when it comes to child actors is "whose career is it anyway?" Do the dreams of stardom belong to the kids or the parents?

Diandra Newlin was quick to assert, "I've totally wanted to do this myself." Shane Bright told McFadden: "I ask her all the time if she could just quit now, and she says, 'Oh, I have to do this.'"

However, there's no question that the showbiz life requires sacrifice from nearly everyone in the family. Not just a financial toll, but an emotional one too. In many cases, child actors arrived at Oakwood with only one parent, leaving the rest of the family behind.

Hallie Todd, who played Hilary Duff's mother on the show "Lizzie McGuire" and now gives acting lessons at her acting school, "In-house Media," said the perfect family to do this "is extremely wealthy where both parents can relocate -- and they can devote every minute of the day to helping them pursue their dream."

But in all of "Primetime Live's" visits to Oakwood, not a single family appeared to meet this model.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...