Aug. 26, 2011 — -- intro: Many Hollywood stars had unusual childhoods -- casting calls instead of kindergarten, scripts to memorize instead of multiplication tables.
Some had odder upbringings than the rest.
In the latest issue of People magazine, Rose McGowan revealed her painful childhood in the Children of God sect – a religious movement that mixed the free-love attitudes of the '60s with proselytizing in the streets. The organization disbanded in 1978 amid reports of misconduct, child abduction and sexual abuse. McGowan's father ran the Italian chapter of Children of God, and McGowan spent much of her childhood traveling through in the sect's European communes with him, her mother and two siblings.
"You had no contact with the outside world," McGowan told People. "Things that are completely unacceptable became normal. I remember watching how the [cult's] men were with the women, and at a very early age I decided I did not want to be like those women. They were basically there to serve the men sexually -- you were allowed to have more than one wife."
McGowan said her family escaped before she got molested.
"There's a trail of some very damaged children that were in this group," she said. "As strong as I like to think I've always been, I'm sure I could have been broken. I know I got out by the skin of my teeth."
But McGowan's childhood didn't get "normal" from there. The star of "Scream" and the new "Conan the Barbarian" modeled for Italian magazines and returned to the U.S. with her parents at age 10. After they divorced, she ran away from home and was taken in by drag queens in Oregon.
"We didn't always know where our next meal was coming from, but there was so much camaraderie and love," she said in the September issue of the Advocate. "Not to mention, those girls could paint a face, and I learned how because of them."
McGowan is not the only star who grew up in a commune. Click through to see more celebrity families who spent time in far flung religious sects.
quicklist: 1title: The Phoenixestext: Had McGowan spent her early years across the Atlantic, she might have crossed paths with actors Joaquin and the late River Phoenix, who also grew up in the Children of God sect. The Phoenix family traveled through communes in Mexico and Venezuela, sometimes begging to get by. River Phoenix reportedly said that the family was destitute and living in "disgusting" conditions by the time of his seventh birthday in 1977. That year, soured by the sect's practice of using sex to woo new converts, the Phoenix parents decamped with their brood and became Christian missionaries.
The unconventional upbringing took a toll on River and Joaquin Phoenix. River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993; Joaquin Phoenix either orchestrated or actually endured a very public downward spiral that he chronicled in the 2010 film "I'm Still Here."
quicklist: 2title: The Arquettestext: Like the McGowans and the Phoenixes, the Arquettes grew up on a commune, but not exactly a cult. Actors David, Patricia and Rosanna Arquette spent their early years with their parents and two other siblings in a Subud community in Winchester, Va.
"They started it with a bunch of their friends, and they wanted to kind of build this utopian society," Patricia Arquette said on "Oprah" in February. "David was born there."
She said the commune had no electricity or bathrooms, and, "I don't think there was running water."
Even after the family moved out of the commune and into more conventional homes, their environment didn't get more stable. Both parents were drug addicts.
"There was a lot of drama in the house," Patricia Arquette said. "There were a lot of chairs flying around."
"A lot of hole punching in walls," Rosanna Arquette added. "[My mom] stabbed me in the arm with a knife. Concussions. Just terrible physical abuse."
quicklist: 3title: The Ryderstext: When the most famous proponent of LSD is your godfather, you know your childhood's not going to be the stuff of Norman Rockwell.
In 1978, at the age of 7, Winona Ryder moved into the Rainbow commune in California with her parents, both authors, and her younger brother. They were joined by seven other families that attempted to live self-sufficiently on a 300-acre plot of land.
With no electricity or TV, Ryder became an avid reader and soon got interested in acting. The hobby turned into a career a few years later when her family moved on and Winona Ryder began auditioning in earnest.