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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Attack of the As-Seen-On-TV Mushroom Heads-- The Sad, Secret Downfall of Former Child Stars

MacKenzie Phillips is out of jail and back in rehab. Gary Coleman is out of patience and backing into pedestrians. And Michael J. Fox's tow-headed "Family Ties" brother, Brian Bonsall, is out of luck and on the lam with a rap sheet longer than a VH1 celebreality marathon.

Sure, we should blame the obvious pernicious influences: the darkness of drugs and alcohol, the poisons of bad parenting/career-managing, the "shocking" pitfalls of turning a talented and tender young soul into Hollywood's newest moneybags. But there is another, equally damning black cloud that quietly hovers over and ultimately destroys the lives of nearly every troubled child star. It's an evil so unspeakable that America refuses to whisper any of its names.

It's the dreaded Mushroom Head. The Bowl Cut. The Dorothy Hamill Wedge. The Pageboy of Darkness. The Beezl-bob.

There, I said it. Be gone evil hairdo! By the power of Supercuts and the Season 2 winner of "Shear Genius," be gone at once!

If only it were that easy. If only we could rewind time to 1973 and obliterate all bowls bigger than a preschooler's skull.

Brian Bonsall's moppety mushroom head popped up from nowhere when his character, Andy Keaton, instantly transformed from a nearly-hairless infant to a full-on, bowl-cut imp. No doubt reviled by the show's crinkly-haired former quipster--a man known simply as "Skippy"--Bonsall's face-framing Smurfhouse lulled audiences into a false sense of comfort and complacency. But isn't that how evil works? Could an impossibly smooth, geometrically-perfect half-sphere placed gingerly atop a small child's noggin merely mask a shapeless void that dwells within?

Cousin Oliver, anyone?

And look what Adam Rich's Beezl-bob did to the cast of "Eight is Enough." Only Willie Aames' career could be revived, and only then through the healing, straight-to-video powers of Bibleman.

Gary Coleman and Todd Bridges both fell prey to a pint-sized wedge-head during the 437th season of "Diff'rent Strokes." When Conrad Bain hooked up with Dixie Carter, what but grim-reaping darkness could prevail? And did it ever, in the form of an overly-white, red-headed little Southern twit named Danny Cooksey. Pushing poor Arnold and Willis out of the laugh-track-laden spotlight, this 'shroom-skulled Howdy Doody ruined an otherwise quality program while snuffing out the promising careers of its preternaturally gifted young stars.

But the follicle geyser didn't always spring from the head of Damien himself. After all, women reclaimed the wedge when the otherwise lovely Dorothy Hamill lopped her locks on her way to Olympic gold in 1976. But nearly a year before this fashion tragedy reared its ugly head, the mother of all mushrooms clouded the TV and American landscape.

Bonnie Franklin, TV's toadstool-tressed Ann Romano, the Superbowl Herself, took life One Bad Hair Day at a Time. She muddled through, and eventually survived her tragic 'shroom. Sadly, MacKenzie Phillips hasn't fared so well. Not only did she adopt her TV mom's ill-fitting bowl cut in the mid- to late-'70s, she clearly became obsessed with mushrooms in every way. Imagine, having to stare at the otherwise vivacious Bonnie Franklin's orange, half-globe hair every day of your life (save hiatus). Who wouldn't want to smoke her 'shroom 'do, if only to release its toxic soul back into the netherworld from whence it sprouted? Evil cannot be destroyed, but thank heavens it can change forms.