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Curly-haired Kirk Cameron : Teen-age Heartthrob Takes Fame In Stride

June 26, 1987|NANCY MILLS

Now that another school year is over, it's time for teen-age girls to discard old pin-ups to make space for the next crop of pretty faces. Out go Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe and Michael J. Fox--all of them well over 20, anyway, and eager to rid themselves of the teen sex-symbol label.

That leaves the bedroom walls clear for Kirk Cameron, who at 16 is the perfect age to appreciate the adulation of his thousands of young fans. Star of ABC's 2-year-old sitcom "Growing Pains," with Alan Thicke and Joanna Kerns, Cameron has grown from a cuddly boy into a young heartthrob right in front of the camera.

Only now beginning to realize the affect he has on the opposite sex, the curly-haired kid from Canoga Park is taking his popularity in stride. "It's fun to go out and sign autographs," Cameron says just moments after extricating himself from a mob of excited teen-age girls.

"For me, it (lack of privacy) hasn't been a problem. I'll probably realize what's happening when I'm older, but it's not something I'm worrying about yet. It's kind of like no big deal to me. It hasn't swelled my head. I am cool. I don't get like that. I haven't gone out and bought a Porsche or got married."

Although Cameron doesn't know what to make out of his new sex-symbol status, Hollywood producers do. When "Growing Pains" quietly began to establish itself as a Top 10 show this past season, producers inundated him with film scripts. Many in the entertainment industry describe him as "the next Michael J. Fox."

"It's extremely hard to find actors in Kirk's age range who are good and professional and nice and mature and have visibility," producer Brian Grazer observes. "People love this kid."

Mowing down all competition by offering Dudley Moore as a co-star, Grazer signed Cameron to star in "Like Father, Like Son," a Tri-Star comedy about role reversal due for release this fall. The producer says he recognized Cameron's potential earlier this year when he attended an ABC press event and noticed the size of the crowd surrounding the young actor.

"It was as if he was Elvis Presley," Grazer says. "There's an aura around certain people, and Kirk has it. It's intangible, but you can feel it. Tom Hanks had it. Michael Keaton had it. When I met them, they were complete unknowns. They had an energy. They weren't cocky, but they had no fear or inhibitions."

Grazer chose Hanks to star in "Splash," and Keaton to star in "Night Shift."

Meanwhile, Cameron's parents take a no-nonsense approach to his fame. "Yes, he's Kirk the star, but first he's Kirk the son," his mother says. The Camerons also have three daughters, 15, 13 and 11, and the youngest, Candace, has recently begun acting.

"I'm pretty strict," Barbara Cameron continues. "Kids like to have responsibility, and they need discipline. With all the pampering going on in this business, it's easy to get sidetracked."

"I've got a great career here," Cameron grins, his smile as sunny as his positive outlook, "but I'd like to have more time with my friends. I miss out on parties and everyday hanging-out with friends. But I love doing this stuff. I never wanted to be an actor. I just fell into it. And once I got started, I kept going."

Cameron, who, for the record, stands 5-foot-8 and has brown hair and hazel eyes, got into show business at age 9 through the help of a neighbor, Francine Rich, whose son Adam appeared on "Eight Is Enough."

Cameron's first job was in a TV commercial for breakfast cereal. He has worked steadily since, appearing in small roles in various series, TV movies and the feature "The Best of Times" before becoming the lippy Mike Seaver of "Growing Pains."

"My parents told me if I ever wasn't having fun acting, they wanted me to tell them and they'd stop it right there," Cameron says. "There have been times I felt I wanted to get out of acting, especially when I was 12 and 13. I'd come home from school and want to play with my friends, but instead I had to go to an interview. Now I'm liking it more and more, although I still don't know if it's the life for me."

Cameron's father is a junior high school teacher, and Cameron himself still toys with his original idea of being a doctor. "But college is going to have to wait awhile," he says realistically. "I can always go to school, and 'Growing Pains' is going to run another three years at least."

Meanwhile, "Like Father, Like Son" offers him the chance to play at least at being a doctor. His character, a high school sophomore, swaps brains with his father, a heart surgeon.

"Before we started filming," Cameron reports, "I went to Cedars-Sinai and saw a four-way heart bypass operation. That really blew me away. It was the most interesting, fascinating thing of my life. I watched it from beginning to end. The only thing that made me feel sick was when they did this cauterizing to prevent blood loss. The smell of burning flesh makes you puke."

Cameron may be on the verge of adulthood, but he's not in a hurry to grow up. If anything, he's trying desperately to hang on to his youth. "A lot of kids complain that their parents are always grounding them," he says. "I like my parents to say, 'Go clean up your room' and 'Take out the garbage.' I get sick of being treated real special. I like having a curfew. It reminds me I'm 16."

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