Erin Chase has done television commercials for fast food, breakfast food and dog food. She had a starring role in the canceled NBC series "Aaron's Way" and will be the voice of Charlie Brown in a cartoon series.
It is a pretty busy schedule for any actor. But those are the credits of a fresh-faced 14-year-old from Rolling Hills Estates who began her career at the age of 6 months modeling pink pajamas in a Buffums advertisement.
More recently, she has worn an Amish apron and prayer cap as the 11-year-old daughter of Aaron Miller (Merlin Olsen) in "Aaron's Way," the story of a Pennsylvania Dutch farm family that moves to fast-paced California.
Although the series was dropped from the fall lineup, Erin's disappointment is tempered by the job as the voice of Charlie Brown, several commercials for Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. and being named the spokesperson for Clean Teens USA, a Modesto group against alcohol, drugs and teen-age sex.
Through it all, Erin remains a normal kid, said her mother, Joann Chase.
"She has to feed the dog, make her bed, feed the horses, rake the manure--just like anybody else. If you cut through it all, she's pretty normal," Chase said in a recent interview.
The freshman at Rolling Hills High School is an infielder on a girls' softball team, takes guitar lessons, attends a Mormon church with her family and frets about spending five hours a night on homework.
Born to Acting
Erin, who is the fifth of six children, has followed her older brothers Earl and Eric as a child actor. Earl had a brief career in television commercials. Eric began auditioning after a plastic surgeon told his mother it might improve his self-esteem; he had been disfigured after running through a sliding-glass door. He appeared in commercials, on numerous television shows and was a regular as Christopher Pruitt in the 1968-70 series "Here Come the Brides." The brothers, who are now in their 20s, left acting and have other careers.
"So when I came along in 1973, I guess I was just born into it," Erin said recently.
That's more than a figure of speech, according to her agent, Helen Garrett.
"Basically, I've known Erin since before she was born, if that's possible," said Garrett, who met Chase when both had boys going to auditions together.
Chase was pregnant with her fifth child when Garrett called--this time as an agent. She had work for Eric. Garrett "told me when I had that baby to bring it down. She could always use an infant," Chase said.
Soon after birth, Erin began doing commercials, and she kept at it for about eight years. Then the demands on her time outweighed the attractions.
"For five years I didn't do anything," she said in the low, raspy voice that won her the Charlie Brown contract. "I was sick of it. . . . I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to play and run around. I wanted to ride my horse."
Garrett estimates that a child auditions for 30 jobs to get one.
"It's hard because it's boring," Erin said of the drive to and from auditions. "It takes from 45 minutes to an hour and a half one way."
Chase had also tired of the routine.
"It isn't easy," is how Chase described being a child actor's mother. "It's running and running and running. Everyone suffers. You're not home sometimes until 7 or 8 o'clock at night, so you can't get meals fixed and the house doesn't always look like it should."
Garrett said: "It's a total commitment, and very few parents are willing to do that."
For a child to remain active, parents must finance necessities like wardrobe, acting lessons, union dues and promotional photographs, which must be taken at least every year. The cost can run into several thousand dollars.
Despite these drawbacks, Chase said, "it's been a good experience all the way around. I think it teaches a child to be strong, to accept rejection. Kids think life is a bowl of cherries and then they get out in life and the pits hit them in the face. These kids have to learn early in life that it isn't fair."
There also are the financial benefits. Erin's career has given birth to a bank account that will pay for her college education.
Her first year at Rolling Hills High School was a challenge because the "Aaron's Way" filming schedule kept her off the campus for the first semester. She was working at the Lorimar Telepictures lot daily from June, 1987, to January, 1988.
Little Time for Friends
During the fall semester, her school load was light; she was enrolled in an independent study program and had a studio tutor. When she began attending class on campus in January, she found it difficult both scholastically and socially. The subjects were harder and the amount of homework increased. Worse, because she had not had time to nurture friendships, she did not know many other students.
"I was accepted partly because I was in show business," she said. "Now, I think they like me for me, instead of for 'Aaron's Way.' When you do this kind of thing, you have to give up friends. It takes a lot of time. (Auditions) have priority."