NEWPORT BEACH — Stacy and Scotty Williams of Corona stand dutifully beside their mother at Kids Hollywood Connection, a Newport Beach company that helps local youngsters secure Hollywood agents.
By just looking, you would never guess that 8-year-old Stacy, with her hair in braids and a sprinkle of freckles across her nose, raked in $70,000 last year and is currently the hit of a Kellogg's Raisin Bran commercial in which she sits at a breakfast table eating cereal with her dad.
And it would be difficult to tell that Scotty, a typical-looking 11-year-old, made $100,000 in 1992 wages and has just finished his first television movie, after a speaking part in the TV series "Baywatch" and work in numerous television commercials.
This year, the Williams kids expect to gross nearly $350,000.
"These are professional kids, and as you can see, they aren't affected by the business. Aren't they terrific? I'm so proud of those two. And see this baby here," said Phyllis Henson, founder of the company, turning to a photo of a smiling infant in a picture frame with the word \o7 star\f7 on it. "She's not even a year old and she's made $20,000 from commercials. It's a nice start for college."
Henson sees herself as a Hollywood matchmaker guiding Orange County parents who think their child has that special star quality through the mazes and pitfalls of the movie and television industry.
After being divorced and with three children to raise, Henson decided to start her consulting company by drawing on knowledge she gleaned when trying to get her three children--Wendy, Kelly and Eric--into show business.
"I just saw so many parents getting taken advantage of and making the same mistakes I did," Henson said. "I've heard so many horror stories from parents who spend thousands of dollars for pictures of a 9-month-old, and they aren't even the right pictures."
Henson, who is in her early 40s, started her company in 1981. She charges a $295 consulting fee per child. Additionally, she serves as manager for a handful of children, including Scotty and Stacy Williams, and takes a 15% manager's fee from their work. Henson said she has helped at least 5,000 children, from newborns only 16 days old to teen-agers.
But last year Henson--who has been operating at full steam for years--suffered a serious blow when she was diagnosed as having breast cancer. With the disease now in remission, Henson said she feels it is important that other women know breast cancer is a disease that can be conquered and that woman entrepreneurs can continue running a business despite such emotional devastation.
"I didn't want anyone to think I was letting my business slide," Henson said. "I keep a real positive outlook. I just kept saying, 'Phyllis, you're going to lick this.' "
Last year, Henson said her company reported fee-based revenue of $100,000, which does not include the money she received as a talent manager.
"We think she does two valuable things: She advises beginners about the basics of the industry and we've found some wonderful clients through her," said Jody Alexander, an agent with Joseph, Heldfond & Rix, a talent agency in Hollywood.
Tina Williams, Scotty and Stacy's mother, said she decided to get her children into show business because "everyone kept saying how cute they were." After getting nowhere with one agent, she contacted Henson, who put her in touch with other agents who got them work.
Because of their success at such early ages, Williams said she hopes her children forgo college and continue with careers in acting.
However, Henson's 18-year-old daughter, Kelly, who was the pigtailed star of a successful Eggo waffle advertising campaign in 1980, is finding that "it's tougher for adults" to break into the business.
Henson once drove her daughter up to Hollywood for numerous auditions, but Kelly now drives herself to acting classes in a Mazda RX-7 she bought with money she made as a child actress.
Though Kelly Henson has seen troubled child actors and actresses whose parents pushed them into the business, she said she was unaffected by the work.
"That never happened to me. I didn't grow up on TV. I worked a lot as a child, but I wasn't famous," said Kelly, who has occasionally worked as a receptionist for her mother after her graduation from high school. She said she does not plan to attend college.
Phyllis Henson said she is lucky to have three of "the most normal children." Wendy works as a part-time model and Eric is still in high school. Henson said she does encounter a small number of so-called stage mothers who push their children into acting.
"It's not just the industry, it's the parent who ruins the child. These are the children who are most affected."