Whether as child actors themselves or as part of the adult cast, children’s programming has launched more than one storied career. Here’s a list of celebs who surprisingly got their start on children’s shows.
Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling on ‘The All-New Mickey Mouse Club’
Perhaps no show can claim putting as many A-list stars on the road to fame as “The All-New Mickey Mouse Club,” which ran from 1989-1994 on The Disney Channel. When they joined the show, Britney Spears was just 11, Justin Timberlake was just 12, and Christina Aguilera was just 13. Little did they know they would end up becoming the biggest pop stars of their generation. Childhood friends, Spears and Aguilera would be pitted against each other as singing rivals for the rest of their careers. Meanwhile, Spears and Timberlake grew up to have a high-profile relationship from 1998-2002. Ryan Gosling, who started on the show at age 12, became a respected leading man in film, garnering multiple Academy Award nominations for hits like “La La Land” (2016). Other notable cast members include J.C. Chasez (who went on to join *NSYNC with Timberlake) and Keri Russell (who went on to star in the hit TV shows “Felicity” and “The Americans”).
Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez on ‘Barney & Friends’
If you had (or were) a child in the 1990s, you are probably cringing right now. “Barney & Friends,” starring the titular purple dinosaur, was loved everywhere by elementary school kids and ran for an astonishing 18 years. While the adult cast consisted of costumed dinosaurs, children ran through the series in the hundreds, among whom were seven-year-old Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez. Both got their first exposure laughing, singing, and dancing along with Barney and crew, which more or less served as an audition tape for future roles. Lovato became part of the cast of Disney Channel’s “Camp Rock,” while Gomez was picked up for “Wizards of Waverly Place.”
Raúl Julia on ‘Sesame Street’
Starting in 1969, “Sesame Street” has taught at least four generations of children their letters, numbers, and the power of cooperation. While many performers have guest-starred on the show over the decades, in the first few years before the prestige of appearing was industry standard, a few up-and-coming actors and comedians got prime viewing time on the show. Best known for his role as Gomez Addams in the ’90s “Addams Family” films, Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia had one of his earliest filmed appearances on “Sesame Street” in 1972 as Rafael, brother to Fix-It Shop owner Luis, played by Emilio Delgado. Although Julia made just four appearances on the show, Delgado spent the next 30 years on the show as a major cast member. Sadly, Julia passed away in 1994.
Morgan Freeman on ‘The Electric Company’
“The Electric Company” followed “Sesame Street,” literally, both on the schedule and in programming. This show taught spelling, reading, sentence structure, and was some of the funniest sketch comedy on television that wasn’t on Saturday night. Three of the original cast members are well known, but two had already had memorable careers before joining the show: acclaimed actress Rita Moreno and comedian Bill Cosby. The third is Morgan Freeman, who had small roles on stage and screen up until joining “The Electric Company.” Reports are mixed as to whether or not Freeman has good memories of his time playing such characters as Easy Reader and Vincent the Vegetable Vampire, but fans fondly remember his tenure regardless.
Ben Affleck on ‘The Voyage of the Mimi’
You might not know that Ben Affleck got his start as a child actor. One of his earliest roles was “The Voyage of the Mimi,” a 13-episode series on PBS that aired in 1984. The Mimi was a trawler that served as the backdrop for the series, as a small crew of marine researchers and biologists take a survey of humpback whale populations. Ben Affleck was just 12 years old when he played the grandson of the ship’s captain. The 15-minute episodes were filmed in two halves: the first half featured the backstory of the ship and its work, while the second half consisted of interviews with scientists and a discussion of the scientific principles shown at work in the first half. Affleck discussed his role on “The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon,” which aired a clip. From these humble beginnings, Affleck went on to become one of the biggest actors of his generation and an acclaimed screenwriter, producer, and director. He won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay for “Goodwill Hunting” (1997) and Best Picture for “Argo” (2012).
Jan-Michael Vincent on ‘The Banana Splits’
From the ’70s to the ’90s, Jan-Michael Vincent was a fixture of guest-starring roles in just about every popular series on television, finally garnering the lead in the ’80s action powerhouse series “Airwolf.” But he originally started out in the late ’60s, under contract with Universal Studios, as one of the cast of “Danger Island,” a pirate- and treasure-themed live serial show embedded within the Hanna-Barbera children’s show “The Banana Splits.” These 10-minute segments ran through two seasons for a total of six hours of story, and are worth tracking down on Youtube to watch, especially since the series was directed by Richard Donner, who went on to direct Christopher Reeves in “Superman” and Mel Gibson in “Lethal Weapon.”