As the age of 10, Macaulay Culkin became the youngest actor ever to earn $US1 million for a movie. But it was only a few years earlier that he’d been crawling around under seats at a theatre, searching for coins people might have dropped. The Culkins were desperately poor, all seven kids sleeping in one bedroom of a tiny New York apartment.
Macaulay’s younger brother Kieran remembers that the apartment was barely big enough for a couple.
“It was just a hallway, and there were no separating doors, except for the bathroom, which didn’t have a lock,” he told Vanity Fair last year. “They just kept bringing babies home to this little space.”
School wasn’t the highest priority. Kieran remembers watching a lot of wrestling on TV, and recreating the matches with Macaulay and their oldest brother, Shane.
Their mother, Patty Brentrup, worked as a telephone operator and held the family together. Their father, Kit, worked as a sacristan in a Catholic church.
“They were all-right times for my family,” Macaulay told New York magazine in 2001. “My father was always, you know, abusive, but it didn’t get really, really, really bad until later on.”
Watch: Macaulay Culkin speaks to Ellen DeGeneres. Post continues after video.
Kit had come from a showbiz background, having appeared in Broadway productions with Laurence Olivier and Richard Burton as a child. His sister was the actress Bonnie Bedelia, star of Die Hard. One of the Culkins’ neighbours was a stage manager called Susan Selig, and when her theatre needed a child to be in a play, Kit was more than happy to push six-year-old Macaulay forward. In fact, Kit was more than happy to push all of his kids forward. All seven – including sisters Dakota and Quinn, and youngest brothers Christian and Rory – ended up acting at some point, whether they wanted to or not.
Casting director Billy Hopkins had to pay to get Macaulay to and from rehearsals for his first play.
“They were like the Beverly Hillbillies,” he says of the Culkins.
But it was obvious that the young Macaulay had real star quality. It wasn’t long before he was scoring movie roles – first in Rocket Gibraltar, then Uncle Buck. At first, it was all good times. John Candy, his Uncle Buck co-star, was “a fun guy” to be around. But after Home Alone came out in 1990, the 10-year-old Macaulay was so famous that he had paparazzi hiding in the bushes near his apartment. He became reluctant to go out.