June 12, 2024

There are “child stars,” and then there are performers that start working during childhood only to become bona fide, beloved screen icons, enjoying long, varied careers throughout their lives. Following in the footsteps of Shirley Temple, Natalie Wood and Mickey Rooney, Macaulay Culkin has — for three decades and counting — been a contemporary standard bearer for that personal and professional journey.

Culkin became a full-fledged cultural phenomenon after the explosive commercial success of his fifth film, 1990’s “Home Alone,” which he made when he was just 10 years old. The film grossed $476 million worldwide, due in direct part to his mischievous-yet-vulnerable performance as Kevin McAllister. But beginning in his teenage years, Culkin began seeking projects that piqued his artistic interests rather than sustaining his immediate and colossal celebrity. Even without any expectation for those subsequent efforts to reach the same stratospheric heights as his early breakthrough, Culkin’s star wattage has barely flickered, and on Dec. 1, his enduring appeal will be cemented — literally — on the sidewalks of Hollywood as he receives a star on the Walk of Fame.

“As a very neglectful fake mother, I’m very glad that he’s given me another chance to show up for him,” quips Catherine O’Hara, who plays Kevin’s frazzled, forgetful mom Kate in “Home Alone” and its sequel, “Lost in New York,” and will be introducing him at his star ceremony.

O’Hara remembers being first introduced to Culkin through his work with “Home Alone” writer John Hughes. “I’d seen him in ‘Uncle Buck’ with dear John Candy and thought, ‘Where did this beautiful little boy come from?’” she recalls. “He was most obviously gifted with a beautiful face, but he was also a really natural actor. He was so relatable and real.”

Working with him as a co-star, O’Hara marveled at how Culkin fully and seemingly effortlessly embodied his character. “It was as if this real boy, Kevin, was surrounded by actors and just went along with it for the fun.” She credits him for the movie becoming a global, and enduring, phenomenon: “He is the reason we have all made watching ‘Home Alone’ a family holiday tradition.”

O’Hara admits she watched with a mix of fascination and trepidation as Culkin became a pint-sized Hollywood powerhouse, appearing in “My Girl,” “The Good Son,” “The Nutcracker” and “Richie Rich” in rapid succession. “It was more like either the Beatles or Elvis Presley — or Gandhi! It’s crazy to put that on a child.” She says that he handled the success and attention generated by the films better than many of his older counterparts. “He was cool, he was a kid, but he was the reason it was this hit. How many adults have ever been subjected to that kind of adoration?” she ponders. “He never seemed he was in show business to build a worldwide fan club.

“I think Macaulay survived it to become a fine young man,” O’Hara says of his decision to step out of the tsunami of fame, regardless of what the industry wanted from him. “He had, somehow, the wisdom and self-preservation at the age of 14 or something to say ‘stop.’ He chose to allow himself a life outside of the work, and he’s been making his own choices since.”

As a then-fellow child actor, Seth Green eyed Culkin from afar during his colleague and future friend’s ascent. “This kid hit the scene like Anakin Skywalker and everybody is saying ‘He is the literal new coming,’” recalls Green, who admired the young star for different reasons than his projects. “He handled himself so well with all of the chaos and silliness swarming around him.

“I saw him take a particular type of control over his public image, especially when he realized that photographers were following him. He would give them something to talk about, like dye his hair pink or wear a Rolex to school. I watched him literally take control over his own existence — to become emancipated and get married — and start to shape how he wanted to be seen.”

Green developed a deeper friendship with Culkin in adulthood, after the two of them worked together on the 2003 film “Party Monster.” Though he’d later direct Culkin in “Changeland” and collaborate with him frequently on “Robot Chicken,” Green says they bonded over shared attitudes about the ups and downs of stardom. “We definitely saw eye to eye about the grain of salt with which you can take the things that get thrown at you in this life — especially trying to be the person inside the icon.”

Fellow “Party Monster” cast member Natasha Lyonne reiterates that there’s a special bond between individuals thrown into the entertainment industry at a young age. “There is this unspoken language that child actors seem to have — granted, Macaulay Culkin was as ubiquitous as Shirley Temple! [But] immediately our relationship was one of a deep, intuitive understanding, and this protective instinct for each other.”

She and Culkin charted similarly rocky roads to stardom, dealing with parents who controlled their careers while juggling the financial responsibility of supporting their families. “We have parents that are people that you would really enjoy if you just met them in the wild, but when they’re your parents and you’re a child and it’s a job, boy, is it specific,” she says.

As his example has helped his siblings navigate their own careers, such as younger brother Kieran’s own starmaking turn on HBO’s “Succession,” Lyonne seems grateful to Culkin — and yet protective of him — for triumphing over the adversity he faced, and the sometimes unflattering attention it generated in the process. “Not to be too emo about it, but my inner child fucking loves Mac and would kill for him automatically, just by virtue of knowing that we both saw it to adulthood.”

She suggests that Culkin’s resilience has equipped him to handle celebrity as an adult. “Mac is just very much the real deal. He doesn’t need more pictures of himself or to be in a ‘Stars: They’re Just Like Us,’” Lyonne says. “He’s like, I’ll be over here actually making things in private.’ And more importantly, he’s made a really beautiful life for himself.”

Along with the zealous privacy he maintains with his partner Brenda Song and their two children, Culkin’s selectivity as an adult actor — leading to roles like those in “American Horror Story: Double Feature” and “The Righteous Gemstones” — has only enhanced his mystique over the years. Green recalls how his frequent appearances each year at New York Comic-Con on behalf of “Robot Chicken” would jokingly mark “the annual public appearance of Macaulay Culkin.”

“One of the kids got up and asked, ‘Hey, Mac, what rock have you been hiding under?’ And the whole audience was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa,’” he remembers. “The truth is, he could not leave his house for two straight years and he would still be more relevant than anyone in that room.”

Green says the connection fans have with Culkin make him eminently worthy of being immortalized on the Walk of Fame. “That sidewalk, it’s meant to convey the permanent icons of Hollywood — and if there is anyone who has made an impact, it is this kid.”

TIPSHEET

WHAT: Macaulay Culkin receives his star on the Walk of Fame

WHEN: 11:30 a.m, Dec. 1

WHERE: 6353 Hollywood Blvd.

WEB: walkoffame.com

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