The 1960’s had a bumper crop of successful child stars, from the darling five and six year olds to the swinging teenagers who were actually young adults in age. In choosing the top child TV stars of this decade, though, I felt it was only fair not to include those who really were much older than perhaps we remember them being. Several performers who were in their 20’s appeared on screen as teenagers. The daughters of Petticoat Junction are among those, as are Tony Dow, Ken Osmond, Shelley Fabares, Tim Considine, Don Grady, and Sally Field.
Also eliminated from consideration are Brandon Cruz (The Courtship of Eddie’s Father) as well as Maureen McCormick and most of The Brady Bunch kids. This is because most of their success came in the 70’s and they are more closely identified there than in the 1960’s.
Presented below for your consideration is my list of the top child stars of the 1960’s:
15) Michael Burns
For five years, Michael Burns starred as Barnaby West on the hit western, Wagon Train. When the show ended, he went on to appear in numerous series, including McHale’s Navy, Bonanza, and Dragnet 1967, on which he gave a standout performance as a drug addict nicknamed Blue Boy. He was highly sought after, but after much more success in the 70’s, he left acting to teach. He’s never looked back.
14) Angela Cartwright
Angela Cartwright went right from Make Room for Daddy to Lost in Space, two highly visible and successful shows of the day. We watched her grow up in front of us. Her up front, sometimes challenging and cute-in-spite-of-herself persona was something we loved to watch. In the sixties, she was one of the most loved child stars. She also appeared in the classic movie, The Sound of Music.
13) Darby Hinton
As Israel Boone, Darby Hinton’s yen to follow in his father’s footsteps captured our hearts. Though his main claim to fame was during his years on Daniel Boone, Hinton did appear in a few other sixties programs, such as Wagon Train. Even with the limited credits, the boy made a strong impact in the highly visible Daniel Boone western.
12) Barry Livingston
Barry Livingston began the 1960’s by appearing on multiple episodes of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. After guest shots on other series such as The Lucy Show, he joined the cast of My Three Sons, first as a foster child who lived next door and then as the adopted son of Steve Douglas. His look was off the mainstream, but he had his own charm. That may be why he was so popular. He wasn’t as mainstream cute as his brother (Stanley Livingston) was. He was more the ‘every man’ boy, so to speak. He also was terrific in a wonderful film called My Six Loves with Debbie Reynolds.
11) Anissa Jones
Her young death from a drug overdose in 1976 still shocks us, but Anissa Jones will forever be Mrs. Beasley’s mom, Buffy Davis on Family Affair. Her wide eyes and tiny pigtails just made us want to take her into our arms and hold her tight. Her resume is virtually nil, except for this classic series, but Anissa made her role one for the ages, and in the latter half of the sixties, she was America’s sweetheart.
10) Stanley Livingston
For Stanley Livingston, the sixties meant one thing: My Three Sons. As Chip Douglas, the youngest son of widower Steve Douglas until Ernie was adopted, Chip was the vulnerable and most innocent child. From the first episode through his character’s evolution into the 70’s, America loved Chip. He did a few other shows, like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, but most of his concentration was in this comedy. A decade-plus of success is worthy of a spot on this list.
9) Butch Patrick
Best known as Eddie on The Munsters, Butch Patrick was all over the TV screen in the 1960’s. He didn’t miss a beat, before or after, his off-beat show which aired for three seasons beginning in 1964. His talent was undeniable, and he was on just about everything from westerns to comedies.
8) Clint Howard
While some people may think of him primarily as Ron Howard’s little brother, Clint Howard has earned his own right to fame and a place on this list. First, he played a memorable role on Ron’s show, The Andy Griffith Show. The usually quiet Leon left quite an impression on the folks in Mayberry. He was a regular on The Baileys of Balboa and has cult icon status for having appeared in the original Star Trek. The episode, The Corbomite Manuever, was one of the early episodes that gave us some background on the James T. Kirk character. Then, of course, Clint Howard wowed audiences as Mark, the owner of a black bear in Gentle Ben. Howard may often trail after his brother by appearing in Ron’s projects, but he’s definitely not in Ron’s shadow.
7) Paul Petersen
The Donna Reed Show was home to Paul Petersen for eight years, from 1958 to 1966. He had a hit record during the series called “My Dad.” During this time, he also appeared on The Virginian and F-Troop. Afterwards, his presence continued with performances on The Iron Horse, The Flying Nun, and The Big Valley, among others. He also made the Walt Disney film, The Happiest Millionaire. In truth, by the time the end of the 60’s came and Petersen filmed Gidget Grows Up with Karen Valentine, he was no longer a child actor, but with over half the decade as teenager, he qualifies for the list. Petersen is now an advocate for child actors and still acts from time to time.
6) Kurt Russell
Still one of Hollywood’s hardest working actors, Kurt Russell was a staple of television in the 1960’s. He starred in The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters and appeared in shows such as The Dick Powell Show, Gilligan’s Island, The Fugitive, Daniel Boone, and Then Came Bronson. During this time, he also filmed several motion pictures for Walt Disney including The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band, which is one of my all-time favorites. The son of actor Bing Russell, young Kurt learned his craft well and was one of the most sought after child actors of the decade.
5) Johnny Whitaker
Johnny Whitaker was one of the cutest little boys in all of TV in sixties. He won our hearts as Jody on Family Affair. but even before that family comedy had begun in 1966, he’d made some splashes on network TV, including being the original Scotty Baldwin on General Hospital. One of my favorite projects of Whitaker’s was a made-for-TV movie entitled The Littlest Angel. He was adorable. His red hair and freckles helped him to stand out in all the right ways.
4) Jay North
Jay North was one of America’s cutie pies in the early sixties. He played the role of the always unpredictable and very precocious Dennis Mitchell in Dennis the Menace. After that, he continued to guest star on shows and then as a young teenager, he appeared in Maya, about an American boy teaming up with an Indian boy and his elephant in India. It was quite the different show, and it kept Jay North on top as the decade came to a close.
3) Bill Mumy
Bill Mumy may be second only to Ron Howard for instant recognition by TV viewers of the sixties. This youngster was everywhere. While it was his series, Lost in Space, that put him on the map, Mumy was in a long line of memorable TV shows. His Twilight Zone episode, It’s a Good Life, still scares me, in fact. He was plain evil in that show. Then you’d see him in something like Wagon Train, playing a cute little boy just looking for a family. That episode starred Art Linkletter, and they made great a pair. Mumy was everywhere in the 60’s, and today, his children, Seth and Lilliana, are making their own impressions in Hollywood.
2) Ron Howard
If all Ron Howard had ever done was play Opie on The Andy Griffith Show, he’d be a success. Of course, Howard’s gone on to have an award-winning career as a director, proving his talents and skills went beyond acting. In the sixties, though, he brought the red-headed boy to our TVs with delight. He couldn’t even read the scripts when the first started and learned his lines by being told them. Throughout the decade, he appeared on numerous other TV shows and he bridged the gap to the big screen, earning rave reviews in The Music Man and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. Opie is a TV icon, and so is Ron Howard.
1) Patty Duke
Patty Duke was not just the leading teenager on television with a show bearing her name, but she began the decade by being nominated for a daytime Emmy for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Religious Programming – Performers for her role on Insight. Two years later, she won rave reviews for The Miracle Worker that resulted in Duke winning the Academy Award’s Best Actress in a Supporting Role honor. After doing several TV roles, she landed the comedy about two identical cousins. It was a hit with the public and with the critics, earning her more awards and nominations. Her face was plastered all over teen magazines, and memorabilia abounded. I still have my Patty Duke paper doll cutout. She recorded albums and had hit records like “Don’t Just Stand There.” The Patty Duke Show continues to be enjoyed in reruns and will soon on released on DVD. The adorable teenager spread her wings into the theatrical world as well, with pictures like Billie and Me, Natalie. The successful young actress was always professional in her work, something that has continued on in her very long career.
**Jerry Mathers – The Beav is legendary, but the reality is that when Leave it to Beaver left the air in 1963, Mathers practically disappeared from sight. He was probably too identified in the role that brought him fame, and while that fame will never end, it came at a price.
**Johnny Crawford – Though Crawford was ultra adorable as Mark McCain in The Rifleman, that show ended in 1963. After that, he did just a few shows during the rest of the decade. He did make some films, like Village of the Giants and El Dorado. His lack of notable credits on TV after The Rifleman is what keeps Crawford from being a part of the main list.
**Rusty Hamer – He was mostly known for Make Room for Daddy. He was highly coveted, but didn’t branch out much beyond this show with Danny Thomas.
**Kathy Garver – In addition to playing Cissy on Family Affair, Kathy Garver was a visible presence on shows all through the sixties. She had memorable parts on The Patty Duke Show and Dr. Kildare and appeared on many others. She’s still remembered for her guest starring role on The Big Valley where she had a romance with Sajid Khan, the star of Maya.
**Barry Williams – Though he could have been ‘disqualified’ as having most of his fame in the 70’s, Wiilliams began getting roles on TV in the late sixties, and they were pretty good ones, too. He was in the memorable Christmas episode of Dragnet 1967, for example. There were two nice appearances in Adam-12 as well, along with others. He made a strong enough impression to rank a mention for this decade.
**Eve Plumb – Like Barry Williams, Plumb ranks a mention because she actually appeared in a number of 60’s roles that made an impression. One of her best was as Pony Alice in an episode of the same name on the western, Lancer. She showed she was more than just a cute little girl in that show. In addition, she appeared in three separate episodes of The Big Valley, all of which were quite visible.
Kudos for Being Adorable and Talented Enough to Be Remembered:
**Marc Copage in the groundbreaking comedy, Julia.
**Buddy Foster, mostly remembered for being Ken Berry’s son on Mayberry R.F.D.
**Patti Cohoon in Here Come the Brides. She went on to sing with The Mike Curb Congregation.
**Sajid Khan in Maya. He was a bit of a teen idol for a while.
**Lisa Loring ,who gave Wednesday a new meaning in The Addam’s Family.
**Larry Mathews as Richie in The Dick Van Dyke Show. Who could forget his being afraid of Buddy’s giant dog or his explaining the birds and the bees to his friends at school?
**Bobby Buntrock, who was always cute and up to fun, in Hazel.
**Jon Provost as Timmy Martin in the delightful Lassie from 1957 to 1964. He actually starred with the collie again from 1989 to 1992 in The New Lassie.
**Ann Jillian, who didn’t have her own show, but was cute as a button in shows like Wagon Train, The Twilight Zone, and Hazel.
**Morgan Brittany, who went by the name of Suzanne Cupito in the sixties. Like Ann Jillian, she was never in a regular series, but her face was everywhere, including Sea Hunt, Rawhide, Ben Casey, multiple episodes of The Twilight Zone, My Three Sons, and The Andy Griffith Show. She also appeared in the theatrical film Yours, Mine, and Ours.
There are even more who didn’t rank a mention in this article for one reason or another. A line had to be drawn, but this final moment is to acknowledge the talents of all the young children who contributed to making the sixties full of precocious and vivacious fun, as only they can do.