Obituary: Charles Herbert, child star
Child star who made films with Sophia Loren and Doris Day
Published 06/12/2015 | 02:30
Charles Herbert, who has died of a heart attack aged 66, was a tousle-haired, all-American child star whose life slipped into a spiral of drug abuse after the demise of his career.
Herbert, heavy-browed with an enquiring face, spent little time at school, and made his screen debut at four. He appeared in dozens of films, often in the horror-sci-fi genre, including The Fly (1958), featuring Vincent Price, about an atomic scientist (Al Hedison) experimenting with a teleportation device who accidentally turns himself into a human insect. Herbert played his son, Philippe.
The same year Herbert appeared in the romantic comedy Houseboat, as one of the three children of Cary Grant, a widower who meets a beautiful Italian (Sophia Loren) and moves into a leaky boat with her and his family; in one scene Sophia Loren spins the youngster around a dance floor to the accompaniment of That's Amore.
Herbert featured in numerous television serials as well as films, among them The Twilight Zone, Rawhide, Wagon Train and The Fugitive. In The Miracle Hour (1956), an episode of Science Fiction Theatre, he gave a touching performance as Tommy Parker, a blind boy whose stepfather (Dick Foran) will stop at nothing in his search for a cure.
By the mid-1960s, however, the telephone had stopped ringing. Herbert found himself, at 21, as another washed-up child actor. "I suffered the curse that inflicts every child star," he said later. "I grew up. Some, like Shirley Temple, survived. For every Shirley there were a dozen who didn't."
Charles Herbert Saperstein was born in the shadow of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Culver City, California, on December 23, 1948. His 40-year-old father was an invalid with a heart ailment; his mother, also 40, was his father's carer. Charles was the family breadwinner by the age of five.
He entered show business when, aged four, he was going shopping on a bus with his mother, and was spotted by a casting agent.
Herbert made his debut in a weekly television show called Half Pint Panel (1952) and soon after that was selected for The Long, Long Trailer (1954), a comedy vehicle for Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. Unfortunately, Herbert's scenes ended up on the cutting-room floor.
His first proper role was in Secret Interlude (1955), followed by Ransom! (1956) with Glenn Ford and Donna Reed (on whose television show Herbert later became a regular), and The Tattered Dress (1957).
The film that launched him as a star was the sci-fi chiller The Colossus of New York (1957), and in director William Castle's 13 Ghosts (1960) he was given star billing alongside adult stars such as Margaret Hamilton and Rosemary DeCamp. In Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960) he was one of Doris Day's amusing children, although he later claimed that the star had said only three words to him during filming. He spoke warmly, in contrast, about Sophia Loren and Vincent Price.
Herbert said he was "petrified" when filming his best-known role in The Fly. To elicit the most convincing reaction when the camera was rolling, the director kept Herbert away from the set, and when the boy was first shown the grotesque "fly" head, long after everybody else, he "felt physically sick".
Herbert gave up acting in 1968, and discovered he was in penury. He once explained that he had spent 39 years of his life "on drugs". But in later years he shook off his addictions and settled in Las Vegas, where he was happy to hear from sci-fi fans and attend film conventions.
Charles Herbert, who was unmarried, died on October 31.