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When ABC’s Growing Pains debuted in September 1985, The Hollywood Reporter called it “a poor copy of Family Ties.” THR predicted NBC’s The A-Team would crush the family sitcom in the 8:30 p.m. Tuesday ratings, even though “Mr. T is no longer the heavyweight he once was.” But Pains lasted seven seasons, including two in the viewership top 10, and three guest actors from the show went on to major stardom: Brad Pitt, Hilary Swank and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Today’s J. Edgar star was 16 when he landed a recurring role on Pains in 1991. It wasn’t DiCaprio’s first credit: He had grown up in L.A. and appeared in five episodes of the daytime soap Santa Barbara and a dozen episodes of NBC’s short-lived Parenthood and had film roles in Poison Ivy and Critters 3. But it was 23 episodes on Pains as Luke Brower, a homeless boy taken in by the Seaver family, that really put him in the public eye.
Show creator Neal Marlens was also running The Wonder Years by the time DiCaprio came to Pains and has only a vague memory of him being cast. “I remember thinking, ‘Hey, this kid is talented,’ ” says Marlens. “But only in retrospect was his being cast an event.”
It was DiCaprio’s last stint on television. Within the next five years, the three-time Oscar nominee would make This Boy’s Life, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Romeo + Juliet before blasting into the stratosphere with Titanic.
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