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Charles Herbert, a popular child star of the 1950s who starred in Houseboat with Cary Grant and Sophia Loren and in the horror films The Fly and 13 Ghosts, has died. He was 66.
Herbert, who couldn’t get a job in Hollywood after the late 1960s and bitterly complained that he was exploited by the studios and his parents as he battled a drug problem later in life, died Oct. 31 of a heart attack in Las Vegas, actor Paul Petersen, his Houseboat co-star, reported on the website A Minor Consideration.
Herbert also appeared in such films as The Colossus of New York (1958) and Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960), and he had the title role in The Boy and the Pirates (1960).
In the romantic comedy Houseboat (1958), Herbert played Robert Winters, one of a widower’s (Grant) three kids. He runs away and is found by a gorgeous Italian nanny (Loren), and everyone winds up living on a decrepit boat.
In The Fly (1958), Herbert portrays the son of the scientist (David Hedison) who turns into an insect, and in William Castle’s gimmicky 13 Ghosts, he received top billing as one of the family members who inherit a haunted house. (To see the ghosts in the movie, theatergoers had to don special glasses.)
Talking about The Fly in a 2006 interview with author Tom Weaver, Herbert said: “I went to the Fairfax Theater [in Los Angeles] to see it in the movies, and I very seldom ever went to see any of my own movies. But when The Fly came out, I went with some of the kids who knew I was an actor.
“There’s a scene in there where my mom and the housekeeper and I are searching for the white-headed fly, and they kept shouting, ‘Where’d he go? Where’d he go?’ And I, as a wise-guy kid in the back of the theater, got up and said, ‘He went out to get a ham sandwich’ — not a good thing to say in a Jewish neighborhood! The usher came in and he was going to throw me out of the theater! My friends were all screamin‘ at him, ‘You can’t throw him out. That’s him on the screen!’ But he threw me out of the theater!”
A native of Culver City, Herbert was riding on a city bus with his mother when he was spotted by a Hollywood talent agent. At age 4, he had a part in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz film The Long, Long Trailer (1954), but his scenes were cut.
He then appeared in such films as Ransom! (1956) with Glenn Ford, The Tattered Dress (1957) with Jeff Chandler and John Sturges‘ Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) before hitting it big opposite a giant with Colossus of New York.
After 13 Ghosts, Herbert showed up on such shows as 77 Sunset Strip, The Twilight Zone, Wagon Train, The Patty Duke Show and, in his final onscreen appearance, Julia.
Herbert said he received little schooling when on film sets and that his parents erred by sending him to public school (“It was very uncomfortable for me to be in that atmosphere,” he told Weaver). He said that when he turned 21, he discovered that he had virtually no savings (he had been the only breadwinner in the family) and zero work skills.
Herbert, who had lived in Las vegas for about 15 years, noted he was abusing drugs for 39 years until he stopped when he was 55.
“Charlie was a poster child for the Kid Actor Syndrome,” Petersen wrote. “Look him up on IMDb, 20 movies, 50 television shows. He supported his entire family from Age Four … and then his career came to an emphatic end. His take? $1,700 when he became an adult. Damaged goods? I’ll say. My friend died sober, looking forward to the future. Was he ‘scorned and covered with scars?’ Of course. So what? Charlie Herbert was a good man who gave far more than he got. He was grateful that he lived to get his modest pension from the Screen Actors Guild. God, I’m going to miss him.”
Petersen told THR that Herbert’s monthly pension was about $500 a month.
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