You may not know their names, but you’ll instantly recognize them. Each of these iconic children have become famous for different reasons. Some inspired a character that we’ve all come to know and adore. Others were child models or actors whose fame is most notable from their early work. We’ll learn about the children whose names, stories, and faces have made them iconic today.
The pig-tailed redhead on the Wendy’s logo calls you from the highway to stop in for an old-fashioned style burger or frosty. But did you know the Wendy’s girl is a portrait of a real person? She’s based on Dave Thomas’ daughter, Melinda-Lou Thomas, whose nickname was Wendy. Dave wanted to share his love for food and family by using his daughter’s likeness and name for the brand.
Barbie dolls have a distinctive look that’s recognized by women and girls of all ages. The doll’s creator, Ruth Handler, noticed her daughter Barbara pretended her baby dolls were actually adults. There weren’t many adult dolls at the time, so she worked with Mattel to create the famous Barbie doll. To thank her daughter for giving her the idea, the doll was given her nickname Barbie.
Shirley Temple was one of America’s earliest child stars. She charmed our hearts with her adorable dimples, bouncy ringlet curls, and her flawless singing and dancing. Shirley Temple starred in multiple movies from aged 3 until she was a teenager. However, she’s best recognized as a child star. At the height of her fame, she was featured on merchandise ranging from Ovaltine drinks to Shirley Temple dolls that resembled her. She passed away in 2014 at the age of 85.
Winnie the Pooh’s Christopher Robin
Most children are familiar with stories featuring Winnie the Pooh and his friends. In the stories, all the animal characters are the toys of a young boy named Christopher Robin. The author A.A. Milne actually named the character after his own son, Christopher Robin Milne. Unfortunately, the real boy grew up and wasn’t fond of his association with his father’s famous stories, as detailed in his autobiography. That didn’t stop the popularity of the characters that eventually became a part of the Disney family with a TV series, movies, and merchandise. Milne passed away in 1996.
A Christmas Story
A Christmas Story has become a holiday favorite that runs on television networks every December. The star of the movie is a young boy named Ralphie, who was played by Peter Billingsley. Poor Peter had to don an embarrassing bunny suit during the film, but that didn’t stop him from having continued success as a child actor. Aside from his work in this film, he was in over 100 commercials, including a messy spot for Hershey’s Chocolate syrup. Peter is now a director, and was able to come full circle with the movie that brought him fame by directing as musical version of A Christmas Story.
Another holiday favorite is the movie Home Alone and its sequels. The first two movies star a young Macaulay Caulkin playing a mischievous boy named Kevin who takes on robbers while at home alone. Movie posters for both movies feature Macaulay in the now-iconic shocked look with his hands covering his cheeks. Macaulay continued to act as an adult and is currently in a cover band called Pizza Underground. Most fans, however, still recognize him from his early work in the Home Alone movies.
The Gerber Baby became a well known face after a contest winner’s sketch became the official Gerber trademark in 1931. The baby who inspired the sketch was kept secret for 40 years, which inspired much speculation throughout the years. Most people thought the baby was someone famous, such as Elizabeth Taylor, and they were partially right. In 1978, Gerber revealed that it was a mystery novelist named Ann Turner Cook that posed for the iconic sketch.
The Nirvana album Nevermind featured a now-famous photo of a baby swimming toward a dollar in a pool. The image was meant to reflect the album’s anti-consumerism themes. The album is still revered 20 years later by lovers of the grunge music genre. The baby used for the artwork, however, isn’t as well known. That may be because Spencer Elden, surprisingly, wasn’t selected through a talent agency and wasn’t a baby model. Spencer’s dad was a special effects artist who happened to know the photographer making Nirvana’s cover. Spencer is still known by friends as the Nirvana Baby, but he hasn’t tried to get into the spotlight after his first and last modeling job.
U2 fans will quickly recognize the face of the iconic child who was featured on the albums Boy and War. The child is Peter Rowen, who was selected for the albums since he had been a neighbor of Bono in Ireland. Interestingly, while most of these iconic children stopped working with the brands that made them famous, U2 still has a relationship with Rowen. At various times, Rowen has been a photographer at their concerts and his photo has been featured on recent band merchandise.
Lego put out an ad in 1981 that made another redhead with pigtails famous. That girl – now a grown woman – is named Rachel Giordano. Rachel is currently a doctor, and believes the problem solving nature of these toys gave her a head start in life. You may have seen her in the media recently discussing the brand.
Some iconic children have lent their names or faces to various aspects of Americana. While some of these children have fallen into obscurity, others have become household names. And, although not all iconic children have embraced their fame, there is no doubt that they have left an indelible impression on American culture.