Since 1995, all instances of juvenile delinquency can be traced to only one possible cause: the absence of ABC's inspirational and educational Afterschool Specials. This series of dramatic stories about such sticky topics as drug abuse, teen pregnancy and terminal illness helped keep adolescents across the country off the streets and in front of the television set for more than 20 years.
With such a long-running series, stumbling across a few current megastars in their pre-pubescent days is inevitable. Here are five actors and actresses who used their acting talents for the benefit of education before becoming red carpet regulars.
The Silence of the Lambs star was already a well-known face when she debuted in her first Afterschool Special "Alexander" during the show's first season in 1974, two years before she was rescued by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver. The official plot synopsis is where things get a tad creepy: "The story of a retired clown and his undying love for children." Emphasize the word "undying" and we've got a doozy of a horror story on our hands. Luckily for Foster and her little friends, the episode is less about sheer terror and more about children helping an elderly man keep his home.
In the 1984 episode "Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia," a nine-year-old Joaquin Phoenix (then Leaf Phoenix) played Robby Ellsworth, younger sibling to Dyslexia sufferer Brian, played by Joaquin's real-life brother River Phoenix. The Phoenix brothers were both nominated for Best Young Actor in a made-for-television movie at the Young Artist Awards for their performances, and River proved his great talent two years later in the coming-of-age drama Stand By Me, while Joaquin broke into Hollywood in the 1989 dramedy Parenthood. But Joaquin didn't slither into the limelight until 2000, when he played the dastardly corrupt Commodus in Ridley Scott's Best Picture winner Gladiator.
You know how the Afterschool Specials existed to instill morals inside our blossoming minds? Well I can't seem to pinpoint what wholesome values were presented in Sarah Jessica Parker's 1984 episode "The Almost Royal Family," in which a family inherits an unclaimed island and haphazardly founds their own nation. Maybe the lesson was... Don't inherent an island? Parker had already reached TV audiences with her early-'80s comedy series Square Pegs, but it wasn't until 1998 that she brought cultural icon Carrie Bradshaw to life in Sex and the City.
In 1985's "One Too Many," a post-Scarface but pre-Witches of Eastwick Michelle Pfeiffer is desperate for a boyfriend, so she's thrilled when a cool dude (Val Kilmer!) shows interest. There's only one issue: He's a bit of a drinker. Fast-forward to the end of the episode, and drunken Val is driving a car over the top of Michelle's friend, played by Mare Winningham. This little moral tale became a go-to hit for drivers-education instructors, and served as a stepping stone for Pfeiffer toward career high points such as 1992's Batman Returns and 1995's Dangerous Minds.
Before riding the Hollywood roller-coaster from reviled teen heartthrob to respected director of Gone Baby Gone and The Town, Ben Affleck was just a son looking for a new dad in the 1986 episode "Wanted: The Perfect Guy." Thirteen-year-old Affleck played Danny Coleman, a boy who places a newspaper ad searching for the "perfect guy" for his lonely mother, played by the wonderful Madeline Kahn in an Emmy-winning role.