Macaulay Culkin’s Million Dollar Payday, And 19 More Facts About My Girl
You’ll often see My Girl featured on lists of movies that make you cry, specifically for the heartbreaking scene in which Vada cries over Thomas J’s casket, saying “where are his glasses? He needs his glasses. He was gonna be an acrobat”. But it turns out there’s a lot more to this coming of age classic than you might think.
A timeless classic about a young girl growing up in suburban Pennsylvania, My Girl touched hearts across the globe, and cemented the acting chops of its two leads. Read on to discover our 20 hand-picked facts that you probably didn’t know about it. Careful – this might sting a little.
20. The film was almost called Born Jaundiced
Back in the late 80s and early 90s, screenwriter Laurice Elehwany had yet to get her break in Hollywood; getting one of your scripts produced in Hollywood, certainly by a reputable studio, is about as difficult as you might imagine.
While she would later go on to pen the script for The Brady Bunch: The Movie (1995) and several fantasy novels, Elehwany’s first produced screenplay was the film that would later come to be known as My Girl. But this wasn’t always the title.
Elehwany, now Laurice Molinari, originally intended the title to be ‘Born Jaundiced’, in reference to Vada’s jaded outlook on the world after the death of her mother, but producers that it suggested a documentary about the unpleasant condition of jaundice and so changed it.
Initially, the film’s title was changed to ‘I Am Woman’, which again was left by the wayside – maybe because it sounds like a cavewoman action film – and, having struck out twice, lead producer Brian Glazer decided to offer a $500 incentive to whichever member of the team could come up with the right name.
Suggestions included ‘Mourning Glory’, ‘Dearly Departed’ and (presumably from Darren Aronofsky) ‘Vada!’. Ultimately, Glazer himself came up with My Girl, and got to keep the $500 bounty too.
19. Macaulay Culkin was paid one million dollars to star in the film at just 10 years old
It’s not a stretch to say that Macaulay Culkin’s trajectory in life was sent into complete overdrive with the success of Home Alone (1990), netting him big roles and big acting fees.
Prior to Home Alone, Culkin had acted in several films, and in fact started acting at age four. These films included, most notably, Uncle Buck (1989) alongside John Candy. But starring in Home Alone was far from a done deal.
Home Alone director Chris Columbus actually met with over 200 children before casting Culkin at the suggestion of John Hughes. Culkin was paid $100,000 for his performance.
But when Home Alone raked in almost half a billion dollars at the box office, Culkin’s reputation – and his price tag – went way up. As a result, despite only appearing in a handful of scenes in My Girl, Culkin was paid a cool $1 million for his work.
This pales in comparison to what he would be paid for Home Alone 2, however: $4.5 million. Not bad for walking around New York toy shops!
18. Jamie Lee Curtis insisted on there being a swear jar on set
Jamie Lee Curtis, who plays Shelly DeVoto in My Girl, insisted that a swear jar be introduced on set to prevent what she called “trucker talk,” the proceeds of which would be given to the movie’s child stars.
But while you might stereotypically assume that Curtis was referring to unprofessional gaffers and lighting technicians, the swear jar was intended as an extreme measure taken against her own potty mouth.
“My mouth has a mind of its own,” Curtis said at the time. “My breasts and my mouth have their own little fan clubs. I told the children from the first day of rehearsal that I wanted to be responsible about my language.
“I said everytime I say s**t, I’ll give you $5 and every time I say f**k, I’ll give you $10. So, of course, Macaulay said, ‘That’s $15 right there.'”
Due to Culkin’s keen record-keeping, Curtis ended up handing over $200 to Culkin and Chlumsky by the end of filming, and sent them on their way with a wry “F**k you!”
17. The willow tree wasn’t actually a willow tree
Critics were and still are divided over how artistically significant a film My Girl is, with some seeing the movie as a poignant exploration of how children deal with grief, and others thinking it’s a heartstring-twanging cash grab.
Where the film does attempt to have some symbolism, however, is the willow tree that plays an important role in the plot. But it turns out the willow tree of the film was actually not a willow at all.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the ‘weeping’ willow is a foreshadowing of all the crying Vada will do in the film, not least when Thomas J dies from an allergic reaction nearby, but finding the right kind of tree for your film is harder than you might imagine.
With filming taking place in Florida, producers struggled to find an aesthetically pleasing willow tree that was also close to a pond, so they had to take matters into their own hands.
Once they found a tree they liked, willow or otherwise, producers stripped it of all its branches and replaced them with fake willow branches. Despite the hardship endured by the tree, we’re almost certain it was paid less than Macaulay Culkin (although, thinking about it, giving paper money to a tree would be in bad taste).
16. The kissing scene was the two actors’ first ever kiss
In one of the more heartwarming and famous scenes from the film, Vada and Thomas J share their first kiss. It’s not that surprising when you think about it, but you might never have realised that it was the actors’ first kisses too.
What will shock no one is that the two 11-year-olds weren’t exactly thrilled about the experience, according to interviews.
Chlumsky’s verdict: “Yuck,” to which Culkin quipped: “I have to hear this? Oh, thanks. We’ll have to do it the whole day.”
The pair apparently did need 15 takes, so no one can really be sure if we’re witnessing their first kiss or their 15th!
The pair received an MTV movie award for Best Kiss. Chlumsky accepted it, joking, “Gee my first kiss and I get an award.”
15. Macaulay Culkin had to smear pollen on his fingers so bees would chase him
Even though he was only barely in double figures age-wise when filming, Macaulay Culkin definitely did his own stunts, including that horrific bee scene.
The crew had it all figured out. A bee wrangler was present on set, and it was his task to literally shovel bees at America’s favourite child superstar, which sounds like a silly comedy crime.
Culkin had pollen smeared on his fingers so that the bees would arc around as he flailed his arms. The moment director Howard Zieff said cut, Culkin would have to run out of the woods and wash off the pollen.
“I’d think, ‘I’m crazy. Why am I doing this?'” said Culkin at the time. “There were millions of them.”
“I wouldn’t say [it was] the worst scene [I’ve ever done]. It was challenging.” It’s easy to see why child stars don’t often grow up to be well-adjusted adults: along with all the pressures of fame, there are people chucking hundreds of bees at your face.
14. One journalist spoiled Thomas J’s death before the movie opened
Understandably, filmmakers were keen to keep quiet the fact that Macaulay Culkin dies at the end of the film – both in terms of the emotional power it would have with viewers, and because it would invite some controversy. Unfortunately for the team behind the film, a newspaper columnist spoiled the whole thing.
This was no accident, either. The plot of the film was deliberately revealed after syndicated columnist Marilyn Beck expressed her concerns that killing off a Macaulay Culkin character would fundamentally damage the fabric of American society.
”Parents should be warned and make the decision [about allowing their kids to see the film],” said Beck in her column. “I felt it was important enough to break the storyline, which I never do.”
Of course, Zieff and others were upset after a large part of their film’s emotional heft had been laid bare for all to see. “He’s America’s Kid,” said Zieef, “but in Terms of Endearment no one announced Debra Winger’s death. This woman who wrote the column was just tooting her own horn.”
Culkin himself took a more philosophical approach. “You live, you die. This is what kids should learn. People die, including their heroes.”
13. The filmmakers brought in child psychologists to defend the film’s shocking twist
Central to Beck’s claim was the idea that children would be psychologically damaged by seeing the death of a child – like them – play out in a movie.
For those who haven’t seen the film in a few years, it’s worth remembering that Thomas J’s death in fact takes place off screen, but the open coffin at his funeral was – according to Beck – enough to scar children for life.
Keen for the controversy not to sink their film’s chances at the box office, producers responded to Beck’s criticism by hosting special screenings of the movie for child psychologists and asking for their feedback.
According to Sidney Ganis, a spokesperson for Sony Pictures Entertainment, the psychologists responded well to the film.
“Audiences leave the theater feeling good,” said Ganis, “both kids and adults.” While children did cry during the screenings, there was no evidence that they were deeply traumatised on the scale that Beck suggested.
12. Macaulay Culkin and Anna Chlumsky haven’t spoken in 25 years
Given their on-screen romance and youthful innocence, it’s fair to say there was a lot of buzz around Culkin and Chlumsky in 1991, driven to a fever pitch after their famous kiss. Sadly, Chlumsky recently revealed that she hasn’t spoken to Macaulay Culkin for over a quarter of a century.
In what we’d now recognise as a worrying media trend, Chlumsky’s casting in the film back in 1990 was overshadowed by gossip and suggestion that the film’s two leads – still children – were dating.
“Macaulay Culkin Gets a Leading Lady,” read an LA Times headline. “Though Anna is getting considerably less for “My Girl”–under $50,000, according to a source–it’s an opportunity to work with Hollywood’s hottest male star.” And that star, as a reminder, is ten years old.
Chlumsky was quick to put down these rumours at the time, telling journalists who insistently asked if she and Culkin were dating, “I think we’ll just be good friends.”
Regrettably, friendship doesn’t seem to have been on the cards either. Chlumsky took a break from acting, and Culkin didn’t – a set-up that has now reversed – and it’s unclear if they’ll ever have a heart to heart about My Girl again.
11. A sequel was released three years later
Macaulay Culkin’s star power and Chlumsky’s assured performance took My Girl to incredible box office heights, with the film grossing $121 million from an initial budget of $17 million, and producers were keen to capitalise on their newfound star for a sequel.
With the first film seeing Vada experience her first period, it was decided that My Girl 2 (1994) should feature the character in adolescence, seeking to uncover more about her mother’s death.
Remarkably, many of the original cast members returned – except, of course, Culkin – with Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis reprising their roles, and Last Action Hero’s Austin O’Brien replacing Culkin as the male lead.
While not a total flop, the film was less well-received than its predecessor, with critics viewing it as an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of the first film, and as a sequel that abandons storytelling for excessive melodrama.
In spite of this disappointment, Dan Aykroyd revealed in an interview that there had been plans for a third film, languorously titled Still My Girl, but this was shelved.
10. Chlumsky made her debut in another Culkin film
Relatively speaking, on My Girl, Macaulay Culkin was the established Hollywood star, and Chlumsky was a newcomer about to break through on to the silver screen.
For My Girl, Chlumsky was chosen directly from a production of Annie, and news of her selection for the role was greeted with ‘rags to riches’ style coverage, of a Broadway bit player getting her shot at Hollywood. This doesn’t tell the whole story, however.
In fact, Chlumsky had acted in one film before My Girl, just not in a leading role. Coincidentally, it was Culkin’s biggest film before Home Alone: Uncle Buck.
Starring John Candy, Uncle Buck is a family comedy in which Buck (Candy) has to babysit a family of children that includes Culkin.
Chlumsky has a role as an extra, as one of the schoolchildren seen near the beginning of the film. Fate works in mysterious ways!
9. In Britain, the film carried an HIV warning
In the 80s, the western world was rocked by the HIV/AIDS crisis. Between the early 80s and 2016, 675,000 people died in the US alone from the disease.
After 2001, the mortality rate for HIV/AIDS drastically dropped, but in the early 90s, the transmission of the disease (or hopefully lack thereof) was still on the forefront of government minds.
Public figures and legislators were keen to limit the spread of HIV in any way possible, and you might be surprised to learn that My Girl has a small footnote in the history of the crisis, especially in Britain.
In the film, Vada and Thomas J declare themselves “blood brothers” after mixing their blood from various cuts they’ve accrued in the woods. It’s a touching moment of connection, but there were understandable worries that young viewers would attempt to copy the film.
As a result, the British Board of Film Classification demanded that the film carry a warning against such rituals in an effort to prevent further blood contamination.
8. Nobody wanted to make the film at first
The screenplay for My Girl didn’t exactly win any awards, but fans old and young have praised the film for its sensitivity and ability to make them well up.
It’s curious, then, that the original script struggled to get any attention in Tinseltown or indeed anywhere.
Elehwany first entered the My Girl script for consideration for a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting, but her efforts didn’t even progress past the first round.
In the past, the Fellowship has been awarded to Michael A Rich for Finding Forrester, which was adapted into a 2000 film starring Sean Connery, and recently was received by Michael Werwie for the Ted Bundy drama Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile (2019).
There are only five scripts selected each year from hundreds of submissions, so it’s understandable that a small-town family drama was left out in the cold – we’re just lucky the film was made in the end after all.
7. Thomas J’s death is foreshadowed throughout the movie
It’s sudden and it’s brutal. Unless you had the film spoiled for you, it’s hard to predict that Vada, having already suffered so much, is forced to deal with losing her best (and perhaps only) friend. The world today is afflicted with a rapidly decreasing bee population – but for fans of My Girl, those striped bugs deserve everything that’s coming to them.
Yet it turns out that if you pay attention, Thomas J’s death is nowhere near as sudden and unpredictable as you might think.
Over the course of the film, the death is foreshadowed several times. When Vada sees a small coffin being brought into the funeral home towards the beginning of the film, she asks if it’s for a child – and, unbeknownst to us at the time, it definitely is.
Thomas J’s allergies are also played up – initially to contrast Vada’s hypochondria – but it’s only in retrospect that we realise how serious his condition is.
And finally, perhaps most poignantly, Thomas J’s fate is sealed when he and Vada evade the bees the first time, betrayed by what he says: “run for your life.”
6. Anna Chlumsky never planned to be an actor
In one of Anna Chlumsky’s first interviews, with the LA Times, the prospects of her becoming a Hollywood star are definitely played down: “If her first film does as well as her leading man’s last one, Anna Chlumsky could become a big star.”
At the time, however, it seemed like the red carpet was far from Chlumsky’s ambitions. “So far, Anna isn’t banking on a Hollywood career,” the LA Times article continues. “When she grows up, she says she’d like to be an animal trainer, a ‘horse dentist’ or a choreographer.”
This draws a direct contrast with Macaulay Culkin – who was, admittedly, the much bigger star. Culkin seemed to have his entire career planned out.
Culkin says accepting a supporting role in My Girl was part of his overall game plan. “Everybody thinks Macaulay Culkin, the Home Alone Kid. I don’t want everybody to think that. I want them to think Macaulay Culkin, Actor.”
After taking a break to complete her studies, Chlumsky would eventually return to acting with In the Loop (2009) and an ongoing role in the political comedy TV series Veep (2012-19).
5. Chlumsky quit Hollywood to become a literary editor
During her hiatus from acting, Chlumsky reached the upper echelons of a very different industry, but it wasn’t anything she mentioned wanting to grow up to be as a child star.
Chlumsky did act in several films after My Girl – more on that later – but the response was generally that she had been typecast, and was on the path to becoming a Former childhood star, with a capital F.
“I didn’t move to LA,” Chlumsky noted in a 2014 interview. “I didn’t go to parties and put s**t up my nose. I stayed in school. I stayed around my parents, and my mum let me make my own decisions. So we did everything right, and it still kind of sucked.”
So Chlumsky quit Hollywood and studied International Relations at the University of Chicago, before being hired as an editorial assistant at Harper Collins, and began climbing the career ladder. But it wasn’t meant to be.
“I thought all the angst had to do with having been in showbusiness – as an adolescent, anything negative I could trace back to being in showbusiness. That’s why I left it … so then to continue to feel that way was like, aargh!” Chlumsky enrolled in drama school, and by the late 00s had once again become a leading lady on the screen.
4. Culkin was a prankster on set
We push child stars into the limelight, with all the fame and fortune that comes with it, and oftentimes we treat them as adults, completely forgetting that they’re children. The thing is, though, that the children themselves don’t forget.
According to a variety of interviews, Macaulay Culkin was an unrepentant prankster on the set of My Girl, as many 10-11 year old boys are.
Accused of colluding in the mischief, Anna Chlumsky protests: “I wasn’t naughty, Mack played pranks on me!” The most widely reported prank during production was aimed at the on-set tutor and minder that had been hired to look after the children between takes.
Culkin reportedly stuck tape on to a toilet seat and believed he’d trapped the tutor in the bathroom. But then the tutor walked in. “‘Aren’t you in the bathroom?’; she said, ‘No Mack, I’m right here!'”
In fact, Chlumsky was in the bathroom and stuck to the toilet, though she took it in good fun. “‘He’s just great!” she said at the time. “He’s a very easy person to get along with.”
3. The crew was worried Culkin would be a diva after Home Alone
Fresh off the success of Home Alone, which had made him a global star, Macaulay Culkin was one of the hottest properties in Hollywood, and it was plain to see. As a result, many of the cast and crew were worried that Culkin would become difficult to work with.
“We thought he’d have some kind of attitude,” said Jamie Lee Curtis. Fortunately for all the Macaulay Culkin fans out there, they couldn’t have been more wrong.
“He’s just a kid who wears mismatched sneakers and listens to Vanilla Ice all day,” Curtis continues. Apparently he liked to play poker with the crew, and have mock baseball matches on set.
“[Culkin] would rather listen to his favorite Poison tapes or play with his Wrestlemania dolls than sign autographs,” reads one interview. “He’d rather ride his bicycle than don a tuxedo for the Academy Awards.”
While Culkin has infamously had some difficulties in his career, it’s nice to see that during his heyday he could still act like a kid.
2. The film landed Chlumsky a role alongside André the Giant in his final film
While My Girl didn’t quite accelerate Anna Chlumsky’s career as much as some might have hoped, it did get her another place in the history books: playing one of the lead roles in André the Giant’s final film.
Trading Mom, sometimes known as The Mommy Market, is a 1994 fantasy/comedy film that stars Sissy Spacek in multiple roles and Chlumsky as her renegade daughter.
To summarise something of a convoluted plot, Chlumsky wishes her strict mother away and then acquires three new ones from the (sometimes) titular Mommy Market, and hijinx ensue.
The film was poorly received, and in fact sat on distributor’s shelves for two years before finally being released, and grossed a paltry $320,000 at the box office.
André the Giant stars as a circus strongman. Sadly he died of congestive heart failure in 1993, making this film his final appearance, and a posthumous one.
1. There’s a My Girl video game (seriously)
We don’t need to tell you that there’s a strong history of video game adaptations of popular films, from the Lion King to Batman, but you probably wouldn’t expect My Girl to be on that list.
Oh, but it is. In 2014, a video game adaptation of My Girl appeared online, according to reports, and sees you take control of Thomas J at his most difficult moment: the bees. It’s simply titled My Girl: The Game.
Writes the Guardian: “The instructions for the game simply read ‘Accept your fate’. As you start playing, you run past a funeral home. The screen fades and the legend “I see my fate” appears. And then the bees come.
“You try to escape through a forest, but the screen locks. You’re trapped. You run all the way back to the start of the level, but there’s nowhere to hide there either. You cannot escape the bees.”
We don’t expect it to be the next Super Mario Bros, but it goes to show that My Girl is still on people’s minds more than 25 years since the day of its release.