Millennials and Gen Z alike sometimes wonder where their favorite childhood TV actors are now. Often, we discover that things were not as glamorous as they seemed for our beloved young stars. Jennette McCurdy, former star of the hit Nickelodeon show “iCarly,” has been making headlines after releasing her controversially titled memoir “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” which details her experience as a child actor. The title refers to her late mother’s negative influence on her career and the devastating, complicated relationship they had.
In “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” McCurdy discusses how, to her chagrin, her mom forced her into acting at age 6. Due to the family’s financial hardships, an acting career was pushed on her, essentially making McCurdy her family’s main breadwinner. She landed side roles on “Mad TV,” “Malcolm in the Middle” and other popular TV shows before landing a lead role on “iCarly.” With “iCarly” being such a huge success, her popularity and career took off.
Her character, Sam Puckett, was a quirky, loud, confident fried chicken-loving teenager that fans adored. Naturally, young viewers often assume an actor has the same personality as their on-screen character, and this had a direct negative effect on McCurdy’s mental health. While fans would see her in public and ask her where her fried chicken was, behind closed doors, McCurdy was suffering from an eating disorder. A diet of extreme calorie restriction was encouraged by her mom to prevent puberty and look underdeveloped. In turn, this would help her continue to land roles that fit the mold of a young girl.
Aside from wanting to maintain her acting career to support her family, McCurdy discusses how her eating disorder was associated with craving her mother’s acceptance in “I’m Glad My Mom Died.” She and her mom would count calories together and share low-calorie meals and young McCurdy viewed this as a way to bond with her hard-to-please and emotionally unstable mother. She would receive validation from her mom every time she successfully deprived herself of food and the number on the scale went down.
This was paired with the fact that McCurdy was conditioned to believe that she was responsible for keeping her family financially afloat. The way for her to do that was by landing acting roles, and to land acting roles, she believed she needed to appear young. Her anorexia equated to youth and her youth meant her family’s safety and security. While not every child star necessarily suffers from an eating disorder, this reality for McCurdy indicates how physically and mentally strenuous a career in acting can be for people of all ages, let alone an easily influenced child.
In “I’m Glad My Mom Died”, McCurdy discusses her experience with a producer on the set of “iCarly” whom she refers to as “The Creator.” Dan Schneider, the creator of “iCarly” and many other popular Nickelodeon TV shows, is most likely the person she is referring to. McCurdy details moments when she felt uncomfortable with this unnamed person’s behavior toward her. Not only has Schneider been found to have been verbally abusive to his employees and actors, he has also been accused of engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior toward young people on set, including McCurdy. In her book, she describes a time when “The Creator” gave her an unsolicited massage and pressured her to drink alcohol while she was still under 21 years old.
Schneider has also been accused of inappropriate behavior with other past young actors on Nickelodeon. Rumors of these alleged instances of inappropriate behavior can be found on various corners of the internet, including a Twitter thread that lists a few different allegations from over the years. It’s not clear if these allegations hold much weight since Schneider has never been convicted of anything, but the fact that these rumors have been circulating for so long is worrisome.
Other child actors who appeared on Nickelodeon and left under unfavorable circumstances include Amanda Bynes and Jamie Lynn Spears. Bynes’ child stardom began during her time on the shows “All That” and “The Amanda Show.” After some time in Hollywood, it became clear that being in the spotlight at a young age was traumatizing for her. Spears became pregnant at just 16 years old while she was still working on “Zoey 101.”
In “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” McCurdy reveals that when her time at Nickelodeon came to an end, the network offered her a $300,000 goodbye “gift” in exchange for her silence about her experience as an actor for Nickelodeon. This would have included any inappropriate or verbally abusive behavior toward her on Schneider’s part. In her book, she writes, “Nickelodeon is offering me three hundred thousand dollars in hush money to not talk publicly about my experience on the show? My personal experience of The Creator’s abuse? This is a network with shows made for children. Shouldn’t they have some sort of moral compass? Shouldn’t they at least try to report to some sort of ethical standard?”
“I’m Glad My Mom Died” is an all-encompassing memoir that talks about the loneliness of child stardom, as well as the complexity of mother-daughter relationships. Even if the reader can’t fully relate to the harrowing stories McCurdy illustrates in her book, anyone who has had a complicated relationship with a parent can find something to relate to. McCurdy also gives us honest insight into the murky world of child and teenage stardom, speaking to the much larger issue of the various forms of child abuse and exploitation that deserve more attention and consideration by the industry and its viewers.