In the theatre, writing a leading role for a child is a dangerous proposition. Sure, having a kid in your show might sell a few tickets to the family-oriented crowd. But, it's a very fine line: many a child performer's inherently cloying and put-upon precociousness can sends chills up the more sophisticated spine. It’s not their fault; they just don’t know any better yet. Child actors, like puppies, will do anything to make you love them. The subtlety and maturation required to deliver an honest performance is something that comes with age. And, then again, every now and then you get lucky.
A showbiz vet by the age of 11, Frankie Michaels, the original 'Young Patrick' in Mame, was already a pro when producers offered him the role. It should come as no surprise: the kid had been acting since the ripe old age of 3 1/2. By the time he booked Mame, he already had two off-Broadway shows under his tiny little belt (A for Adult and Happily Ever After). Also, the kid was a regular on the popular soap “As the World Turns”.
From all accounts, what set Frankie Michaels apart from all the other kids was that he was normal on and off stage-- well, "normal" aside from the fact that he happened to sing and dance well enough to play a leading role in a major Broadway musical. For his efforts, the boy was paid a whopping $400 per week, which, when adjusted for inflation comes to just below $3,000. Lucky kid, huh? And if that fortune didn't make him fortunate enough, his star turn as Patrick Dennis made him the youngest person ever to win a Tony Award. At the time the honor was bestowed, Michaels was 11 years, 1 month and 11 days old. This is a record that he still holds this record today. (Daisy Egan, of The Secret Garden, was just a few months older when she accepted her award.)
After his year-long stint on Broadway, Michaels put on a pair of long pants to make his nightclub debut alongside Danny Thomas at the Las Vegas’ Sands Hotel. His star was on the ascendant but, for the most part, the kid stayed grounded. When interviewed about his success in the Baltimore Sun, Michaels astutely told the reporter, “[My family was] afraid I’d turn into a stage brat. But, heck, a brat is a brat no matter what he works at.”
Sadly, as is often the case with child performers, that upswing didn’t last. Later in life, Michaels worked many odd jobs: he was a lounge singer, a voice and piano teacher, and finally an electronics repairman. After overcoming an addiction to drugs and alcohol, he underwent quadruple-bypass surgery. In 2016, his finances were in such dire straights that he decided to put his Tony Award up for auction. It brought $18,750. Sadly, that money was just enough to cover his funeral expenses when he died shortly after.