Biography from: The Barret Oliver Minipage

Barret was born on 24th August 1973 (a Friday) in the Los Angeles area of California. His parents were Kent and Kathy Oliver - Kent was an interior designer. There was no family connection with the entertainment industry, but Kent and Kathy already had one son, Kyle, then aged 2. Though little information is available about Barret's early years, it is generally accepted that he attended the Los Feliz (private) School - also sometimes called the Apple School - and continued to live in the LA area throughout his acting career. He may still be there.

In the late 1970's, a friend of the Oliver family with Hollywood connections introduced Kyle to the movie business, where he soon achieved some modest success in juvenile roles. At once Barret - on his own initiative - declared that he too would like to venture on to the screen. His first appearances were in a number of commercials, and this led to small roles in TV productions such as Battlestar Galactica and The Incredible Hulk.

By 1982, Barret was being offered more significant, speaking roles in feature movies - Kiss Me Goodbye, Jekyll Hyde..Together Again, and Uncommon Valor. There was also a well-developed character-part for him in the pilot episode of Knight Rider for TV, and in a further pilot for The Circle Family which did not evolve into the expected series. He was already a busy actor, though not yet 10 years old! During the Fall of the same year, he was one of 200 American boys to audition for the role of 'Bastian' in the imminent production of The Neverending Story, to be directed by Wolfgang Petersen. Barret made a strong impression, but was initially rejected on the grounds of being too young and immature for the role.

By March 1983, however, the casting directors for The Neverending Story had still not found their ideal 'Bastian', and Barret was called to re-audition. The agents were amazed that he had matured so much in a few months (they thought he was his older brother!), and they were impressed by the confidence and intensity with which he read the scene with Bastian in conversation with Koreander, though he had declined the chance of a practice run. It happened that Petersen was in LA at that time for the Oscar presentations. So it was arranged that Barret should meet Petersen in a lounge at LA airport - Petersen's Lufthansa flight was delayed so that the meeting could take place. Barret was immediately confirmed in the 'Bastian' role, and shooting began in Munich only a few weeks later. The seed of the Barret legend was planted in an airport lounge!

The Neverending Story was filmed in Munich during the spring and (hot) summer of 1983, and premiered in Germany in April 1984. Barret's powerful contribution to the success of this movie brought him a measure of international stardom, and it is still regarded as a classic. However, at just this time Tim Burton was planning his first live-action movie under the Disney banner. This was to be Frankenweenie, a spoof of (but also loving tribute to) the Gothic horror genre. The lead role was that of a young boy who uses Frankensteinian techniques to resuscitate his beloved dog, killed in a traffic accident. Burton was keen to cast Barret in this part, and the movie was shot in a few weeks in the early summer of 1984. Once it was completed, however, Disney lost the courage to release it, though it is now regarded as a minor classic, and is widely available.

Thus Barret was at that time denied the acclaim due to him for a further fine performance in a lead role. Yet in that same year he also featured in Wes Craven's Invitation To Hell, in the Highway To Heaven episode To Touch the Moon, and in the Finder Of Lost Loves episode Portraits. These were minor productions, but Barret had a major role in each of them, and his performances - especially in the latter two - confirmed his status as an important and reliably sensitive juvenile actor. The camera was clearly Barret's friend, and he could appeal to an audience profoundly without sentimentality or cuteness.

Barret was not short of screen work at this time. He spent the late summer of 1984 in Florida, filming the role of 'David' in Cocoon under the direction of Ron Howard. Barret plays this role to perfection, but he himself was quick to acknowledge his debt to Howard's directorial assistance. The 'David' character is central to the movie's storyline, appearing in both the first and last scene, and Barret also had the chance to learn from working with a cast of former Hollywood stars. Yet Barret's career was developing further even while Cocoon was being shot. He had been shortlisted for the title role of Daryl in D.A.R.Y.L., and he was flown to New York during the Cocoon shoot to confirm him in this role.

Filming for D.A.R.Y.L. started in January 1985 - the first scene to be shot was Daryl's and Turtle's first day at school. There were location shoots in Florida, North Carolina, and France, while the technical scenes were completed at Pinewood studios near London, England, in March 1985. The movie opened in June of that year, and critical reaction was mixed. The movie itself was regarded as enjoyable, but less meaningful in the context of its human/android theme than had been hoped; yet Barret's playing of the title role was universally regarded as a masterpiece of juvenile acting. It remains so, yet the limited commercial success of the movie resulted in Barret once again receiving less than the deserved recognition. He and his family paid their only visit to Japan at this time, to promote D.A.R.Y.L., and there was considerable worlwide interest in the movie. There are also rumors that a sequel to D.A.R.Y.L. had been planned, but the plans were subsequently dropped - such decisions hang as always on financial considerations.

Barret's next appearance was in the Shelley Duval production of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in her Tall Tales and Legends series for TV. His role here - though not his playing of it - is unworthy of his status at this point in his career. At the end of the year (1985) he returned to the realm of Sci-Fi in Gramma, an episode of The New Twilight Zone based on a Stephen King story. Here Barret was on screen for the entire episode, and also did the voice-overs, but the low production values in NTZ prevented Barret's efforts from making much critical impression. In 1986, however, he moved on to his last feature-length role as a juvenile actor in Disney's lightweight comedy-crime-spoof Spot Marks The X. Here at last Barret was able to play the part of a normal, well-balanced, good-humored American youth, and he clearly reveled in the opportunity.

Henceforth Barret, his voice now changed, took on 'teenage' rather than juvenile roles. In 1987 he returned to England to shoot The Secret Garden with a galaxy of British stars that included Sir Michael Hordern and Sir Derek Jacobi. The casting of an American in the role of Dickon Sowerby, an English rustic lad, is open to question, but Barret performed manfully, giving the part a wistful twist. Next, after completing an episode in the Hooperman series, he was recalled in 1998 for a reprise of the Cocoon theme in Cocoon 2: The Return, but by this time his natural charm and confidence in front of a camera was less conspicuous, and he lacked the support of a Ron Howard. In 1989 he was asked by Paul Bartel to take on the role of 'Willie Saravian' in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Here Barret broke new ground - he played a diseased teenager with sexual fantasies that are fulfilled late one night by the swimming-pool!

Barret may or may not have enjoyed that role, but it turned out to be his last. Rumors are rife - not least on the Internet - about his subsequent activities. Like so many former child stars, he is said to have had 'personal problems', though his parents perhaps helped him through them; the nature of these problems is the subject of pure speculation. He is said to have become active in Scientology, though the only evidence of this is that his father still advertises himself as a Scientologist. He is said to have become a welder, helping in building sets for 'Titanic' exhibitions, and to have studied photo-journalism at Valley College in LA. None of these suggestions has been substantiated, and recent efforts (involving the present writer) to trace Barret have ended in complete failure. Barret elected to leave the movie industry, but, as far as his fans are concerned, he also emigrated from planet Earth. Such a deep-seated desire for privacy in a different lifestyle must be respected.

There is one further rumor worth recording. Somewhere on the Net, a few years ago, someone claiming distant contact with the Oliver family expressed the view that Barret had no interest in his fans, would not contact them, and would simply like his legend to live on. Well, the legend does persist, and the fact is due to Barret's own enormous talent, charm, and appeal in all he recorded for our entertainment. This site simply records the basis of that legend, together with the hope that it will continue to live on -- and that Barret is content wherever he may be.


1 comment:

Anasazi_Warrior said...

Well a second generation has discovered this young star. My grand children digging through my old collection of tapes played in my old VCR. Were quick that, the movie didn't match current airport security. But all and all enjoyed the movie. I guess, I will have to have it transferred to a DVD.