The kid from up

Searching for Zoltar Speaks at Playland


In the 1988 film “Big,” a 13-year-old boy makes a wish to be ‘big’ to an unplugged, yet fully functioning Zoltar Speaks machine and wakes up the next day as a fully grown man. When the character, played by Tom Hanks, tires of life as an adult, he tracks the machine down at a scenic spot on a beach boardwalk and wishes himself back to adolescence.

The scene was shot at Playland, the Westchester County-owned amusement park in Rye, but today visitors to the same spot will only see an Aquafina vending machine.

Deirdre Curran is one of many locals who remembers there being a Zoltar near where it is shown in “Big.”

“I can’t remember if it was after the movie or if it was there before the movie,” said Curran, founder of the resident group Friends of Playland and a former park employee. “They had it down sort of where the bus stop was, near the administration building.”

But the machine in the movie — with its red eyes and mechanism to roll a quarter into the gypsy fortune teller’s mouth — was nothing more than a prop. And Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of the county parks department, said there never was a Zoltar machine or other fortune-telling machine put on the boardwalk by parks staff. It would have been impractical to have a machine along the walkway and exposed to the elements, he said.

Try it: What’s your Zoltar fortune?

The business of Zoltar

So where do truth and fiction meet?

One link is Olaf Stanton, who trademarked the names “Zoltar” and “Zoltar Speaks” for fortune telling machines nearly 20 years after “Big.” His company, Characters Unlimited, based in Boulder City, Nevada, builds many life-size characters and fortune-telling machines — but Stanton said Zoltar makes up a third of all its business.

Stanton, who started the business in 1987, said he filed for the trademark nearly 20 years after “Big” and consciously builds his Zoltars to be different from the film. He kept sending Playland copies of his brochures until one year county officials reached out to him, he said.

“We co-opted it,” Tartaglia said of the decision to embrace Zoltar. “As this became iconic because of the movie, we wanted to do something more permanent.”

The machine that the county bought from Stanton’s firm sits inside the amusement park, in a hut near the Dragon Coaster. It bears little resemblance to the movie prop — the actual machine has a yellow costume, crystal ball, less intricate cabinet and “talks.” The real machine also takes dollars instead of quarters, offers fortunes rather than grants wishes — and it doesn’t operate when it’s not plugged in.

Other machines possible

Fortune-telling machines depicting everything from miners to monkeys were popular at amusement parks and carnivals dating back to the 1930s. One model made in the 1960s even had the name “Zoltan.”

People commenting about Zoltar on a Save Rye Playland Facebook page remember that over the years there were as many as three fortune-telling machines in the boardwalk game room and at the arcade located within the amusement park, one of which depicted “Madame Zelda” and a crystal ball.

Tartaglia couldn’t rule out Curran’s memory that a fortune-telling machine used to be placed outdoors, in front of the game room, by the vendor there and wheeled indoors at night.

Meanwhile, Playland’s connection to “Big” may be played up even more as the park looks to the future. A recent consultant’s report on Playland noted a “major opportunity” to promote the scene by placing a sign or a machine at the location where the scene was filmed. The consultant even suggested promoting an annual “Big” festival or hosting a party for the movie’s 30th anniversary in 2018.

A long shot? Only Zoltar knows for sure.

Twitter: @marklungariello

When the news of Penny Marshall’s death broke Tuesday, countless tributes from Hollywood colleagues poured in. But for actor David Moscow, who starred as young Tom Hanks in the 1988 blockbuster “Big,” the director was particularly special.

“To be able to get some of her pixie dust in my first film was amazing,” Moscow, who was 12 when he filmed the age-swap fantasy flick, told TODAY Thursday. “I think everyone who knew her would say she has this very unique way about her, which is she’s kind of gruff but always quick to smile, because she’s obviously so funny.”

David Moscow appeared in 1988’s “Big” at age 12.Everett Collection

Moscow, now 44, recalls sitting on the floor with other child actors at the audition, being called on by Marshall to introduce themselves. He later won the part when Marshall remembered him as “that kid from Yonkers” (Moscow is from the Bronx, and wondered if she indeed had meant him).

“I think right off the bat, she’s a little intimidating, so the first day on the set I was not very confident because she was having me do it over and over and over again,” he said. “And it was only until I realized that this is just her MO, she liked to do 30 or 40 takes so she could get anything she wanted. Then I kind of got comfortable.”

Trending stories,celebrity news and all the best of TODAY. Penny Marshall directs Tom Hanks on the set of “Big.”Everett Collection

The actor still appreciates how Marshall interviewed him and then incorporated his personal preferences into his character.

“She came to me and was like ‘All right, what baseball team do you like?’ So immediately, Josh Baskin became a Yankee fan. What football team do you like? I like the Giants, so it was all Giants gear up on the wall in the Baskin household. What kind of shoes do you wear? So for a little kid to be asked this from an adult, like what your actual feelings are about one of these things is like mind-blowing, because you have so much to explain about how you see the world. She was totally open to that, and it shows in the truthfulness of the film.”

Moscow says he’d run into Marshall over the years. “She’d call me up and invite me to a Knicks game when she was in town, and that was pretty amazing to sit courtside with Penny and then all the basketball players knew her,” he said.


The pair collaborated again more than a decade after “Big,” when Marshall cast Moscow in the 2001 film “Riding in Cars With Boys.”

“She was all about fearlessness, and just creating a set where you should try to play and have as much fun as possible,” Moscow said. “So I remember there was a big scene. It was me and Drew (Barrymore) and I was holding back a bit and (Marshall) pulled me to the side and said ‘I brought you here because I trust you and I know what you’re going to bring, so go for it. And I was like ‘OK.’ And it was just that little ‘She knew what I had in me.’ She trusted her instincts, so she kind of made me feel comfortable to play.”

Moscow, who directed his first feature film last year, said seeing Marshall in action made him realize how much work actually goes into filmmaking. “It’s not magic; it’s because someone was really invested and talented,” he said.

‘Big’ actor David Moscow looks back on playing young Tom Hanks, re-creates rhyme

April 30, 201803:10

He also cited the stellar production team Marshall assembled for “Big” as a testament to her genius.

“She surrounded herself with an amazingly talented group of people because she also realized that directing is a collaborative effort, not just one person,” he said.

Moscow, who welcomed a son earlier this year and looks forward to showing him “Big” when he’s older, considers the movie “a gift.”

“It’s a nice life to have been in that when you’re 12 years old,” he said. “You walk through life and people come up and smile and say hi to you on the subway. It’s a nice gift she gave.”

25 Years After Playing Young Tom Hanks in ‘Big,’ David Moscow Looks Back on Child Stardom, Penny Marshall’s Direction, and The Making of a Classic

The second audition of David Moscow’s career involved Penny Marshall, Robert De Niro, and a script about a 12-year-old Jersey boy who wishes “to be big.”

Though De Niro passed on the role made iconic by Tom Hanks, “Big” became the most recognized film on Moscow’s career resume.

“Personally and professionally, it was a complete change,” Moscow said in a recent interview marking the classic comedy’s 25th anniversary. “At that period of time I was 12, and my mom would be scolding me for being bad on the street, and then suddenly people would come up to me and be like, ‘Hey, can I have your autograph?’ … It was a wild time, it was a wild way to be introduced into the business.”

Moscow has since turned his focus from acting. He produced indie horror comedy “Hellbenders” (“‘Ghostbusters meets ‘The Hangover’”), which premiered during TIFF 2012’s Midnight Madness screening series, and hopes to shoot “Desolation,” his Roman Polanski-influenced directorial debut, in early 2014. But “Big” remains, in many ways, his defining role.

“Having that on your resume when you walk into an audition, someone just glances over and they land on that film and go, ‘Wait a minute. You were young Tom Hanks,’” he said. “And then, suddenly, it changes. I think that, compared to any of the other stuff I’ve done — I did “Newsies,” I was in “Honey” — I mean, they all had some level of success, but there’s nothing like that.”

A quarter-century later, he’s still recognized — or, more accurately, misrecognized — as protagonist Josh Baskin: Hanks’ performance as an adolescent in a man’s body is so convincing that people remember Moscow in scenes where he didn’t actually appear.

“Depending on the scene, people will ask, ‘What was it like to touch her breasts when you were that young?’” he said. “And I’ll be like, ‘I didn’t, that was Tom.’ Or, ‘What was it like to dance on the piano?’ ‘That’s not me, that was Tom.’”

If the generation brought up on “Big” sometimes bungles the details, Moscow’s memory of the production is remarkably vivid. He quickly learned how Marshall (“Awakenings,” “A League of Their Own”) gained her reputation as an actor’s director.

“Tom came by the set one day just to see how everything was going and I think he could tell that I was a little bit nervous,” Moscow said. “And he came over and he was like, ‘No, no, Penny just likes to have everything she can possibly have in the editing room, to make sure it’s all there.” And then he said that he’d done like 37 takes the day before. But that’s what Penny likes to do. She wants to give you time to play.”

Appropriately enough, for a film about the tension between childlike wonder and adult responsibility, “play” proved central to the experience. While Moscow rode the carnival rides from the film’s opening sequence and stayed up all night for the first time (“I ate so much cotton candy,” he said), Marshall made a decision that explains the naturalistic ease of Hanks’ rangy performance.

“When we were rehearsing, Penny would send an AD out with a camera with me and my friends and we would sort of playact some of the scenes so Tom could study the tape of how kids interacted with each other,” Moscow recalled. “So there are a couple moments in the movie where he is… mimicking things that my friends did, used to do. Watching it, you’re like, ‘My God, that’s crazy!’”

Moscow caught the film’s moving denouement on cable recently, and marveled at his teenage self.

“It seems like a completely different person, that child, back then,” he said. “I had green contacts in, my hair was dyed black, I had lost two teeth during shooting… When you’re looking at that kid you’re like, ‘Oh, he looks sort of like me, but he’s also very strange right now.’”

Despite this distance, however, Moscow, who celebrated his 39th birthday in November, understands why “Big” continues to resonate with viewers young and old.

“Everybody goes through that,” he said. “Everyone at some point in their life wishes that they had more power, that they were taller, that they were older, that they were stronger, and so everyone can kind of connect.”

“Big” is now available in a 25th Anniversary Blu-ray/DVD Combo Edition from Twentieth Century Fox.

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‘Big’ at 25: David Moscow grows up


With the 1988 comedy classic Big turning 25, it’s official: Young Josh Baskin (played by David Moscow) has grown up.

Moscow was an 11-year-old acting newbie when he auditioned for the part “Young Josh” in the Penny Marshall-directed comedy, with Tom Hanks playing his magically transformed older self.

The rest is film history as the film become an international hit (and is being celebrated with a special 25th anniversary Blu-ray and DVD release) while Hanks soared into super-stardom.

Moscow, too, had to deal with giddy, unexpected success.

“It was completely transformative,” says Moscow, now 39. “I don’t think my parents or I knew anything like this would happen. It was just like, I showed up, I read lines and people liked what I did and I got it. But it was huge. I couldn’t walk down the street.”

Moscow had initially auditioned (badly) for the part of Josh’s best friend, Billy, in the film at a time when Robert De Niro (yes, that De Niro) was set to play the part of older Josh.

When Moscow didn’t get a callback, he wasn’t surprised.

But when De Niro dropped out of the production and Hanks was brought on, Penny had Moscow brought back in months later for a new audition. He nailed it and got the part. But he had to make a transition to play a younger Hanks.

“I had to get my hair dyed and green contact lenses, which were the most painful thing in the world at that point,” says Moscow.

To get into the youthful character, Hanks followed Moscow and his friends around New York City with a video camera documenting how young kids carried on. Much of this behavior was incorporated into the film.

Filming the role was a treat for Moscow, especially the carnival scenes where Josh is transformed with a wish from a young kid into an adult. The scenes were shot at night.

“It was the first time I ever stayed up all night, and I had the carnival to myself pretty much for four nights in a row,” he says. “I could go around during my downtime and ride the rides. And it was a lot of cotton candy. It was amazing.”

After the movie became a hit, Moscow went to Los Angeles to continue acting. He hung out with Jared Rushton (who played his pal Billy in the film) as well as the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Drew Barrymore.

Moscow stayed out of trouble for a young star (“I’m a mama’s boy, and she kept a close eye on me,” he says). And he took time out to travel the world between acting gigs.

He has starred in critically acclaimed films such as Newsies (1992) and along with Ashton Kutcher in 2003’s Just Married. But nothing has come close to the Big experience.

“When you do a film and it’s nominated for Academy Awards and stuff like that, it sets a really high bar. It’s like this is how it’s always going to be. But you realize to be in a classic like that is a rare thing,” Moscow says. “It’s just a special movie.”

“You have to learn how to handle people stopping you in the street and one day people not stopping you in the street,” he says. “You have to stay grounded. And realize in the end the work is the important thing.”

In 2012, Moscow produced his first film, Hellbenders. He is currently directing the thriller Desolation.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

We’ve seen a ton of Tom Hanks since Big, but it’s been quite a while since we saw the kid who played his movie mini-me — David Moscow. Well, it looks like these days, the actor and producer is still hoping to get some of Zoltar’s help.

In a new video promoting his Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for post-production on his new film, Desolation, Moscow recreated the famous scene where he goes to consult the mysterious fortune-telling machine — all while wearing the same red-and-white baseball jacket. Only this time, rather than asking to be big, he’s asking for assistance in finishing his directorial debut.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/David Moscow

While playing a young Josh Baskin in Big was his most well-known role, Moscow has enjoyed a lengthy career in Hollywood since the 1988 hit. Not to mention he dated and was engaged to none other than Kerry Washington for a few years.

But perhaps most fascinating is that he’s actually grown up to look quite a bit like Hanks. They have the same crooked smile and crinkly eyes! Now that’s some movie magic.

Getty Images

Oh and in case you’re curious, here’s the promotional trailer he made for his film — it’s got several nods to Big in it. See how many you spot.

Sam Escobar Contributor Sam’s enthusiasm for makeup is only rivaled by their love of all things relating to cats.

‘Whatever happened to that kid from The Shining?” For years, horror fans pestered Stephen King about the fate of little Danny Torrance, the boy with psychic abilities who survived the Overlook Hotel. So much so that King eventually wrote a sequel, 2013’s Doctor Sleep. It’s a question that crops up on the internet too, about Danny Lloyd, the child actor with the pudding-bowl haircut who played Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation. On IMDb, Lloyd has just one other acting credit after The Shining (a long-forgotten TV drama about Watergate). Where did he disappear to? “I once read that I had six kids and was a pig farmer,” he says, chuckling on the phone from his home. “That’s not entirely accurate.”

For the record, Lloyd – who goes by Dan rather than Danny these days – is a biology professor at a community college in Kentucky. He did work on a farm to pay his way through university, “but where I’m from in the midwest, that’s where the odd jobs are, on farms”. And he’s got four children, not six – the eldest two are teenagers and tease him mercilessly about his haircut in The Shining.

Danny Lloyd now, aged 45. Photograph: Tony Taafe/Coleman-Rayner

Nothing about Lloyd screams Hollywood. In photos, he looks like your average 45-year-old guy, clean cut with a neatly trimmed beard. Chatting on the phone, he is pure midwestern wholesomeness, his expressions running the gamut from “oh boy” to “gosh”. Because he rarely gives interviews, gossip has swirled that he hates The Shining and feels like it’s wrecked his life. Any truth there? “I don’t do many interviews. But when I do, I try to make it clear, The Shining was a good experience. I look back on it fondly. What happened to me was I didn’t really do much else after the film. So you kind of have to lay low and live a normal life.”

In his early days as a teacher – long after he had quit acting – Lloyd learned fast that being the kid from The Shining was not a fact he needed to share with pupils looking for chinks in his authority. “It was disruptive in class, so that’s when I began to really play it down.” Were the kids waggling their fingers hissing “Redrum”? He laughs good-naturedly. “Yes. Very occasionally, but enough for me to know I had to downplay it. As a teacher, you’re supposed to be in control.”

Lloyd was four when his father, a railroad worker, heard a call-out for auditions on local radio. Kubrick had also placed adverts in Illinois newspapers: “Seeking boy for a film. Between five and seven years of age. No previous acting experience necessary.” Why did his dad think he could act? “Well, he told me that I was always running around trying to get attention, so he sent off my photo. I think he did it as a joke, really.” But, after five or six auditions he landed the role – Kubrick’s personal assistant called the house in the middle of Lloyd’s fifth birthday. (The director later said that he’d been impressed with the little boy’s ability to concentrate.)

Lloyd on his trike in The Shining, riding toward Lisa and Louise Burns, the Grady twins. Photograph: Allstar/WARNER BROS.

The entire family upped sticks to London – Lloyd, his mum, dad and older brother Mike – for what they were told would be a 17-week shoot. Inevitably, filming on The Shining overran, to almost a year, as extreme perfectionist Kubrick shot take after take (he forced poor Shelley Duvall to redo the axe scene a record-breaking 127 times). “We didn’t know what we were getting into,” says Lloyd. “But I think if you were to ask each once of us individually, we’d do it again.”

At the time, aged five, he had no idea The Shining was a horror film – Kubrick decided not to tell him the plot. He thought it was drama about a family who lived in a hotel. Kubrick was an imposing presence, a big slab of a man with a reputation for being difficult and exacting. What did Lloyd make of him? “Stanley was great. I remember him playing ball with me, playing catch, stuff like that. He was a big guy with a beard, but I don’t remember ever being scared of him or intimidated or anything.”

Unlike Duvall, he has fond memories from the set: eating peanut butter sandwiches with Lisa and Louise Burns, the twins who played the creepy Grady sisters; an egg hunt Kubrick organised at Easter for the kids. And while the rest of us might remember little Danny pedalling like the wind along the corridors of the Overlook, hyperventilating in terror at the horrors of room 237, what stuck for Lloyd was the excitement of being allowed to ride a tricycle indoors. Although it came with a lesson in the hollowness of grownup promises. A crew member offered to send him the tricycle after the movie: “I was waiting and waiting for it, but it never came.”

Kubrick and his team protected him from the scary stuff, Lloyd says. In one scene, where Wendy runs screaming through the hotel with Danny in her arms, Duvall carried a lifesize doll. “I specifically remember I was banned from the set for the entire time Scatman Crothers was being axed,” he says laughing. There is something nice and Tom Hanks-y about his measured tone and efforts not to say anything mean or controversial.

I read that he accidentally walked in on Jack Nicholson filming “Here’s Johnny!” (voted the scariest scene movie history a few years ago). Is that true? “Yes, but not the actual ‘Here’s Johnny’ bit. Jack was out in the hallway with the axe. He was having fun and goofing off. I think it was a plastic axe he had. Both my parents were there and we were laughing. That wasn’t scary.”

One of his costumes, a hand-knitted Apollo 11 jumper, has provided conspiracy theorists with ammunition for their hypothesis that Kubrick filled The Shining with clues that he had helped the US government to fake the moon landing in 1969. Lloyd laughs drily when I ask if believes any of the Shinologists’s theories? “Honestly, no. I don’t think there’s any basis to any of it really. I think it’s just people being such fans of Kubrick and trying to explain some of the things that are almost unexplainable. Why did he do this? Why he did do that? But no, I don’t buy into any of the conspiracies.” For years after the film, Kubrick sent the Lloyd family cards at Christmas, and telephoned around his graduation from high school: “He was interested in how I was doing in school. It was very nice of him to take time.”

Lloyd with Shelley Duvall. Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext/Warner Bros

About a year after its release Lloyd was shown a 10-minute kiddie version of The Shining at a local cinema. He was 10 or 11 before he finally saw the real deal. Did it scare him? “No. For me when I watch The Shining, it’s like watching a home movie. I understand how it scares people. I think it’s an entertaining movie, don’t get me wrong. But I look back on it with so many memories.” These days he prefers watching documentaries to horror films.

So what happened after The Shining? Where did he go? Lloyd continued to audition for roles “but with no success really”. He finally quit when he was 13 or 14. Did he find the rejection upsetting? “No, I wouldn’t say it was upsetting. I always enjoyed it. It was exciting. But as I got a little bit older, it got kind of boring. Then I had to tell my parents that I was ready to quit. Which they were fine with. They were never stage parents. They made sure I had a normal upbringing.”

I wonder if things might have turned out different today? The breakout child stars from Stranger Things have been plastered over magazines, already joining the celebrity hoopla. “I think that’s entirely possible. But I’m quite happy with how things went, really. I feel like I pretty much hit the lottery with the The Shining. I have seen those kids from Stranger Things. That popularity must be dizzying for ’em.”

So, no regrets? “No. I don’t regret trying acting. When I decided to stop, I don’t regret that either. At the end of the day, it’s not a huge deal. Well, it is and it isn’t. I still have to grade the tests at school, get the kids to bed. All the regular stuff.”

The Shining is in cinemas across the UK on 31 October accompanied by short film Work & Play: A Short Film About The Shining directed by Matt Wells.

Four more child stars who opted for early retirement

Peter Ostrum

Peter Ostrum with Gene Wilder in the 1971 film. Photograph: Bros/Kobal/REX/

Aged 12, Peter Ostrum beat thousands of hopefuls to play golden ticket-winner Charlie Bucket in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The Oompa Loompas must have got something wrong, however; afterwards he turned down a three-movie deal and became vet for large animals. He lives in rural New York, and never acted again after his debut.

Mara Wilson

Mara Wilson in Matilda in 1996. Photograph: Tri Star/Kobal/Rex/

Hollywood could not get enough Mara Wilson (Mrs Doubtfire, Matilda) when she was an adorable seven-year-old. But when Wilson hit her teenage years, the phone stopping ringing and she became the target of confidence-crushing scrutiny of her appearance (a film critic called her “odd looking” at 13). Wilson is now a writer and playwright. Last year she published a memoir about life as a child star.

Mary Badham

Mary Badham with Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. Photograph: Universal/Kobal/Rex/

Mary Badham was a tomboyish nine-year-old when she was cast as Scout in the film of To Kill a Mockingbird. Despite not being able to cry on demand during a crucial scene with Gregory Peck (the crew had to blow onion juice in her eye) Badham picked up an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. After a couple more films, she quit acting at 14 and later worked as an art restorer.

Jeff Cohen

Jeff Cohen in The Goonies. Photograph: Allstar/Warner Bros

Fancy having Chunk from the Goonies as your lawyer? For fans of the film, he will always be remembered for lifting his Hawaiian shirt at the gate of Mikey Walsh’s house to do the truffle shuffle. But these days Jeff Cohen works behind the scenes in Hollywood as an entertainment attorney. “I didn’t give up acting. Acting gave me up,” he later said. The roles dried up as he hit puberty.