Previously Known For: As Junior Healy in Problem Child and Problem Child 2, as Sam Dalton in Dillinger and Capone, and as Mitchell in Drexell’s Class
|Currently Known For: Living Out of the Spotlight in Beverly Hills, CA with his wife, Magnolia|
“After having been thrust into the spotlight as a child, I appreciate some peace and quiet.” Michael Ponce Oliverius was born on October 10, 1981 in Los Angeles, California where his parents, despite not having any ties to the entertainment industry, took a huge leap of faith and hired an agent for their red-haired, freckle-faced son. With dozens of headshots and photographs in hand, Oliver’s parents waited patiently by the phone for the next few months before their two-year-old son caught his first break and was hired as a model for the Sears catalog. Over the next few years, Oliver modeled a variety of baby clothes, products and toys before he made his television debut in a Chevron commercial at six years old.
While the young Oliver was asked to recite his lines over and over again, a casting agent waiting behind the scenes knew he’d found the perfect kid to star as the devilish and seemingly monstrous child opposite John Ritter and Amy Yasbeck in a new comedy film, Problem Child. Invited to audition for the role of Junior, a disastrous seven-year-old boy adopted by Ritter and Yasbeck, Oliver won the part and took his place among costars like Gilbert Gottfried and Michael Richards as Problem Child grossed over $72 million at the box office in 1990. A year later, Oliver was at it again when he reprised his role for Problem Child 2, which earned him a Young Artist Award nomination. However, the sequel was a massive box office flop and was criticized for its risqué adult language and poor timing after competing against Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2: Judgment Day during opening weekend. Who knew a red-haired Dennis the Menace couldn’t beat the former Mr. Olympia at the box office?
Despite the film’s failure, Oliver earned praise as the next Ron Howard and as Opie Taylor’s devilish twin from The Andy Griffith Show, but it wasn’t enough to keep him in the game, especially not after the scandal that followed his Problem Child 2 salary. Long before filming ever began on the sequel, Oliver and his mother made headlines when his mother tried to renegotiate his $80,000 salary to a whopping $500,000. With a lawsuit ensuing after Universal Studios signed a new agreement under duress, a jury ruled in the network’s favor and Oliver was forced to pay the difference between the $250,000 he had received and his established $80,000 salary. By then, the damage was already done to his career as Oliver struggled to secure minor parts in Dillinger and Capone, Amen, Drexell’s Class and Platypus Man between 1990 and 1995 before he called it quits for good. “I think it is a mutual breakup between me and the industry,” he said in frustration. “I was kind of done with it anyway. I started to realize I wanted a normal life.”
Unlike so many other child stars who disappear with plans to lead a normal life only to return to Tinsel Town a few years later, Oliver has kept his promise over the last two decades except for a handful of interviews in recent years. In 2011, he called in on the Loveline radio show and spoke to the show’s host and his former Problem Child costar, Gilbert Gottfried, which marked the first time the pair had spoken since Problem Child 2. Then, in 2015, Oliver resurfaced for an interview on Gottfried’s podcast to celebrate the film’s 25th anniversary and the late John Ritter. “He was a sweetheart,” Oliver recalled of his on-screen dad. “I remember he got me a radio-controlled car right after we met. He was really nice to me on the set and I think he kind of knew that I was very new to all of it. It’s a pity he’s no longer around. I would love to reconnect with him. Damn shame.”
Admitting that his interest in Hollywood waned after his contract dispute hammered the final nail in the coffin of his career, Oliver has been working as a technical support specialist and couldn’t be happier especially now that his hard-earned privacy is back. “I work my a— off. I have a nine-to-five job, a normal existence and I’m happy with it,” he told Gottfried during the podcast. “I’ve seen the top. I’ve seen the bottom. I know what both extremes are like. If someone told me that I could go back to where I was before the lawsuit, I’d deny it. I’d decline. I’d say no. One of the things I learned real young is how precious privacy is. Picture going out to see a movie with your friends and getting recognized and people not understanding you just want to see a movie. It’s flattering and awesome when people give you that recognition, but you can’t say it doesn’t get old.”
Although the interview gave fans a glimpse into Oliver’s adult life, that wasn’t enough for a handful of other outlets who shared the update and linked Oliver’s personal Facebook page to his story. Fortunately, a few of Oliver’s friends were quick to come to his defense and had the pictures taken down after commenting, “I’m sure he appreciates you linking to his personal Facebook page and posting his pictures, one of which I took myself. Mike is the gentlest, sweetest, kindest man I have ever known. If you had reached out to him instead of stalking his page, I’m sure he would have shared a few words with you for an interview. Geez.”
With the pictures now removed, Oliver has once again reclaimed his privacy, which was perfect timing since he’s taken on his mother’s maiden name “Ponce” to create a new, private Facebook page under the name, “Mike PC Ponce.” Of course, we all know what “PC” stands for! Apart from the name change, Oliver married his longtime girlfriend, Magnolia, in a private ceremony in Beverly Hills, California in 2016 and has since returned to the tech industry and his nine-to-five job. As for his opinion of Problem Child and Problem Child 2, Oliver says he doesn’t dwell on the past and, in the event he sees reruns of the film on television, he does his best to flip to another channel because, after all these years, he still holds a bittersweet opinion of his early stardom saying, “I avoid it like the plague.”