Previously Known For: As Mark Taylor on Home Improvement
|Currently Known For: Trust Fund Battle with Parents, Marriage/Divorce to Heidi van Pelt, and Collaborating on Stardom Happens: Nurturing Your Child in the Entertainment Business with his Mother, Candy Bennici|
“Clean your room, do your homework and dodge the paparazzi.” While seven year olds around the world were busy playing with their toys in their bedrooms, the seven-year-old Taran Noah Smith was facing overnight stardom and a grueling schedule after joining Tim Allen, Patricia Richardson, Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Zachary Ty Bryan and Richard Karn on the popular 1990s sitcom, Home Improvement. Believe it or not, Smith’s venture into acting came by pure luck shortly after he was born on April 8, 1984 in San Francisco, California. With his older sister showing an interest in acting at the time, Smith’s mother, Candy Bennici, had her newborn son in tow when she took her daughter to another audition.
“I was in an agency with my daughter, who was seven years old, and they asked if he wanted to work,” Candy recalled. “I was like, ‘You have work for babies?’ They said, ‘Yes, we do,’ and handed me a card. At six months old, he was in a crib with a matching outfit and sheets, and that was his first job. Later, he did commercials and public service announcements in San Francisco. Both kids would get maybe four jobs a year, nothing big. Then, he did an Enterprise rental car commercial and was able to get his Screen Actors Guild card from that, which opened a lot of doors.”
Although Smith’s acting gigs were infrequent throughout his early childhood, the jobs were just enough to keep his interest sparked as he traveled to Los Angeles with his mother for pilot season in the early 1990s with the hopes of catching his first big break. “When we went down to Los Angeles, we didn’t even know there was a thing called pilot season. We happened to be right in the middle of it,” Smith recalled. Coincidentally, Smith lost his first two auditions—a McDonald’s commercial and a television series that was later canceled after its first season—before auditioning for and winning the part of Marcus “Mark” Jason Taylor on a new family sitcom starring Tim Allen called Home Improvement. But, even then, Smith’s mother admits that they were still incredibly naïve about Hollywood. “We didn’t really know much about how anything worked,” she said. “We didn’t even know who Tim Allen was.”
Quickly getting his footing and learning the ropes of Hollywood alongside his young costars, Smith grew up with the cameras rolling and became an overnight star as Home Improvement ran from 1991 to 1999, making it one of ABC’s longest running shows. He took home a 1992 and a 1994 Young Artist Award and watched his fortune build even with a large chunk of his paycheck going into a trust fund under the regulations of Coogan Law. Ironically, the trust would become a hot topic for Smith and his parents in 2002, but more on that in a moment!
Amid his success on Home Improvement, Smith started to have second thoughts about his career as an actor and ventured into other projects to gauge his interests. He starred as Tiny Tim in the 1995 television film Ebbie and played Brian Ferris in Little Bigfoot 2: The Journey Home in 1997 before making a cameo in Seventh Heaven and lending his voice to Patrick Poundstone and Rat Boy in an episode of Batman Beyond. By then, he knew it was time for a change so, when Home Improvement wrapped up in 1999, the 16-year-old Smith didn’t think twice about stepping out of the spotlight to figure out what he really wanted for his life.
Although Smith’s decision to step away from acting caused quite the stir, nothing could top the headlines he made when, at 17 years old, he married a 33-year-old woman named Heidi van Pelt on April 27, 2001. Complete turmoil ensued as Smith sued his parents for control over his $1.5 million trust fund after accusing them of squandering his fortune and buying themselves a mansion. Fortunately, the bank and the judge refused to give into Smith’s demands as Smith only gained control of his trust after his 18th birthday. “Of course we didn’t touch his money,” Smith’s mother said. “It was in a trust fund. We couldn’t have touched it if we wanted to. [Taran and Heidi] were trying to get it when he was 17 and we were trying to protect it. Luckily, the courts were very good about it and didn’t give it to them.”
With access to his fortune, Smith changed his tune as he divorced van Pelt in 2007 and repaired his relationship with his parents. “In 2001, there was definitely some teenage angst-driven strife between us,” Smith said. “Shortly after I gained the trust, we started to talk and be more of a family… Because of the things we experienced, we wanted to relate the story and help other parents and kids go through this experience in a safer manner. We’ve definitely been a strong, happy family for a long time.”
Relating their experience to others through Candy’s book, Stardom Happens: Nurturing Your Child in the Entertainment Business, Smith and his mother recount their experience and offer advice to aspiring stars. Together, they’ve created a guidebook for children and parents to share what they wish they’d known over three decades ago. “I wrote this book to help parents to be prepared if their child enters the entertainment business and becomes a star,” Candy says.
As for Smith, the 33-year-old contributed to the book and seems completely well-adjusted after pursuing a variety of interests including opening his own restaurant called Playfood in 2005. Although the venue closed in 2007, Smith has moved forward and now works as a museum and festival installation artist in addition to doing charity work for disaster relief organizations abroad. And, while he shows no interest in ever returning to acting, Smith remains grateful for the opportunity saying, “I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” Today, he’s found that his passion for working with his hands and building things far exceeds his need for stardom, which we can’t help but think might be something he picked up from his on-screen dad, Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor,” over two decades ago! That doesn’t seem like too far of a stretch, now does it?