"It was my saving grace," said Chapin, who portrayed Kathy "Kitten" Anderson, the youngest child of the family depicted in the heart-warming series.
"I believe God had me in that (show) for a purpose, because my real family life at home was so contrary to that of the Andersons," recalled Chapin, 72.
Her real life story includes a broken and troubled youth and young adulthood before she came to Christ. Chapin shares her testimony at Faith Baptist Church in Kentwood Sat. June 17.
A TRAUMATIC PAST
Chapin's mother was a frail woman who suffered from tuberculosis and alcoholism. Lauren was separated from her at a young age and the two never really bonded. Yet her mother pushed Lauren and her two older brothers into acting.
"She had wanted to be an actress but had a lot of problems." Chapin said. "But she found fulfillment through her children."
Chapin said her father was a pedophile and she was molested by both him and a family friend. It was a rough and tragic home life.
"Then I would go to work (on 'Father Knows Best') and I would learn what a Mom and Dad were supposed to be like, that morals were important – there were things in those scripts that I never learned in my own home."
When Lauren was age 15 the popular TV show came to an end and the actress faced an abrupt reality that hits 90% of child actors. After years of soaking in talk of a bright future and larger roles, Lauren heard producers and other TV decision-makers "typecast" her in her former role and call her passé.
Without a decent family base of her own, Chapin spiraled downward: a short-lived teen marriage, drug use and addiction, even a stint in prostitution to support her drug habit. She went through several periods of jail time and rehab. (Her story is detailed in her autobiography: "Father Does Know Best").
A NEW SCRIPT
But the page was turned on March 18, 1979. That's the day she was saved, giving her life to Christ. She credits a priest who befriended her in jail as the first person to point her in the right direction. After she returned from a hospitalization, Lauren's five year old son, who was staying with a church-going aunt and uncle, invited her to church.
Eventually Chapin became an ordained evangelist and now speaks about her life and faith in various settings. "I share how God cared for me before, during and after 'Father Knows Best,'" she said.
ACTING IT OUT
Chapin keeps in touch with her TV siblings from "Father Knows Best:" Elinor Donahue (who played older sister Betty) and Billy Gray (brother "Bud"). "We're like family," she said.
She offers advice to parents looking to place their children in front of the camera.
"Listen to your child – it may be you pushing more than the child wanting to act. Check your ego, motives and reasoning. Get emotional help and seek good financial advice."
"There are wonderful things about being an actor like accolades and achievements," she noted. "But you have to understand what goes with that: the pitfalls."
Chapin doesn't think there are any good family shows on commercial TV these days. Among her own current TV favorites? "Dancing with the Stars," the HGTV network and Christian television.
Chapin's Grand Rapids visit coincides with Master Arts Theatre's current production of the stage version of "Father Knows Best," running through June 24 (details below). She has never seen the stage play, and is looking forward to taking it in during her stay.
The veteran has not lost the acting bug. Chapin currently plays a bus driver in the YouTube series "The School Bus Dairies." (See a trailer for the show at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XAae47mA6gw)
"I'm coming back for a second season," she beamed. "It's kind of corny, but it's a fun kids show."
Lauren Chapin shares her testimony at 7pm Sat. June 17 at Faith Baptist Church, 1412 44th St SE Kentwood. Tickets for Chapin's appearance are $16, and available from Master Arts; www.masterarts.org or 616-455-1001.
The play "Father Knows Best" runs through June 24 at Master Arts Theatre, 75 77th St SW in Byron Township. Tickets are $17 adults, $15 seniors and students; $7 kids 12 and under). www.masterarts.orgor 616-455-1001.