Erich Bergen (eighth grader; actor; composer; Internet trader; collector; writer)
Income: $3400 (part-time, 1998)
Health Insurance, Rent, Utilities, Phone, Food, Transportation: covered by mother
Erich Bergen has a business or two. “Let’s see, last year I got $410 selling Michael Jackson memorabilia on the Internet. I trade whenever I’m not at school. It’s down the street from my house, the Clinton School for Writers and Artists. I’m in eighth grade.” He has cheese pizza, five garlic knots, and a Mountain Dew every day for lunch.
Bergen, 13, gave a tour of his room in his mother’s apartment in Chelsea. He has a bunk bed with plaid sheets, a Michael Jackson 1993 King of Pop Calendar, a Michael Jackson singing doll, Michael Jackson doll clothes, Michael Jackson everything, and some Furbys. He keeps those in the closet because “they’re really rare.”
Then there is his acting career, where the big money is. That took off soon after he was four. “At eight I signed with my manager. I got like at least up to three auditions a day every day.
“In the beginning, I wanted to be a rock star. I’d be singing, dancing. My idol was Michael Jackson. I’d copy off him. Watch his videos four hours a day. I was never a sports person.
“When I was six I was in Bye Bye Birdie at the Village Community School. I was Conrad. I did like Dracula, Frankenstein, some Abbott and Costello. Then I went on to higher productions, at the Acting Company in Greenwich. I did like five shows there. Now I don’t remember their names, it’s embarrassing. But that’s where my manager spotted me.
“I did a lot of commercials for a while— Disneyland, White Water Getaways. My line would be like, ‘Dad, I want to go.’ I did a TV pilot, a few music videos. Rap group Onyx. I made $100 to $200 for a day. I was lucky to get into one of Michael Jackson’s videos. No, Michael wasn’t there when I did it. I never met him.” Bergen’s eyes rolled. “Though once I was about three minutes away from meeting him.
“Audio books, like The Ghosts of Fear Street, pay like $300 a book. They take at least a day and a half. TV, music videos pay by the hour, voice-over commercials by the day.
“Oh, I was the voice of the son in American Daughter, the Wendy Wasserstein play. I got $1100 for that. I was the lead in The Sick Boy at the New York Youth Theatre. They’re like my second family. When we were in the Greenwich Street Theatre, the rent was too high, so the whole theater almost went bankrupt. We didn’t know what to do, so a bunch of kids and I ran all over. We went to The Today Show in the pouring rain to talk to Katie Couric and Matt Lauer and we had a bunch of signs, Save Our Theater. New York One ran a story. Then the Central Presbyterian Church adopted us and now we have a great theater and we pay hardly anything.
“I was also a magician for a while. I wanted to start a business doing that. But I was spending all my money buying the tricks. That’s when I went back to doing online.
“The other money I make is in the stock market. I have a share in Disney. I get an allowance, $7 a week. I really get $10 a week, but three goes to an account I can’t touch. I do have to pay taxes. I don’t know anything about taxes. My mother takes care of it all.
“My mother is Allison Lee. She’s a person who works harder for the money than the
money is worth. She’s an amazing person. She can do many wondrous things on the computer, design a whole magazine. She works long hours every day. She’s a direct-mail creative consultant. Some days she doesn’t go to bed until three in the morning. She makes jewelry, too.
“My parents are divorced. My dad does promotional items. His company is called Eager Promotions. He’s been in the business for 20 years. He has his company out of his apartment in New Jersey. He’s making big money now.
“College? I don’t want to think that far ahead. I’m not even in high school yet. Maybe I’ll be rich enough and a big enough star and I won’t have to go to college.”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on March 9, 1999