The other day I had a little time to kill at work. And I don’t mean that I just didn’t feel like doing my job, I mean that I had scheduled to reboot a server at 3:30 and it was currently about 3:22; I literally had a few minutes to spare. I was looking at my Google Calendar, peering into the far off future of 2024, and thought to myself, “I wonder if any of my old calendars will work next year?” You see, I have a couple of old calendars from 1990 – one TMNT, the other from Batman – and I thought it would be cool if the dates lined up again. I did a quick Google search and found that for 2024, the closest old calendar that would work was from 1996 (Leap Years really screw things up when it comes to re-using old calendars).

I thought it would be fun to share a quick tweet letting people know that if they still had any calendars from 1996 somewhere in storage (and knowing my geeky Twitter friends, it’s entirely possible) that they could use them again in 2024. I did another quick Google search for 1996 calendars, just to see what would have been out there 28 years ago, and one of the first images I saw was one of Jonathan Taylor Thomas, arguably the most famous cast member from Home Improvement outside of the star, Tim Allen.

Now, in 1996, JTT, as he will be known from now on, was 15-years old. By that time he’d been on Home Improvement, one of the biggest sitcoms of the ’90s, for five years, and he’d starred as the voice of young Simba in The Lion King (1994). He was clearly a child star, but the teenage years are so critical for an actor that started working at a young age, to see if they can become an adult star as well.

It’s around the time when they need to try to branch out and be more than just the precocious little brother or sister; it’s time to prove they can carry a movie or sitcom on their own. JTT starred in two films in 1995 at the age of 14, Man of the House, sharing the screen with comedy legend Chevy Chase, and Tom and Huck, a retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Unfortunately, neither of those films were big hits. JTT went back to (mostly) voice work for 1996’s live-action Pinocchio, which was a commercial and critical bomb, bringing in only $15 million on a $25 million budget.

He had small parts in a few other films, but for the most part, it was clear that he probably wasn’t going to make the jump to adult stardom. His career was relegated to Home Improvement until 1998, when he left the show two episodes into the final season. His character, Randy, was written out of the show by moving to Costa Rica to study abroad.

That same year, JTT was 17, and tried one more time to carry a film, the holiday-themed family comedy, I’ll Be Home for Christmas. The film follows Jake, a college student in California, as he travels cross-country in order to be at the home of his estranged father in New York City for Christmas dinner at six o’clock. If he can make it in time, he’ll get the keys to his father’s classic Porsche. The film was another critical and commercial bomb, bringing in only $12 million on a $30 million budget. Roger Ebert gave the film one star.

That pretty much sealed the deal as far as JTT’s career. He would go on to have roles in other projects, but the once and future Lion King would never take the throne as a bona fide superstar.

It didn’t help that the mid-to-late ’90s were an odd time for child entertainers, perhaps most exemplified by The Mickey Mouse Club reboot (1989 -1994) that would birth future stars like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling. At the time, Hollywood was taking young actors and musicians, churning them through the starlet machine, polishing them up, but also weirdly sexualizing them, and spitting them out, hoping that one of them would find that delicate balance between age-appropriate fans and creepy uncles who would setup websites counting down until the star turned 18. No attention was bad attention at the time.

The thing is, JTT just couldn’t make that transition from innocent young actor to smoldering barely-legal adult. His babyface, slight build, and short stature (he’s only 5’6″ tall) simply wouldn’t allow it. He would always be seen as a kid, and Hollywood doesn’t really know what to do with that after a certain age; just ask Macaulay Culkin, Haley Joel Osment, Edward Furlong, and JTT’s co-star in Tom and Huck, Brad Renfro. In Hollywood, as a child actor, you either grow into the living embodiment of a Ken doll, or you stop getting roles because you’re too cute to be taken seriously as an adult love interest.

In a 2013 interview with People Magazine, JTT said that he stepped away from acting in 1998 simply because he’d had enough of it. He’d been acting since he was 8, during which time he’d been working non-stop on either Home Improvement or a film project that entire time, and he just wanted to go to college, to travel, and to have a normal life. In the interview, he talks about how novel it was to be sitting in a college library with other students. As a kid who grew up with private, on-set tutors it must have been a really wild experience just to be in a classroom. He would go on to study at Harvard, St. Andrew’s in Scotland, and finally got his degree from Columbia.

Since that interview 10 years ago, JTT has had a few guest appearances on Tim Allen’s latest show, Last Man Standing, and even had the chance to direct a few episodes. But for the most part, he’s just living his life, surviving off residuals, and watching movies and TV shows. We should all be so lucky.

Aside from being a pretty decent kid actor, JTT was a good-looking kid. Between his big smile, his blue eyes, his comedic timing, and his otherwise wholesome reputation, it’s no wonder he was a regular cover boy on teen fan girl magazines like Tiger Beat, Bop, and 16. And to capitalize on that fandom, in 1995, Landmark Calendars produced this 12-month calendar featuring our boy, JTT…

In 1996, I was 21 years old. JTT was not on my radar outside of the fact that he was one of the kids on Home Improvement, a show I had stopped watching long before 1996. So when I went searching for a calendar from 1996 that would line up with 2024, I didn’t have him in mind. But when his picture popped up on Google Image Search, I knew right away that his calendar is the one I would be using to showcase this odd convergence of time to all my Twitter friends. It wasn’t meant to be malicious, I wasn’t making fun of him; it’s just that this calendar is such a snapshot of that time period that it just seemed perfect.

And, so, I sent out this tweet:

After hitting Post, as you can see, I only had 1 minute left before I was supposed to be rebooting a server, so I sent it and forgot about it. I thought it was a fun tweet that might garner a few Likes from my Twitter friends, but would soon be forgotten.

Boy was I wrong…

The tweet blew up, amassing millions of views, thousands of Likes and retweets, and hundreds of comments. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who felt like this JTT calendar was the epitome of 1996.

The tweet got constant interactions for about three days, then it started to hit Facebook and Instagram, where I was getting tagged a lot. I don’t really use IG much anymore, but all kinds of people were subscribing to me, hoping that I’d have some other nugget of nostalgic goodness for them down the road. I wound up putting a “Thanks for stopping by, but I don’t really use this account” post up and it seems to have slowed my new subscribers to a trickle now.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find that 95% of the comments about the post have been positive, if not downright wholesome. A few people made some inappropriate jokes, but that’s to be expected from immature edge lords in their forties. A vast majority of people were enjoying the cheesy memories of 1996, wishing they hadn’t thrown their copy of the calendar away when they were younger, and many wanted to know if other calendars would work or if it was only the JTT one that lined up with 2024. I can only hope they were joking, but I’d often try to help them out by saying, “Yes, your calendar will work, but it doesn’t have JTT, so it’s not nearly as cool” or something to that effect.

Quite a few people asked whatever happened to JTT and I would link them to this article on E! that had just come out a few weeks before, detailing his first public sighting in a couple of years. They aren’t the best photos of JTT (especially compared to the cover of his calendar). But, you know what, I’m in my forties and I’m lucky if I remember to put on pants when I run errands, so if you took candid photos of me at Home Depot, I’d probably look pretty rough..

And all things considered, he’s actually looking pretty good! He’s maintained his slim build, his glasses look good on him, and he’s wearing some nice-fitting, nice-looking clothes. He looks a lot better than some of his contemporaries do today.

So cut JTT some slack – he made it through the difficult teenage years of being a star, got out while the getting was good, and has seemed to avoided all the pitfalls that so many young actors face. Maybe he’s not as glamourous today as you might have expected, but things could have turned out a lot worse for him than to just look like a normal guy.

As I said, the excitement around my tweet has slowed to a crawl at this point. I’m sure the holiday weekend has had something to do with that, but this is also just how our constant churning of content works nowadays. What used to be a fad for weeks or months has now been reduced to a couple of days if you’re lucky. But it was a lot of fun while it lasted. And I was pleasantly surprised by how many people had so many positive things to say about JTT, his career, their childhood memories of him, and where he is today. People like to say social media brings out the worst in us, but that’s not always necessarily true. That or maybe JTT just brings out the best in all of us.

Thanks to everyone who Liked, retweeted, or commented on my post. I’m glad that it brought you a little joy, even if just for a little while. However, you shouldn’t expect nuggets of viral goodness at that scale from me ever again. I don’t try to create viral content, I don’t try to tap into the zeitgeist, I was just a guy who was waiting to reboot a server at work and stumbled into a little bit of internet fame. It was fun while it lasted, but it wasn’t the type of high I’ll continue to chase. I’m pretty content just doing what makes me happy here online and if the occasional person likes what they see, that’s good enough for me.

As for JTT, I’m happy for you, man. Keep doing what you’re doing and we’ll see you in a couple more years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *