At 4, Lee Aaker wowed audiences with song-and-dance routines at fairs, Rotary Club meetings and amateur shows. At 10, he was a star. A veteran of more than a score of films, he was cast as Rusty in the weekly TV series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin. After filming stopped in 1959, Aaker made some guest appearances on other TV shows, but, like many child stars, he had trouble shifting to adult parts. At 18 he was washed up as an actor.
For a couple of years he was an assistant to Herbert B. Leonard, producer of Rin Tin Tin. Aaker traveled the country doing advance work for Leonard’s Route 66—scouting locations, booking rooms for the cast, arranging for local extras. “I had money and a nice car,” Aaker recalls, “but I wasn’t happy.” He dropped out. “I was a flower child. Working in a gas station, doing odd jobs. Traveling, not watching the clock.” He got married and divorced.
In 1973 he found his niche. He knew a contractor who took him on as a helper. Aaker soon was specializing in carpentry, laying floors, fitting frames, putting on roofs. Now he is concentrating on getting his contractor’s license next fall. “I like being outdoors all day and my time is my own,” says Aaker. “I work weekends too, so I must like it.”
Aaker grew up in Los Angeles, where his mother and aunt run the Gladora Theater Studio for children. Today he lives in Redondo Beach. Aaker, 32, shares his rented, pumpkin-colored one-bedroom house (in need of repair) with three small dogs and a cat.
With the series back in syndication (although Aaker gets no residuals), he is once again getting fan mail. But he has no illusions about a comeback. “A lot of the people who watch Rin Tin Tin now are my age—it’s a nostalgia thing,” he says. “Some guy called me long distance to say he’s doing a doctoral thesis on me.”