March 17, 1997 12:00 PM

A PAPARAZZO-FLASH AGO, IT SEEMS, he was the ultimate child star. But with his career stalled since 1994, Macaulay Culkin is no longer a star by Hollywood’s lights, and last week in a New York City courtroom he became, with one bang of a judge’s gavel, somewhat less of a child. Responding to a petition filed by reps for Culkin, 16, Judge David Saxe in effect removed the actor’s estranged parents as guardians of his $17 million fortune. Judge Saxe also ruled that the Home Alone star could use a trust fund to buy an apartment for himself, his mother and six siblings. “The parents’ finances are currently so poor,” said Saxe after the parents admitted they had regular problems paying $8,000 a month to rent five Manhattan apartments, “there is a real possibility of this millionaire and family being evicted.”

The Culkins’ troubles began when Macaulay outgrew the roles that had earned him up to $8 million per picture. In 1995 his never-married parents, Christopher “Kit” Culkin and Patricia Brentrup, split and started a bitter custody battle that involved the right to extract management fees from Macaulay and their other kids, most of whom have done some acting. Because Macaulay hasn’t worked in three years, though, the family has had little income. Now his finances will be overseen by the family accountant. Hours after the ruling, Kit Culkin, who often outraged producers with his pushiness, was charged with assaulting a press photographer. Not a good role model, says Stanford Lotwin, Brentrup’s lawyer. “I don’t believe Macaulay wants to continue to work with his father,” he says. “He wants to be a 16-year-old for a while.”

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