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″Kitten” Of “Father Knows Best” Leading Rejuvenated Life

September 29, 1988 GMT

KILLEEN, Texas (AP) _ For a little more than seven years, Lauren Chapin was America’s perfect little sister on TV’s ″Father Knows Best.″

But when her career abruptly ended, the child actress who played ″Kitten″ became a drug addict, unwed mother and prison inmate.

During her traumatic, turbulent adolescence, Ms. Chapin became a has-been at 14, married at 16 and a heroin addict by her early 20s. She spent three years in prison and bore two children out of wedlock.

But today she has found solace as a born-again Christian and a high school science teacher in the small central Texas town of Killeen.

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″In Killeen, of all places,″ Chapin laughs. ″It’s neat. I’m not their token actress. My friends here love me for who I am now, for what I do now, not who I was.″

Kathy Anderson, or Kitten to her TV father, played by Robert Young in the 1950s comedy, is now 43.

Her once-brown hair is strawberry blond, her face angular and unfreckled, her childhood chubbiness gone. But when she breaks into her cheek-splitting grin and pealing laughter, the young Kathy Anderson comes through loud and clear.

″I tried a lot of philosophies before I found the peace I’d been looking for,″ she said. ″But when I did, my life changed. There was a boldness that I had not had before ...″

The third show-biz child of non-show-biz parents, she won her first part before her seventh birthday, defeating 250 other girls to play the youngest offspring in ″Father Knows Best.″

Ms. Chapin says the TV show cast almost was a family, and when the series ended suddenly she was not prepared.

″They never even said goodbye. We left one Friday night and got a letter that we were not to return to work. It was total abandonment,″ she said.

As a short-statured, baby-faced 14-year-old, type cast to millions as the all-American little sister, she found herself icily rejected by the TV and movie industry, she said.

She attempted to return to school, but it was a discipline for which she was unprepared, she said.

″I never went to school longer than a month, and it was hard to acclimate, to talk their lingo and try to fit in, especially when you’re a movie star, and the kids think you’re conceited,″ Ms. Chapin told the Dallas Times Herald.

Ms. Chapin’s mother was a creative, classically trained pianist supportive of her daughter’s ambitions. But at the same time, Ms. Chapin said, her mother was a hard-drinking housewife who subjected her children to debilitating verbal abuse. She said her relationship with her father was even more turbulent.

To escape, she said, at the age of 16 she married a classmate she had known only 30 days. During their marriage of only three years, Ms. Chapin said, she suffered seven miscarriages and became addicted to heroin.

After seven years of heavy heroin abuse, Ms. Chapin was sentenced to prison for attempted forgery.

″I floated in the real seedy side of life from 14 up to 26, caught up in the free-sex, free-drugs, free-love society.″

After three years in the California Institute for Women, Ms. Chapin entered a drug treatment program.

During treatment, Chapin became engaged to another patient. When she became pregnant with her son Matt, now 15, she decided to keep her child but end the relationship.

Five years later, Ms. Chapin had a second child, her daughter Summer, out of wedlock. She said she did not believe a marriage to the child’s father would last. At that time, Ms. Chapin had a steady job with a brokerage firm, was sober and drug free.

Friends introduced her to Christianity, something she always had rejected, she said, because she believed Christians were squares. But she said the religious experience transformed her.

″I had lived in fear, in low self-esteem, but as I allowed Christ in, all those things that had made me afraid and ashamed were softened and released and healed.″

She has shared that message through numerous speaking and television appearances. She also is working on an autobiography, due out next spring, titled ″Father Does Know Best.″

In December, Ms. Chapin will marry Killeen firefighter Robert Kelley.

″A lot of people say that ‘Father Knows Best’ was too perfect, that life isn’t like that. But it should be like that, and it can be like that.″