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QUEENS TEEN EXITS STAGE LEFT

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by Jeri Dayle

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Queens has given birth to many an honored celebrity - Paul Simon, Jerry Seinfeld and "Nanny" Fran Drescher, to name a few. Now, a Queens resident, 14-year-old Duane McLaughlin of St. Albans, has shown the potential to outshine all those other stars.

This spring, Duane was the recipient of a Young Artists Award, a tribute to his work in the ShowTime movie Finding Buck McHenry. He admits, with a grin, what an honor it was to have this as the first notch in his trophy case, and to take his place beside past winners Jennifer Love Hewitt, Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio. While Duane hopes this award will lend further credence to a resume that already includes five movies, and commercials too numerous to count, he probably won't realize its ramifications any time soon because of the strike.

The Young Artists Awards were established over 20 years ago by Maureen Dragone (whose own mother founded the Golden Globes) as a means of honoring child actors whose significant work was often overlooked by other entertainment industry award panels. It seems Duane, too, has taken a cue from his mother. She runs New Dawn, a private elementary school in Queens, which features the arts as an integral part of its curriculum. When arts patron Joy McLaughlin recognized a certain spirit in her son, she decided to launch him into modeling at age five. With the support of a strong agent, he soon made the inevitable crossover into acting.

McLaughlin stresses that although she encouraged Duane, she's never forced him. She knows firsthand that an entertainment career is a huge commitment - one that must be shared between parent and child on all levels. McLaughlin says she's been fortunate with a career and strong support network that enabled Duane to go as far off as Wilmington, N.C., and Toronto, Canada for work (the award night was his first actual foray to Hollywood).

Now that Duane is a student of The Professional Children's School on Manhattan's Upper West Side, he's totally acclimated to the city life, and often travels to appointments accompanied only by his cell phone. He's happy to be in a school setting that embraces the performing artist. Not only is there unique flexibility in learning - with options to put school work on hold or travel with a tutor while working -but there is a pervading atmosphere of respect for each child's individuality and chosen craft.

Unlike some child performers, Duane has few regrets over his career choice. While he's saddened that he was unable to remain on a school basketball team, after being called away from a game for an audition, he still enjoys his teen years here in Queens. Some of his favorite haunts are Forest Park, Shea Stadium and the Forest Hills multiplex, The Midway. He savors this time spent with friends, but acknowledges "it's hard to make friends sometimes. People think because you're an actor you're going to be stuck up or something."

Duane is a bit conscious of his image, as teens are prone to be. He advises kids who have an interest, especially in the performing arts, should "just follow what they feel is right. Don't be afraid of what other people might think."

His mother stresses that parents need to be sure that "this is your child's dream, and not your own." She has stood by Duane as he rose from an undiscovered to a Ford model and a talented young actor. "It's like he's grown up in front of a camera," she says.

Duane received the 22nd annual Young Artists Award for the role of Aaron, who uncovers his grandfather's past in the 1930s Negro leagues. While Duane was thrilled to work with a veteran like Ossie Davis, he also looks forward to being part of the new generation of African American actors. Echoing what Halle Berry said in a recent interview, Duane notes that stereotypes are finally lifting,, and leading roles for persons of color are taking on new direction. Duane cites Lee Thompson Young's latest flick as one example.

In addition to his awarded role, Duane's recent movie accomplishments included a major part in the CBS movie The Runaway that aired last December. And he's just finished wrapping The Palace Thief, starring Kevin Kline, which is slated for release this fall.


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