Where are they now? What Fargo's most famous child actor is up to these days

While many child actors experience the pitfalls of early fame, Fargo native Charlie Korsmo took a different path to the Ivy League and beyond.

Actor Charles (Charlie) Korsmo in a scene with Warren Beatty from "Dick Tracy." Special to The Forum

FARGO — In my 30 or so years working for Forum Communications (at WDAY-TV, WDAY-AM and The Forum), here are the questions and comments I hear most often, followed by my responses.

“Hey, you should do a story on XYZ!” (Thanks! I love good suggestions).

“Who decides which letters to the editor get published?” (Not me. Thank heavens.)

“What is John Wheeler saying about this weather?” (This one keeps me on my toes, since I no longer work in the same building with John, I have to make a date to watch him every night.)

But the one question that I probably get the biggest kick out of is: “Hey, whatever happened to so and so?”


People will bring up someone that we wrote a story on years ago who might have fallen out of the public eye. But inquiring minds want to know where they are now. Heck, I want to know, too. Now, we’re going to be tracking down and following up with some of our area's most well-known people from our archives with a series we're calling “Where are they now?” So please, email me ( ) if you know of any people you’d like to see featured.

I’ll kick it off this month with a guy I first interviewed when he was 11 years old. He’s now 42.

Charlie Korsmo visits Fargo on Feb. 23, 1990. Nick Carlson / The Forum

'I think I can do that!'

I remember Charlie Korsmo walking into WDAY-TV in 1989. He had the self-assuredness of someone three times his age. He didn’t come across cocky or obnoxious at all though. He just seemed like a great kid. A great, super smart kid.

As we sat down in one of WDAY’s edit rooms to do our interview, we visited about Charlie’s dad, John, who I had interviewed many times because of his role as head of North Dakota’s Republican Party. (Charlie’s mom is educational psychologist Deborah Ruf). Charlie was born in Fargo in 1978, but he also spent part of his childhood in the Twin Cities.

He was at the station because he was making his film debut in a real Hollywood movie starring Academy Award winning actress Jessica Lange (a native Minnesotan, who actually went to junior high school in Fargo). I clearly remember asking Charlie what the name of the movie was, and he explained, like a seasoned show business veteran, that during production the title is often not known. The movie turned out to be called “Men Don’t Leave" and also featured actor Chris O’Donnell. He promptly followed that up with bigger-budget productions and bigger stars like Warren Beatty, Al Pacino, Madonna ("Dick Tracy"), Bill Murray, Richard Dreyfuss ("What About Bob?"), and Robin Williams, Dustin Hoffman and Julia Roberts ("Hook").


Actor Charles (Charlie) Korsmo in a scene with Warren Beatty from "Dick Tracy." Special to The Forum

If I recall correctly, Charlie told me he got his start in show business after attending the filming of a television show in California, telling his mom “I think I can do that!". And he did. For a time in the ‘90s, Charlie was kind of the "it" child actor and probably could have had a longer career than he chose. But after filming “Hook", he opted for a more normal life-splitting time between Fargo, where his dad lived, and the Twin Cities with his mom.

Charlie Korsmo and his mother Debbie Ruf talk in 1991 in Golden Valley, Minn. Colburn Hvidsten III / The Forum

Korsmo made a brief return to Hollywood in 1998 in the movie “Can’t Hardly Wait” starring Jennifer Love Hewitt. But then Charlie opted to go back to school.

Reading books instead of scripts

Korsmo graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2000 with a degree in physics and went on to work with the U.S. government's Missile Defense Team, the Environmental Protection Agency and as a staffer for several U.S. House committees.

He later attended Yale Law School. He received a lot of attention back in North Dakota during law school because he was one of four North Dakotans in his graduating class of 2006 .


Four ND natives graduated from Yale Law School in 2006
In this file photo, from left are: Tom Sylvester, Joseph Pull, Charles Korsmo and Dakota Rudesill of Fargo, North Dakota, are photographed in front of the Yale University Law School (right) in May 2006. Photo Arnold Gold

Korsmo went on to clerk for a 2nd Circuit Court judge, did securities litigation in New York's financial district and was a visiting professor at Brooklyn Law School.

In 2011, he joined the faculty at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. A few years ago, he told The Forum’s John Lamb, as a professor, he avoids talking about his celebrity past.

"I don't need that baggage hanging over me," he said with a laugh, "You don't want to see that in your torts teacher."

Some students have recognized him over the years, but he says most of them are too young to really know much about him.

Charles Korsmo is a professor at Case Western Reserve University Law School. Photo: Case Western Reserve University

Korsmo, who now chooses to go by “Charles”, is also a husband and father. Looking back, he sees some similarities between his first job as a movie actor and his current profession teaching law.


"You're up in front of your classroom putting on a show twice a week, so there's certainly some correlation there," the former child star told The Forum.

He has no intention of getting back on screen.

"It had its charms, but I'm not looking to go back," Korsmo said. "We're going to give the old law profession thing a try."

If you have a suggestion or idea for “Where are they now?” email Tracy Briggs at

Tracy Briggs is an Emmy-nominated News, Lifestyle and History reporter with Forum Communications with more than 35 years of experience, in broadcast, print and digital journalism.
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