Jodie Foster and the TV version of “Paper Moon”

We take the opportunity of Jodie Foster’s birthday (b. 1962) to recall an interesting blip in her early career that has no doubt been forgotten by most.

Foster was ubiquitous as a child star in the 1970s. She was precocious, funny, and seemed older than her years. We tend to think of her as a movie star, but especially in her younger years, she was constantly booked for television: she did five episodes of The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, three of Gunsmoke, as well as memorable episodes of The Doris Day Show, Julia, Adam-12, Nanny and the Professor, My Three Sons, Bonanza, The Partridge Family, Kung Fu, Ironside, and tv movie pilot of Harry O, “Smile, Jenny, You’re Dead”, among other things. Walt Disney Studios loved her and cast her in her early movies Napoleon and Samantha (1972) and One Little Indian (1973). She was the perfect Becky Thatcher in Tom Sawyer (1973) opposite Johnny Whitaker, with whom she’d appeared in Napoleon and Samantha. And she supported Raquel Welch in the roller derby drama Kansas City Bomber (1972).

Foster’s only competition at this time for the mantle of reigning female child star was of course Tatum O’Neal, whose shared many of Foster’s qualities. In 1974, O’Neal was the bigger star, thanks to her Oscar for Peter Bogdanovich’s Paper Moon, which had come out the previous year. O’Neal was busy being a movie star, so it fell to Foster to star in the tv sitcom adaptation of the popular hit as the naughty kid flim flam artist Addie. To play her confederate, the producers booked the perfect Ryan O’Neal stand-in: Christopher Connelly, who had played O’Neal’s brother on Peyton Place. Like Foster, Connelly was also known associated with family films; his best known credit is probably Benji, also in 1974, making that his annus mirabilis. Unfortunately though this TV version of Paper Moon was not to be one for the books. It only lasted 13 episodes.

Foster of course went on to grow up very quickly. Disney’s Freaky Friday (1976) which cast her opposite Barbara Harris was appropriate kid fare, most of her subsequent stuff pushed the envelope: Scorsese’s Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) and Taxi Driver (1976); the horror film The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976) in which she plays a psychopathic killer; and even Bugsy Malone (1976), which though ostensibly a “kids” film sexes her up to a queasy extent. While still a teenager, she was also sexualized in Foxes (1980) and Carny (1980).

In 1981, John Hinckley announced his obsession with Foster as his motive for shooting Ronald Reagan. Foster very sensibly resolved to have a normal life despite the craziness swirling around her and took time off from her career to attend Yale, then returned to Hollywood in a new mature incarnation who was a force to be reckoned with. She won Oscars for her performances in The Accused (1988) and Silence of the Lambs (1991), and directed and starred in Little Man Tate (1991). Other films included Woody Allen’s Shadows and Fog (1991), Maverick (1994), Contact (1997), Carnage (2011) and Elysium (2013), and she has directed well received episodes of Orange is the New Black and Black Mirror. And at this writing has more movies in the works!