Remember Leif Garrett?

Remember Leif Garrett?

Yes, this is on my mind today…Leif Garrett. He was a teen idol when I was a preteen in the 1970s. He had been on a couple of TV shows…Three for the RoadFamily (with Kristy McNichol), and a guest spot on Wonder Woman. He had a singing career with a hit in I Was Made for Dancing. He was in the Walking Tall movies. He was on American Bandstand. And he even had his very own TV special on CBS. All that happened before he was 18.

I don’t even know why I started thinking about Leif Garrett yesterday. Sometimes, I start looking for movies I liked as a child or teenager, and yesterday, I thought of a coming-of-age film from the 80s called Little Darlings, starring Kristy McNichol and Tatum O’Neal. Somehow, that made me think of Leif Garrett.

Oh, he was such a dreamboat at the time! With his flowing blonde locks and surfer-boy looks, lots of teenage girls had his posters all over their bedrooms. Back then, we had Teen Beat and Tiger Beat magazines (remember those?) to keep us up-to-date on our teen idols, and in the late 70s, Leif Garrett was at the top of the list. But as we all know, most teen idols don’t last. Most are a flash in the pan…including Garrett. But there was something different about him. He had charisma that the others didn’t have. Well, David Cassidy had it, but I can’t think of anyone else from my time who had the same X Factor as Cassidy and Garrett. Somehow, David Cassidy managed to reinvent himself as an adult in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat on Broadway, but the only place we’ve seen Garrett was Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew…sadly.

I’ve seen clips and read articles about him over the last 24 hours, and his story is tragic. He started acting in commercials as a child before moving into TV and movies. At some point, a management team decided to make him a singing star. With his charisma, Garrett was a walking dollar sign. He felt like he had no say in his own career and told Rosie O’Donnell on her show that he didn’t see a lot of the money from his fame.

But the real turning point in his life was a tragic car accident when he was 17. He was driving his Porsche, and a friend was riding with him. They had an accident, and the friend was left paralyzed from the waist down. Alcohol and drugs were involved. All terrible. It’s also something that could happen to lots of teens…a cautionary tale.

It’s tragic. The friend’s paralysis is tragic. The guilt and downward spiral afterward of Garrett are tragic too. Had he not been in show business, would this have happened? It’s an ugly business. Tragic. He became an addict…cocaine, heroin…sad. Was it the guilt of the accident that sent him over the edge? He made some bad choices, but this was a kid who had too much freedom and too much power too early. Who could handle that at 17? Fame and money make a strange life for a teen. Even good people can get caught up in the trappings of fame. Drugs plus guilt…perfect storm.

I am not diagnosing Garrett. I am not a psychologist. I just wonder what could have been. I look at that innocent face of the 1970s, and I want him to have a mother or someone else to keep him grounded. Had he been more closely supervised, and had he not chosen to drive under the influence that night, would his life have spiraled out of control? It’s sad to look at the photos of that sunkissed, young, hopeful teen and know what a terrible turn his life took. I don’t think he was a horrible individual. He was a teenager without boundaries. He’s likely not a horrible individual now, but wow, he has had a tough life. If he had stayed clean, would he be living a “normal” life now? We will never know. Some teen idols go on to have seemingly healthy lives, but the vast majority seem to have more issues than the “average” kid.

So that brings me to Garrett’s book, released at the end of 2019. Of course, I didn’t know about it then, and I didn’t hear about it earlier this year. With COVID in our midst, there hasn’t been a lot of press about the memoirs of former teen idols. But when I learned about it yesterday, I ordered it from Amazon, and I’ve read a couple of chapters, and it’s pretty darn good so far. It’s called Idol Truth: A Memoir. Yes, I will be the first to admit that I tend to be sympathetic. I’m a bleeding heart. I tend to want the best for people, and I’m sure I will still want the best for Garrett when I finish this book. If you’re interested, you can order from Amazon here. It will be available on the Audible app on August 11…I’ve already preordered it.

In the meantime, I’ll give my teenage daughter some extra hugs and be grateful that she’s a normal teenage girl living a normal life in North Carolina…not a teen idol. And I’ll tell her the story of Leif Garrett as a cautionary tale. I’ll tell her how quickly his life spiraled out of control, and hopefully, we will both learn some valuable lessons from Garrett’s experience.

The Bad News Bears Were Our Babysitters

Earlier this week, someone posted a video clip on Facebook. It was a clip from The Bad News Bears, a movie that was released in 1976. And oh, how that one short clip took me back in time. Not familiar with the movie? You can see the trailer here.

When I was a little girl between the ages of seven and ten, the movie theater was my babysitter. Many Saturday nights, our parents would drop off me and my younger brother at the local movie theater. Sometimes it was even a double feature. The local theater was a Mom and Pop operation with one screen. No megaplex. Just one screen, and they showed first run movies, usually a different one every week. The only one I remember showing for two weeks was Jaws in 1975, and yes, I was eight, and my brother was six when we saw it.

Our parents never did any “pre-screening” of any of the movies. As long as it wasn’t rated R, we went, and we loved Saturday nights at the movies!

In 1975, our favorite movie was Jaws, and our favorite in 1977 was Smokey and the Bandit, which was released on my tenth birthday…both rated PG, and both inappropriate by today’s standards. I saw Smokey and the Bandit again last year, and there is no way that movie could even be made today.

Between those great movies, there was The Bad News Bears, released in 1976. It was rated PG, and every kid wanted to see it. IMDb.com sums it up saying, “An aging, down-on-his-luck ex-minor leaguer coaches a team of misfits in an ultra-competitive California little league.” It starred Walter Matthau as the coach and Tatum O’Neal as Amanda, an 11-year old girl with mad pitching skills. The movie’s language is bad; it’s completely and utterly politically incorrect, and the coach is a drunk, but the team of misfits pulls together. If it were released today, lots of parents would freak out at the political incorrectness, language and mature content. Heck, there might even be an uproar, but it was a great movie from my childhood. I don’t remember anybody’s parents making a big deal about it. Back then, there wasn’t a PG-13 rating, so everything that wasn’t G or R fell into the middle category, PG. This movie would have been a PG-13 by today’s standards. We loved The Bad News Bears.

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Yet somehow, The Bad News Bears stands the test of time. There are lots of movies that just aren’t as good 40 years after they’re made, but this one is just as funny and heartwarming to me now as it was in 1976, because despite the political incorrectness, it’s a story of people coming together. I’m not sure how many times I’ve seen it over the years. I purchased the DVD a couple years ago and watched it with my daughter. Sure the language was inappropriate, but the rest of it…the beer cans, drunk Buttermaker (Walter Matthau’s coach character), the drinking/smoking/motorcycle riding guy named Kelly Leak who would become a part of the team…well, my daughter was as surprised as I was when I watched it in 1976, but she liked the movie. And Tatum O’Neal was so darn cute. The movie stands the test of time, though, because it wasn’t a glossed-over, Leave It To Beaver version of childhood. Somebody, somewhere was actually living that childhood.

While lots of people would think The Bad News Bears is a terrible movie for kids now, people didn’t worry so much about stuff like that in 1976. Heck, we could ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, as long as we were home when the streetlights came on. My parents were buying themselves some date time by dropping us at the movies, but we were also getting an education. The Bad News Bears is set in Southern California, a place I’d never visited at the time. It was about a little league baseball team of misfits that was sponsored by none other than Chico’s Bail Bonds. While those of us who lived in South Alabama could relate to a baseball league, I didn’t know anyone like Amanda (Tatum O’Neal’s character), who sat on the side of the road selling maps to stars’ homes. That seemed fun and exciting to me. Add in the fact that she was a female, 11-yr-old, pitching dynamo, and I thought she was awesome. She was still feminine, yet that team of boys needed her. There was a lesson of “girls can do anything boys can do” in there, and there was a big message about teamwork and friendship.

When I was a kid, we all talked about the characters and even had favorites. If I said something about Tanner from The Bad News Bears to someone my age today, most people would immediately know who that is. Say the name Buttermaker today, and everybody my age knows who that is. I just tested that on my brother. I texted him and asked, “If I say the name Buttermaker, do you know who that is?” He immediately texted back, “Bad News Bears.” And any time one of us hears Bizet’s Carmen Overture, we think of The Bad News Bears, because an adaptation of it was used as the theme song.

So, while lots of parents would never watch The Bad News Bears with their children, I allowed my child to watch it, inappropriate or not. Truthfully, I had forgotten how terrible the language was, but we watched it anyway. Language aside, maybe she saw a glimpse of life outside her bubble. Sure, some of the characters were over the top, but the overall theme and message in the movie was a good one. I mean, really…who can forget the scene near the end of the movie where Tanner tells the Yankees, who have just defeated the Bears in the championship, what they can do with their apology and their trophy? And little, mousy Lupus tells them, “And another thing! Just wait till next year!”…as he pours a beer over his teammate’s head.

The Bad News Bears was well-received by audiences and critics when it was released, even winning a Writer’s Guild of America Award.

I never dropped our daughter at the theater when she was younger than 12. Times have changed since the 70s. Kids aren’t as free-ranging as they used to be. Now that she’s a teenager, she meets friends at movies occasionally. They check movie times on their phones and purchase their tickets in advance online. At some theaters, they reserve their seats in advance. I wish we could have done that in the 1970s. And I wish we’d had those big, reclining seats too.

Back then, we had to call a pre-recorded message line (from our landline phones!) to hear the title and movie times. It was along the lines of, “Thank you for calling the Eastern Shore Cinema. Today is June 1st. Our movie this week is Jaws. Showtimes are 4:00, 7:00 and 9:30. Admission is $1 for children under 12 and $2 for adults. Thank you again for calling the Eastern Shore Cinema.” Here’s how often we called that theater line…I still remember the telephone number…more than 40 years later. And the floors were sticky. Everyone drank sodas back then, and there were no cupholders at the seats, so when they spilled, the soda would run down the sloped floor of the theater, making a long, sticky, soda line. Y’all remember…

So, cheers to The Bad News Bears and all those great 70s movies that could never be made in 2018. They were great babysitters, and they were educators too. They don’t make ’em like they used to. We learned a lot about life from those “inappropriate” movies, and we haven’t become ax murderers…shocking, I know.

Wish my little brother and I could share a beer with Buttermaker.

***To see a clip of one of the best scenes from the movie, click here.***

***Want to see some of the oldies but goodies mentioned in this blog? Amazon Prime has lots of them! Go to Amazon here and in the search box, enter the name of the movie you’d like to see.***