It’s her birthday today. She’s not my favorite actress in the world although I admire her journey, and – when you think about it – it is quite exceptional. Consider her contemporaries, the other child actors who dominated in the ’70s. Who of them have had her journey? None, that’s who. And I will say that she was “there” for me early, when I too was a little kid, and dressed like a Times Square hustler in, now that you mention it, Taxi Driver. I dressed like I could have been an urchin-pal of Jodie Foster’s character, another neglected kid-adult grown up too fast in the city streets, under the umbrella of Travis Bickle’s psychopathic concern. “Shouldn’t you be in school, kid?” “No, man, making too much bread out here.” Of course I didn’t see Taxi Driver while I was strutting around in my long leather jacket. But I did see Candleshoe, and it made an enormous impression. You could have even said that I was a little-kid cross-dresser. I was wearing full-on men’s suits in high school. I stopped short of wearing a fedora, even though Bugsy Malone had an early impact. In my 20s, I did wear an old-fashioned black derby like I was a Cockney villain in a 1930s movie – I wore it almost every day. With fancy dresses. With flannel. Always. I lost that hat somewhere along the way but almost every picture of me in my 20s I was either wearing 1. a blue bandana wrapped around my head or 2. the black derby. As a kid, I “saw myself” in little boy characters like the Artful Dodger and Huck Finn, and my biggest fantasy was dressing up as a boy, and “passing”, the way Shakespeare’s cross-dressing heroines did. So many of my favorite stories involved little girls disguised as boys. One of my favorite books as a kid was Jane Langton’s radically-titled book The Boyhood of Grace Jones. No, not THAT Grace Jones. MY Grace Jones (wrote about her here) was a little girl growing up in the 1930s, alienated by the expectations placed on girls, and carving out her own path by pretending to be a boy.
The only thing I’ve really written about Jodie Foster was a piece years in the making – on the great “tomboy films” of the 1970s. She was its leading light, its guiding star. I didn’t run around with a gang stealing hubcaps, but independence and freedom was my goal, my fantasy world, and so all those little girls in the 70s, untouched by conventional aspirations or yearning for the status quo of stereotypical gender roles were huge for me. I don’t think of them as influencing me, I think of them as reflecting what was already THERE in me. We didn’t “buy in” to all that stuff. We had other role models. I’d been wanting to write that tomboy piece for a long long time. The word “tomboy” may be out of fashion now, considering today’s discourse, but … if you are going to write, you cannot care about being out of fashion. Tomboys matter. And thankfully the tomboys showed me early what it looked like to not care what the world thought of you, to just be you, to thumb your nose at the prudes and snobs. They’re just scared. Wear a long leather jacket when you’re 10 years old. You look dope. The Artful Dodger is as valid a role model to a girl as Anne of Green Gables, even though he is a thief. Or maybe even BECAUSE he is a thief. The great thing about the 70s tomboy-kids is that the typical roles usually assigned to boys … suddenly moved into Girl Land. And I’m just glad it was mainstream popular culture when I was so young and impressionable.