I Love You, Tatum O’Neal

Posted on August 5, 2011 by

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tatum o'neal

Tatum as Amanda in The Bad News Bears. The original riot grrrl.

When I was a kid, The Bad News Bears seemed like it was playing every Saturday morning. I can’t count for sure, but I feel that I watched it at least 30 times. This was a perfect movie for my brother and I who had endless arguments about television. Baseball for him. Cool chick Tatum O’Neal striking out all the boys for me. There was really no other girl like Tatum in the movies or on television. A strong woman/girl figure who could look adorable, get the hottest boy (Kelly Leak) and throw a mean, thunderous curve ball down the plate.

The only other strong female figure for girls in the 70s was Princess Leia. That princess was a toughie, boys. She’d pistol whip a Stormtrooper. Watch out.

Who were the other female role models in the 70s? Daisy Duke? Wonder Woman? Not that I mind mixing sexuality with a strong female. No. But Tatum’s character was so rough and tumble, yet so sweet and innocent. It was also probably who she was as a person — her best role is always this indelible mix of extremes. And if you watched her new show with father-of-the-year Ryan O’Neal you’d see the same.

I watched the show “Ryan & Tatum” the other night. I’ve always been fascinated with Tatum starting from my indoctrination with the Bad News Bears. Andy didn’t understand this. “How can you watch this train wreck?” he said. But Tatum isn’t just this woman riddled with problems to me.

Johnny Mac might think she’s got poor moral fiber, but I see her as a woman who came from a very, very tough childhood, who struggled with a horrible drug addiction, who got her kids taken away from her, and who was able to pull herself out of the depths of hell a number of times. She’s BFF’s with Oprah (it’s O’s network that’s airing the show with her pops), she’s written two books and she’s made a mark in acting with a number of small roles–including my favorite as the alcoholic sister on Rescue Me. What’s not to respect at this point?

I don’t find the show a train wreck! No, really. I find it a fascinating exploration of two people attempting reconciliation. I really bought the concept of it, and call me crazy, but I even think it’s legit. Of course Tatum wants a relationship with her father. The parent-child relationship is a furious, strong bond. Not one–even through abuse and neglect, like Tatum and Ryan’s–that’s remotely simple to ignore. Maybe Ryan is a narcissistic bastard, and maybe he’s obsessed with Farrah Fawcett in death as he was in life, but that’s her dad…

I think of the way Tatum adoringly called Walter Matthau “Buttermaker” and that scene where he iced her elbow in a tub of beer. What was it like on that set of boys? She was someone I learned early on to respect. And I feel the same now… 30 years later.

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