I spent my formative years in a one-bedroom apartment in Hempstead, circa the ’70s. Television was rarely an option; my TV youth experience was relegated to the PBS kids lineup (“Sesame Street,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and “The Electric Company.”) Here and there, my parents would humor me in the form of “Little House On the Prairie.” Now and again, I’d refuse to honor my bedtime and sneak out to watch SNL when my parents had company.
Mostly, it was all about the books. My parents weren’t *expecting* me, when they realized they were expecting me. Both were super smart and very hard working, so they did their best. That included my dad’s going to work for Doubleday, as in Nelson who owned the Mets — great company, but my dad was a fledgling lawyer. He kept our family afloat and while he and my mom couldn’t afford all of the Dolly Pops (holler to Krysi!), he could bring home free books from the publishing company.
And my mother, while working as a waitress may not have had the money for a pink bedroom for me, nor the time to spend all day with her daughter like she would have preferred, found the time to teach me to read via magnetic letters on the refrigerator whilst cooking dinner in our humble apartment.
Between the books and the book learnin’, my youngest years were carved. Now that I’m older, it’s extra impressive to me when those books are flawlessly embodied, via actors. Here is a short list of my favorites.
1) Kirsten Dunst as Amy March (Little Women)
This felt like a natural place to start. Little Women is the first book in my recollection that I was obsessed with, or should I say, with which I was obsessed, lest to leave a preposition dangling. I read it when I was super young, and obnoxiously refused to answer to any name but the March sister of my choice, on any given day.
But Amy was my favorite. She had the hair; she had the attitude, and she had the limes, thanks to her dramatic pleas to her sisters.
I loved and appreciated the Katherine Hepburn movie, growing up. But when I found out there was to be a remake? Psyched does not begin to describe it. I saw the new version at the Rockville Centre Fantasy with my mother. From the moment Ms. Dunst uttered her first words, I was completely hooked. No offense to Samantha Mathis, but I was sad when Kirsten went away. She embodied Amy to the nth level — cute but weird, sassy beyond the telling of it, and just as strong as I remembered remembering this character, when I was little, and my parents were young.
2) Jack Nicholson as McMurphy (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Seeing as y’all know I’m a waitress, you might rightfully conclude that I was an English major. Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest always stood out to me, even among all the amazing literature to which I was exposed. I wrote one of my final papers on McMurphy.
It wasn’t until later that I saw the movie, and Jack Nicholson was impeccable. I’d known him more as “Jack,” and had not realized the levels to which this fine actor could go. He was absolutely perfect as the force of nature that goes in to fuck shit up, and gets fucked up in the process. Now that I’ve seen “Magic Trip,” I especially appreciate his embodiment of a man that it seems like Kesey worried he could become.
3) Megan Follows as Anne Shirley (Anne of Green Gables/Avonlea)
Even as I typed those words, my heart swelled and my throat choked. Tears came to my eyes, because that is Anne. I didn’t realize how much I needed her until I met her, via my sixth-grade reading class and L.M. Montgomery’s words. Anne changed my entire life, no exaggeration. She taught me the art of hyperbolic sarcasm, and for that among other things — like her renaming “The Lake of Shining Waters,” I will always be grateful.
And I’ll always be grateful for the ’20s actress methoding to the extreme by legally changing her name to Anne Shirley. But it is Megan Follows who will always be Anne. She was 16 I think when she filmed the ’85 version, but/so did a flawless job of portraying a hot-tempered young girl who grows into a hottish-tempered young woman.
Ask anyone who loves Anne of Green Gables — Follows is flawless.
4) Sarah Polley as Ramona Quimby (Ramona)
I can’t lie — I’ve not actually watched this series in full. It was like, too close. For Ramona is Ramona. That is my GIRL. I love Beverly Cleary, and Ramona is her star. Again, I’m choking up — gee whiz.
No matter what was ever going on in my life, Ramona and by extension Ms. Cleary was there for me. Every cozy memory of huddling into bed on a rainy Saturday afternoon was afforded by those women.
Obviously, I was going to hate any Ramona that graced the screen, because no kid could ever come close to what she was.
Except that Sarah Polley did. I checked out the show and knew I wasn’t going to truly watch it, because it just wasn’t the right time. And have I used the phrase “too close” enough? Because it was.
But Sarah Polley was perfect.
5) Jessica Prunell as Stacey McGill (The Baby-Sitters Club)
Talk about too close. Not only was BSC my last-beloved series of kids’ books, but I was of the baby-sitters’ ages, when I started reading The Baby-Sitters Club. The very idea that my former- and frustrated-actress peers were getting to play them filled me with angst! And that was pretty much after I’d stopped reading the books. But I did watch the shows, just to see. And sure enough, the actress who played my girl Stacey was actually really decent.
A year or so later, my cheerleading squad went to an away game at Holy Family. There on the sidelines was a girl that I recognized. Filled with the confidence my cheerleading uniform always gave me (’cause, superhero costume!), I went up to this girl.
“Is your name Jessica?” I asked, and she shyly responded yes.
“Are you the actress who play Stacey on ‘The Baby-Sitters Club?'”
And she said yes again.
“You’re an amazing actress, and the perfect Stacey,” I said, and her response was so sweet — a grateful beam, like she’d never signed on for random fan compliments. And it’s hard to explain, but that was the moment I knew in full, that she *was* Stacey. Stacey was always cute and effortlessly popular, but never the haughty bitch that most permed blondes were in the ’80s. Ms. Prunell’s sweetness sealed her as Stacey for me.