NOBODY GETS OUT OF
HERE THIS BUBBLE ALIVE
This is the type of career for which the FSMOMYOTD was invented. This man, this icon, this Ba-ba-ba-ba-Barbarino, this wacked out scientologist who was a wacked-out scientologist when Tom Cruise was still playing teenagers in Taps and The Outsiders, this Vincent Vega/Tony Manero/Danny Zuko was the star of a movie destined one day to be The Friday Silly Movie Of My Youth Of The Day. That's right folks, Englewood, New Jersey's own John Joseph Travolta was . . .
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
That's right, John Travolta played a kid who couldn't dance, fight, shoot heroin, score chicks, or jump around on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, because he had no functioning immune system and therefore spent all his time in a gigantic . . . well, plastic bubble. Let's just make it very clear right up front: this was a deeply silly movie. Why?
Mostly because the "boy" was played by a 22 year-old. Secondly, because as anyone who saw the movie knows, Travolta went through the entire film with that goofy, "innocent" face you see in the picture above. And, because the scene where he ventured out for the first time -- outside his plastic bubble -- while wearing that space suit, well it may have been the first time in my life that I learned to laugh at a scene where I wasn't supposed to laugh.
I knew nothing at 8 or 9 years old of irony. Of unintentional comedy. Of cheese. All I knew is that John Travolta (Vinny Barbarino to me), walking like the robot from Lost in Space, with that goofy smile on his face, as he ventured out for his big "date," was fall-down funny.
As with seemingly every movie I do here on Fridays, it was 1976. Welcome Back, Kotter was, or had been, one of the biggest shows on TV. I owned a t-shirt featuring a smiling, white-boy fro'd Gabe Kaplan, alongside the faces of The Sweathogs: Juan Epstein, Arnold Horshack, Freddie Washington, and none-other than Vinny Barbarino. I don't recall if they were captioned, or simply free-floating, but the t-shirt included many of that show's famous & (apparently) funny catch-phrases: Hi there; I'm a Puerto-Rican Jew (did they really put that on a kid's t-shirt?); Oooo, oooooo, ooooo, Mistah Kottah; Up Your Nose With a Rubber Hose; and of course Barbarino's own, What? I, all my friends, and an embarrassing number of adults felt this was somehow funny. Unsolicited advice: don't ever go back to revisit your favorite sitcoms from your youth. I'm warning you. You could retroactively destroy every shred of good memories from your childhood. Just don't do it.
1976. As I mentioned in a FSMOMYOTD entry a few months ago for Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, the pre-cable world of the Sunday Night Movie was a big deal. And I remember a little stretch in 4th grade when they seemed to be doing the sick and/or dead kids movies (DMCL didn't feature kids, but sort of qualifies, as any who've seen it know). One of those movies was Something For Joey, which should've been called Joey's Song. It was the based-on-a-true story about Joey Cappelletti, the leukemia-afflicted little brother of 1973 Heisman Trophy winner, and Los Angeles Ram, John Cappelletti.
(And yes, I am old enough to remember John's career, as well as a team called the Los Angeles Rams. Hell, I'm apparently old enough to remember a time when white running backs won the Heisman Trophy.)
So, it was into this storm of Sunday night death and disease that The Boy in the Plastic Bubble leapt. Depression on a Sunday night. But not as depressing as that last paragraph, above in parentheses, makes me feel. And not as depressed as something I'm gonna get to in a second. Sorry. You'll see.
Let's get to The Cast:
Robert Reed, better known as Mike Brady, played Travolta's father. Reed, like his fictional son in this film eventually died from a condition where one's immune system ceases to function properly.
(And, no, I'm not going to make some lame joke about that; just pointing it out, ya know?)
And it gets even worse. Playing Travolta's mother was Diana Hyland, who played Joan Bradford, Tom Bradford's first wife on Eight Is Enough, before her character died, and Bradford remarried with Betty Buckley's "Abbey." Buckley was the "mom" we all remember for the duration of that show. But Hyland's character died because Hyland died tragically of breast cancer at the age of 41. But not before she embarked on an affair with Travolta, who was 17 years younger than her, and played her son in today's movie.
And yikes, enough of that. Ugh. Back to the frivolity. I don't think anyone else in this movie is dead, and I'm gonna get right to the juicy morsels here, because . . . well, why the hell not?
Among the names in the credits, you can't help but notice Buzz Aldrin. That's right, Buzz Aldrin, the fellow who just seven years earlier was the second man to walk on the moon. Who served as the model for MTV's "Moonman." Who later had a fantastic appearence as a guest on Da' Ali G Show, in which he handled himself really well, coming across as a nice, funny, gentle guy. But his start on television? That's right:
The Boy in the Plastic Bubble. And who did Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin play in this masterpiece. Who else but Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. Now we know why Travolta got into space aliens and flying.
Ralph Bellamy played the doctor (yeah, I know he's dead, but he was old when he died, so it doesn't count). Bellamy's career goes back all the way to the 30's, when he often played the sap who lost out to the slick, smooth talker in screwball comedies. Most famously, Bellamy lost Rosalind Russell to Cary Grant in the great His Girl Friday.
Of course, far more importantly to this crowd, Bellamy played alongside Don Ameche as Randolph, one of the two Duke Brothers in Trading Places, a movie that just gets better and better as the years go on. And, in a move that forever cements his place in my "Damn, That's Cool" category, he and Ameche briefly reprised those roles for a very amusing cameo in 1988's Coming To America, a not terribly funny movie that nonetheless includes about three of the funniest scenes you'll ever see.
(But Bellamy was also in Disorderlies, which qualifies for this week's, "That's Not A Career Highlight" moment, so maybe it balances out.)
But you guys all know all of this anyway, so let's get back to more obscure members of the cast, shall we?
Anne Ramsey. That's right. Momma, from Throw Momma From The Train. I'm not in any way certain who she could've played in this heart-warming TV movie. The mean neighbor who barked mean things at Travolta when he made his spacewalk? Arrggg, get off my lawn, bubble boy! Owwwwwen, get that astronaut freak off my lawn. I'm not sure. And you know what, she's dead too. Hmmmm. Onto a happier entry.
Kelly Ward. Followed Travolta from the plastic bubble right into full-fledged membership in Hollywood's least-frightening gang, The Thunderbirds. That's right, he played Putzie, in Grease. (I think Putzie was the blonde one, and Sonny was the dark-haired one who sang "Didja' get very far?" in "Summer Nights." I'm not positive though, so if any of the usual crew of Johnnies-on-the-spot can gimme a little help here, I need to know this.)
Hilda Haynes played "Nurse Rachel." Hilda Haynes? Nurse Rachel? Hmmm, I thought it was a television movie. I don't remember the scene where his parents got him a "special" 16th birthday present.
John Megna has some intruguing entries on his IMDB page, including a role in Cannonball Run II, and an uncredited appearence in The Godfather: Part II as "Young Hyman Roth." But, he's yet another from this haunted movie who died young, so I simply can't investigate. Sheesh, why'd I choose this flick?
Vernee Watson-Johnson, whose IMBD page tells me she "testified on behalf of the defense in Michael's Jackson's trial." She's still alive, I'm happy to report, but clearly she too was touched by tragedy, so . . .
To end on an up note, P.J. Soles. Oh yes, you know her. Bill Murray's super-duper cute girlfriend in Stripes. Think spatula & ice-cream scoop. Yeah, that. (Quick, without looking it up, anyone know who played Harold Ramis' girl?) P.J. was also in Carrie, along with Travolta. She was in Rock n' Roll High School and she was in Halloween. She was even in Breaking Away, which starred her ex-husband Dennis Quaid and Jackie Earle Haley. In other words, fellas, your very adolescence would've been demonstrably different if not for the presence of Ms. Soles.
(I'm not saying it couldn't have been better, or worse, or whatever. But it would've been different.)
And, just so you don't think I've left behind the depressing digressions of a few paragraphs back, let me say that P.J. Soles is now . . . 56 years-old. No, I can't handle it either.
Next week's entry will be more light-hearted. I promise.