So this post isn't a story, but I'm thinking it might be a good idea to check in occasionally on my nonfictional preteen life, which—let's be honest—did not involve many motorcycle gangs or families living in black houses (my own house, at the time, was beige).
Last time I mentioned that Rags to Riches was my favorite TV show in third grade, but that doesn't properly convey the intensity my feelings. I LOVED Rags to Riches. I loved it so much, I wanted to LIVE it. In fact, my friends and I had decided to put on a play based on "the movie" (we were campaigning our music teacher to produce it), in which we would portray our favorite characters. I was painstakingly transcribing the script from my VHS recording. If I didn't know what the characters were saying? I just made it up! The dialogue of the British butler, Clapper, was particularly troublesome and prone to errors. For example, "This here enormous mansion" became, in my script, "This ear-enormous mansion." (Maybe adding "ear" to words was some sort of British slang with which I was unfamiliar?)
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a second to discuss the amazing plotline of the show: A group of spunky orphans (really, is there any other kind?) is adopted by millionaire Nick Foley as a publicity stunt—but, inevitably, he is unable to resist their orphanly charms and ends up becoming a real father to them. Basically, it was Annie. Except instead of one female orphan, there were SIX (well, after the pilot, only five; one of them was written off the show—that is, reclaimed by her mother). Plus they were multi-ethnic and mostly teenaged. AND it took place in the 1960s, a time period infinitely cooler than the Depression. Like Annie, Rags to Riches was a musical—but instead of original songs, the writers just took popular songs from the '60s and changed the lyrics to suit the storyline, which was either laziness or PURE GENIUS:
Each episode featured maybe three songs sprinkled throughout and rendered in music video–esque fashion. It was basically crack for a nine-year-old girl, and I immediately decided to tape every episode. (Once the show was interrupted midway to broadcast the rescue of Baby Jessica from that godforsaken hole, and I was IRATE. She'd already been down there for two and a half days—couldn't they wait another half an hour until my show was over???)
My friends and I each selected a favorite character (they were not, under any circumstances, allowed to overlap) and developed our respective personas:
Rose: Age 17, somewhat serious orphan leader, had preposterously '80s hair for someone supposedly living in the '60s. Portrayed by my friend Jessica.
Diane: Age 16, the obligatory boy-crazy clothes horse. We had our eye on my sister's friend Sara (we needed a blond), but I'm not sure casting for this role was ever finalized.
Marva: Age 15, extremely business savvy and entrepreneurial for a 15-year-old. Portrayed by my friend Katie.
Nina (pilot only): Age 15, attempted to run off with her boyfriend's motorcycle gang... a bit of a mystery, as she was only in the pilot. Portrayed by my friend Maggie.
Patty: Age 13, tough, sporty (somewhat uncouth) tomboy with possible learning disabilities. Portrayed by my sister, Genie.
Mickey: Age 8, mildly irritating and played the saxophone. Portrayed by me.
I think it was because she was the closest to my age that Mickey was my favorite. (There's really no other explanation, as she had by far the least amount of screen time and character development.) I even briefly considered taking up the saxophone, but ruled it out as a hazard to my asthmatic lungs.
Many a recess was spent getting into character or discussing our upcoming production (we were undeterred by the boys who referred to it as Fags to Bitches). Eventually our music teacher let us down gently by telling us that due to copyright issues, the cost of putting on the play would be too burdensome for our elementary school. But we continued to dream...
After scouring the pages of BOP and Tiger Beat unsuccessfully for a place to send my Rags to Riches fan mail (most of my early celebrity fantasies focused on pen friendship), my wily mother called the local NBC affiliate and wrangled some sort of address from them. I can't remember whether any of my letters ever made it to Hollywood, but here are a couple I found that remained unsent:
April 21, 1987
Dear Tisha, Blanca, Kimiko, Bridget, and Heidi,
Do you like your work? It seems hard to memorize everything. I can't even memorize my songs for our concert. I've been writing the script. It's 20 pages and there's a line on the 21st page. It's very hard to write the script and Jessica wanted me to ask you if you could send us the script if you can. We let Jessica know about writing to you. At first we weren't going to, but, we did. We didn't want people to know because, then, everyone would write you and you couldn't write anyone back.
There's no way anyone else's mom would be as clever as mine. Also, I wasn't going to tell my own FRIEND about writing to them? Good lord, I was like some sort of Rags to Riches Nazi!
So, Jessica will be writing to you also. I really want to meet you. You're really cool. I haven't gotten my picture for you yet. Sorry, but, I will get it for you.
I'm sure they were DYING to see what I looked like.
Today was hot. I'm sweating.
And I'm sure they were dying to know that.
Just like yesterday. Yesterday I went to a baseball game. It started at 7:35 and ended at about 12:00! Late. The Indians Lost!!!! (They're not doing good.) My sister is driving me nuts and she's coming upstairs.
Why isn't there a show about Micky? Diane again. I was waiting. But, no. they do one about Diane. Please give her a show. Bigger parts! Please!
I seem to be under the impression that the actresses also WRITE the show. Mickey (I don't know why I was convinced that the female version of this name lacked the E) did eventually get her own plotline, but it involved Girl Scout cookies. Totally lame.
Is it about Diane? I'll have to see. In the T.V. guide it was about her. On T.V. it wasn't. And I thought Patty didn't like Bing Crosby.
Right here I am quibbling with the actresses about inconsistencies in the show: In one episode, Patty expresses a dislike for Bing Crosby; in a later episode, she's all excited about seeing him somewhere. This kind of crap didn't sit well with me even then.
We are also asking your permission to do a play on the movie.
Your pen pal (hopefully),
(P.S. Please, please, please write back.)
This next letter is actually TYPED:
August 30, 1987
Dear girls (I won't write all your names),
Christ, was I lazy!
I went on vacatation. It was a long drive, though. We went camping at the Great Escape Camping Resort. We went to the fun park we were camping behind. It was fun.
Please note: The fun park was fun. Ahh, vacatation.
I went on a lot of scary rides. In fact, I even went on a roller coaster called the steamin' deamon. It went upside-down 3 times. It was lots of fun. We also went to Niagara Falls. I got a real seahorse covered in gold. It was a necklace. It's really cool. I also saw my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandma, grandpa, and friends. On the first day we stayed at old friends houses. Ooops.
I have no idea what the "Ooops" is about.
Well, they had a cute boy, Brenden. He was nice, too. (some cute guys aren't)
Look how I lay it out for the girls! I am so fucking SAGE.
I don't think he liked me. (girlfriend-like) As a friend–yes.
Tisha–I saw you in Little Shop of Horrors.
Heidi–I saw you in your commercial. I didn't realize you were so short.
Hi, she's EIGHT. Of course she's short!
By the way–I slept in Brenden's room. So did he.
Am I trying to make myself look cool by implying that something sordid went down? Let me assure you, I was not and it did not.
I will draw you a picture of what my room looks like, myself, my house, Katie, my family, and a pencil.
P.S. write back soon
Sadly, the drawing of the pencil was nowhere to be found. But at the bottom of the letter was the following typewritten artistry:
Oh my GOD.
NEXT TIME: We return to the literature with Friends Forever, a story whose opening scene features a character mistakenly going to school on a Saturday. Get ready for realism!
9 months ago