In the hazy, gimlet-soaked recesses of your Aunt John’s mind, the year 1983 holds two distinct memories:
- ‘70s pop superstar KAREN CARPENTER succumbed to anorexia nervosa
- My middle school health class teacher, in an attempt to educate her students about the death of Ms. CARPENTER, traumatized a room of sixth graders by making us watch her taped-from-the-T.V. VHS copy of the 1981 telepicture THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD
The movie, despite its stellar cast of JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, CHARLES DURNING, and JASON MILLER, did little to hold the attention of our rambunctious class. Collectively, we groaned at the JONI MITCHELL title track (“Songs to Aging Children Come”) and I remember we were more interested in watching the commercial breaks than the movie itself.
Fearing a mutiny, our teacher stopped the film and struck a deal with us along the lines of if we still hated it after the doctor’s office scene, she would gladly put the film away and we could go back to reading about hygiene, acne, or whatever the usual lesson plan entailed. Foolishly, we called her bluff, agreed to keep watching and this is what we saw:
With the simple drop of a medical gown, a pre-teen chorus of thirty or so horrified gasps reverberated around the room. Needless to say, we watched the rest of the movie in disturbed silence waiting for another peek at JENNIFER JASON LEIGH’s emaciated ribcage. Instead we only got the death of a spunky, pre-THIRTYSOMETHING MELANIE MAYRON.
Long out of print, THE BEST LITTLE GIRL IN THE WORLD is currently available on YouTube starting HERE. Did anyone else have to watch this in junior high health class?