I was fourteen at the time. Or was it fifteen? I was somewhere in between fourteen and fifteen because sometimes our age isn’t a direct correlation to the calendar. It’s not important. I was young, an almost or already sophomore in high school when I wrote a letter to the studio that produced the television program Growing Pains to complain. I’d watched it since the beginning and considered myself a fan, if not a critic, of the show. I liked Alan Thicke’s character, Dr. Seaver. I wished he were my psychologist so I could tell him about all the times I’d felt my heart race at weird times, how I imagined horrible things happening to my parents when they went out to dinner. How I stayed awake at night, crying softly so the babysitter couldn’t hear, begging the universe to deliver my parents home, alive. I was a sensitive kid. I’m a sensitive adult. I imagine the worst case scenario all the time because I don’t like surprises. It’s exhausting.
Somehow I forgot until just now that the matriarch of the family, Maggie Seaver, was a journalist. I liked Mike and Carol Seaver and Ben was ok. It was a fine show. It wasn’t M*A*S*H, it wasn’t Family Ties, it was fine. In the 80s we didn’t have a lot of choices for relatable television programs, and if you really pressed me on it, I would tell you I’d rather watch Barney Miller or Taxi or Welcome Back Cotter, but I watched it on Wednesday nights and in 1990 they introduced a new character, Chrissy Seaver. To be precise, toddler Chrissy went through a rapid aging process during a break in production and came to season six as a fully formed six year old. I thought Chrissy sucked, more specifically, I thought the actress who played Chrissy sucked and I complained about it, a lot.
My mother had grown weary of my critique of the show and Chrissy and said, If you’re so upset about it, why not write them a letter outlining what you think is wrong and how they should fix it. Yes! A letter. I would write a letter. I took out a sheet of college ruled paper—no wide ruled for this professional critic—and started writing. I gave them some background on my history, my credentials, so they would know I knew what I was talking about. I mentioned being cast as an unnamed chorus member in my previous high school’s production of Once Upon A Mattress. Which doesn’t sound like much, but I was so good at remembering everyone else’s lines—I had none of my own—they asked me to step in for the lead one night at rehearsal because she had an orthodontist appointment. That’s not something people typically include on an acting resume, and I have a terrible singing voice especially when it’s not buffered by the rest of a chorus, but I was able to mimic what was needed and everyone got a good laugh so, yeah, I knew my way around a stage pretty well.
My main gripe about Chrissy was she did not appear to have any knowledge of what we in the biz call “peaks and valleys”. I’d learned this particular phrase when a visiting director came to our school and talked to us about the importance of varying your performance with a range of volume and energy. It’s important to not always be YELLING your LINES and it is also IMPORTANT to allow the AUDIENCE to observe you in a SUBTLE moment so they can see the DIFFERENCE when you are purposefully acting LARGE. PEAKS and valleys. Chrissy was all peaks all the time. High energy, over the top laughing, exaggerated winks. She was annoying and I hated her for it. I hated that she got this cush acting gig and was ruining my show, the show I sort of liked and watched because there wasn’t an alternative in that time slot on that day.
I don’t have the letter, I didn’t make a copy. I’m sure it was shitty. I am certain it was cruel and unnecessary. If the internet had been more than a glimmer in Al Gore’s eye, I might have been satisfied reading other people’s critiques of Chrissy, but because it was just me and my parents in a condo in South Florida, it was up to me to share my opinions about a child actress with whoever reads these kinds of letters at a major television studio. Somehow I got the address to the studio. I am at a loss for how I managed it without the internet. Isn’t that strange? I must have gone to the library and looked up the address for Warner Bros. Television. This was a lot of effort. But I was depressed and lonely, my parents had moved us to Florida after my Freshman year of high school and I hated it. It was too hot, everyone at my new school had great hair and wore tight dresses from Contempo Casuals while I wandered the courtyard in long flowing skirts. People called me a hippie. Not unkindly, not to bully me, more in a matter of fact way, oh look, there’s Logan, the hippie. I wasn’t a hippie. I just preferred long skirts to short lycra dresses and couldn’t be bothered to to do anything to my long hair besides brush it.
Once I sent the letter, I forgot about it. The exercise probably would have been just as successful had I written the letter and then torn it up, or left it to rot under my bed. My mother has always been a big proponent of writing your feelings down and it continues to be my main method for dealing with emotions I don’t want anyone else to know about. I shouldn’t have sent the letter, but I did. And they responded.
Again, I don’t have the letter. I have gone through several cycles of what I call “the purge” in which I decide that keeping relics and ephemera from my past is pointless, in part because I don’t want to be reminded of my stupidity but also because I reach a breaking point with clutter and will abruptly decide to throw it all away. I regret these moments and would love to have that letter from Warner Bros. in my hand right now to remind me of what an asshole I was.
I remember the gist of it which was basically, how dare I write to them and complain about such a wonderful young actress and who did I think I was to say such mean and hateful things about a young girl they loved and cherished. I couldn’t believe they wrote me back. I couldn’t believe they didn’t agree with my assessment. My mother, also surprised by the official looking letter on official Warner Bros. stationery cocked an eyebrow as she read it. Maybe you were the straw that broke the camel’s back, she said. Was I? Or was I the only one complaining and thus they had all the time and energy to type a letter to a fifteen (I’ve figured it out, I was fifteen) year old girl telling her just how wrong her critique was.
I feel bad about that letter on a regular basis. When I succumb to reading the comments of an article, or I see a tweet in which someone tags a celebrity just to tell them how awful they are I am reminded that I once took the time to write a scathing letter to a television studio to complain about an actress who was no doubt doing exactly what she was told to do. An actress whose age was still in the single digits. An actress who shows up at the end of the first Avengers movie to thank Captain America for saving her life. I cringed when I saw that scene, she was lovely, it was very a subtle and heartfelt performance. I believed her. I hope they never showed her that letter. I hope it arrived on the desk of someone who opened it, scoffed at the content, wrote a sharply worded letter in return and then destroyed what I wrote.