I was looking for something else last night on YouTube when what should pop up but “Natalie’s Adoption” from Facts of Life, I had to share it.
Natalie’s Adoption was broadcast in April 1980, the year the Carter administration was discussing unsealing records and the National Council for Adoption was founded specifically to coldcock the discussion. CUB was five years old and the American Adoption Congress was only two years old,. BJ Lifton had recently taken off, and Joanne Wolf Small was starting to publish her work on sealed records in professional journals. Only Jean Paton’s Orphan Voyage and Florence Fisher’s ALMA Society predated,but not by much. Although small political oriented search and support groups were springing up across the country,t here wasn’t anything that could be called a viable national movement operating. 1980 was also the year I got my OBC from the State of Ohio.. I’d never known anyone personally who had done that. much less searched and found.
For decades the portrayal of adoption on TV was limited to happy tales of legitimates adopted after the deaths of parents (Ernie on My Three Sons and Cissy, Buffy, and Jody on Family Affair for instance, or later Different Strokes and Webster.). A couple times Sterling Siliphant addressed bastard adoption (or child abandonment/orphan loss) realistically in his visionary scripts for Route 66 and Naked City. Usually serious dialogue on bastard adoption was exiled to soaps where it could do little harm..I’m not being factious. The only time I ever ever saw adoptees, even if they were just actors, was on soaps. The first storyline I remember was Paul’s adoption of Teddy on One Man’s Family. (Note: I don’t know of any research on on how adoption has been portrayed on TV, especially from 1940s-1980s, and I’m using examples from memory today . In 2001 I was contacted by an editor (and adoptee) of Soap Opera Digest who was interested doing a major story on the history of adoption in soaps. Unfortunately she got a new boss and the story was pretty much axed, though she did get a little something out there. Anyway, I’d like to get into adoption on television sometime.
But, back to Natalie!
I believe that placing Natalie’s story on the front burner showing real adoptee emotions, experiences, desires and the stupidity of sealed records, even in a watered-down sitcom format, was pretty revolutionary. For 30 minutes, adoptees had a face and a voice and neither were a honking unicorn.
You can watch the show here:
and read the script.online.
By today’a activist standards and Class Bastard consciousness, Natalie’s Adoption is pretty tame, yet it speaks through all of today’s crap, which has only become more institutionalized and ugly the stronger we get.. Seriously,, I want to cry for Natalie.
The episode is an historical artifact I treasure, especially since it was produced in an era when adoptee political consciousness had only been sparked and the movement was in it’s early stages.Many of today’s activists are the Natalies of 1980.
Natalie’s adoptee angst starts with the dreaded Family Tree Project. She knows it’s a fraud and prefers to flunk the assignment. After some mild goading she confesses not only that she’s’ adopted but some politically incorrect thoughts about her status. Unlike today’s oh-so hovering adoptive parents, Natalie’s adoptive parents never bothered to tell the school that she was adopted so she’s been free of pop-psch pathologies. She’s just Natalie. I think, too, that adotion has created Natalie’s persona.
MRS. GARRETT: Natalie. Why didn’t you tell us you were adopted?
NATALIE: I didn’t want to talk about it. Working on my family tree just starts all those questions again.
MRS. GARRETT What questions?
NATALIE: Who my real parents are, what they look like, why they gave me up.
MRS. GARRETT: Natalie, the important thing is that you do have a mother and a father and that they love you very much.
NATALIE: That’s what they say, but it doesn’t help the way I feel.
Blair jumps in and calls Judge Garfield, her mother’s latest squeeze. and asks him to open Natalie’s records which he promises to do and get right back to her. . NOTE: TO NEW YORK UNSEALED INITIATIVE:Hire Blair immediately!)
As they gang waits for the judge to call back, the best lines ever are tossed out and a plug for ALMA (and an brochure) make it on to national television.
This is much snappier dialogue than most of what I see on FB adoptee pages today: (Emphasis mine again)
SUE ANN: Don’t you remember? Opening sealed records is against the law!
TOOTIE Says who?
SUE ANN: Says Dinah Shore. And Charles Nelson Reilly agreed with her. (in reference to an earlier dialogue I’ve not copied here)
BLAIR Don’t be so naïve. There are always loopholes.
MOLLY And it’s an unfair law. It deserves to be looped.
Ultimately, bourgeois adoption prevails,–thanks mostly to THE POEM (you know which poem I mean) that Mrs. Garrett thoughtfully pulls out aand reads,and Natalie rejects the offer of information, going up to her room to eat cake with the girls.. But it’s pretty open-ended, too. rRmember, Natalie is only 13, and everything has happened in a matter of minutes or hours. She’s got the right emotions, the right questions, and the right anger. In the earlier ALMA scene, classmage Molly tells her that ALMA will help with her search, but only when she turns 18. You can bet that Natalie has squirreled this away. She’ll be back.
Natalie’s doption doesn’t give us any of today’s blah-blah.about birthparent privacy and promises and the rest of the excuses the do-gooders toss out at us. Even Mrs. Garrett sees snothing wrong with a reunion. She just thinks Natalie should be older before she initiates it.
The script is credited to Cuban-American screenwriter-director-actress Migda Chinea. I can find no evidence that she has a direct connection to adoption, but I have some contact information on her and I think I”ll write and ask. I’m really curious about the ALMA product placement. I cannot imagine today any mainstream TV drama or comedy plugging Bastard Nation, the Adoptee Rights Protest, oreven the American Adoption Congress. When was the last time you heard any show question the validity of sealed OBC?
On a final note, Mindy Cohn who played Natalie, gives a great performance. Watching her I’m thinking, she’s one of us.
A few months ago I watched the “Dearest Mommie” episode where Natalie re-unites with her mother (in a meeting not shown on-screen). She had been writing “organizations that help adoptees find their natural parents”, but ends up getting her mother’s name from her adoptive mother. The air date for this episode was November 17, 1982, and Natalie is 15. I remember doing the math and wondering how adoptive parents in 1967 would know the natural mother’s name. Natalie locates her mother by calling everyone in the phone book with her name (because it’s just that easy). According to the comments on YouTube, Natalie’s mother was never mentioned again.
Thanks. I’ve not heard of that one. I figured they just let Natalie hanging. I’ll look for it.
Natalie meets her biological mother in some future episode. I can’t recall the title of it.