My 13-year-old self wouldn’t have believed it. On a gorgeous day in Beverly Hills, I ate lunch with Oscar-winner Tatum O’Neal and her daughter Emily McEnroe at the infamous celebrity eatery, Spago. It was 2017 and I was there to interview Tatum for The New York Times about her podcast and how she was forging a new path for herself. Tatum has had a very public decades-long struggle with drug addiction, and at that point, seven years ago, she was still trying to make a comeback after decades of fighting that stigma.  

Yet, she had the same bright smile and raspy voice that I had remembered from her movies. She was in her 50s now, trying not to be so embittered about Hollywood. And in that moment, staring across the table from her as we picked at our salads, she was every bit the girl with the tough exterior and vulnerable interior I had connected to all those years ago in movies like Paper Moon, The Bad News Bears and Little Darlings. Interviewing her felt like interviewing the most intimate version of myself.

Tatum O’Neal.
Nathan Congleton/NBCUniversal via Getty

To understand why Tatum had struck such a chord with Gen X’ers like me, you have to understand that until 16 Candles came along, there were very few movies about angsty girls outside of Carrie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Grease. And even then, Stockard Channing was 33 years old when she played Rizzo. I connected with Tatum because she was playing a real girl who wasn’t just close to my age, but also close to the age of the characters she played.

Tatum busted into the movie business at just 10 years old with her Oscar-winning performance of a cigarette-smoking orphan in Paper Moon. In The Bad News Bears, she was just a kid with a single mom selling star maps on the side of the road until her coach, the beer-guzzling Buttermaker, recruits her to be the lone female pitcher on a rag-tag boys baseball team. 

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She was 16 in Little Darlings when she played Ferris, the little rich girl who showed up to camp wearing a white suit (a nod to one of her father’s girlfriends, Bianca Jagger?). The minute she boarded the bus, she threw punches at her co-star, a chain-smoking tough girl, Kristy McNichol, and almost successfully seduced Armand Assante, the most handsome camp counselor you’ll ever lay your eyes on. At its core, Little Darlings was a tender story about two lonely girls bonding over their need to put on a tough exterior about their lack of experience with boys. 

Author Haley Krischer.

Lisa Kollberg


For all of us 1970s girls whose dads didn’t live at home, for those of us with single moms, for those of us pretending to be someone they weren’t, the ones like me who put on a steely exterior around boys to protect our hearts, Tatum was our person. 

I had profiled other celebrities, but while eating lunch with Tatum that day, I stopped gawking at her from afar and saw her as a person, albeit someone who had very different experiences than me. 

Then in the oddest turn of events, after the article came out, Tatum and I stayed in touch. We became friendly. We spoke about movies and our dads and our ex-husbands. We spoke about our children. Once, she called me from a restaurant in LA and asked where I was. “At the mall,” I said, laughing. I was at a mall in New Jersey and she was at a fabulous restaurant in West Hollywood. So we were a little different.   

‘Where Are You, Echo Blue?’.

Dutton


A few years later, I began ruminating about writing a book about a very famous child star with an abusive parent, someone like Tatum, or Drew Barrymore, Lindsay Lohan or even Judy Garland.  

Where Are You, Echo Blue? is about the most famous child star of the 90s who goes missing on the eve of the millennium, and a journalist (who is also an obsessed fan) who searches for her. Family dynamics is my wheelhouse. So, for this book, I wanted to explore the relationship between an ego-ridden actor and his young daughter who eclipses his fame. 

Most writers are taught to write what they know, but the tricky part in writing my book was that  Tatum was someone I actually knew. So I established tight parameters. For one, I wouldn’t write anything in the book that she had told me privately. I had to keep personal details out of it. 

Any research I used to create the character Echo Blue would have to come from interviews Tatum had done over the years, from her book, A Paper Life, or the countless television appearances, articles and photos that were written about her. 

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I applied the same rules when it came to her father, Ryan O’Neal, and her legendary agent, Sue Mengers. Echo Blue’s father and agent are entirely fictionalized versions, an alternate history if you will. 

As much as Where Are You, Echo Blue? is a fictional retelling of Tatum’s early life, it was also important to reimagine Echo’s life away from the spotlight. I didn’t want to write a biography about child stars. You can read Jennette McCurdy’s poignant memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, for that. There’s a reason my book’s premise is centered on Echo Blue’s disappearance. Fame can destroy the most grounded adults — what must it do to children? Do child stars have an outlet? What do they look like without the media glare? 

The core of the book asks this question: What happens if a child star takes her life into her own hands? This is the difference between journalism and fiction: It gave me the opportunity to honor Tatum’s experiences, but also completely divert from her life and sink into a character of my own. 

Tatum has made a remarkable recovery from her 2020 overdose and stroke. Thankfully, I was able to talk to her about the book and explained that it was inspired by her, and many other of the greats who started young and were under the microscope of the public eye at such a young age. She was so happy to hear that I was writing about her and other young actresses. She told me she couldn’t wait to read it. 

This book is a fictionalized version of a talented actress who inspired me as a child, and still inspires me today. As Tatum said to an interviewer once about her life: “I’m one strong b—.” So is Echo Blue. 

Where Are You, Echo Blue comes out July 16, and is available for preorder now, wherever books are sold.



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