”You’re not a director until you direct a child,” the great Vittorio De Sica once told Peter Bogdanovich. And those words Bogdanovich never forgot. In fact, he says they were his inspiration to make Paper Moon, starring Ryan O’Neal as a Bible-peddling 1930s con man and O’Neal’s daughter, Tatum, then just 9, as the orphan who tags along.
Not only was Tatum a child, she was a child making her acting debut. And in the end she stole the movie, bagged an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress — and at the 1974 ceremony became the youngest winner in Oscar history. Bogdanovich was a director all right. But was this whiz kid an actress? One thing was certain: She was a star.
As Addie Loggins, Tatum won over critics and audiences alike by being a cute kid doing not-so-cute things. She smoked cigarettes, cursed like a cowboy, and helped bilk lonely widows, all with an unflappably solemn demeanor that, at the most disarming moments, gave way to a mischievous twinkle. The New York Times’ Vincent Canby called her ”a charming, tight-lipped little girl who has — and this may well sound absurd — the quality of a teeny-weeny Joanne Woodward.” To anyone who had seen the film, it didn’t sound absurd at all.
Indeed, Bogdanovich suggests that he never would have made the movie without Tatum. The director had been looking for a project to do with her father (the star of his last film, What’s Up, Doc?) and was considering Paramount’s Paper Moon. One problem: He couldn’t think of anyone to play the girl. His ex-wife, Polly Platt (Paper Moon’s eventual production designer), suggested Tatum, whom they’d both seen on the set of O’Neal’s film The Thief Who Came to Dinner. Intrigued by the idea of casting father and daughter together, Bogdanovich met them at O’Neal’s Malibu home, where he found a precocious kid loaded with Addie attitude.
Tatum clinched the part during a casual meeting in which the athletic Ryan asked Bogdanovich to go jogging sometime. ”Tatum said, with that raspy voice, ‘Oh, Dad, he’s not the type,”’ Bogdanovich recalls. ”I said, ‘What makes you say that, Tatum?’ And she said, ‘Oh, I don’t know…. You always keep your shirt on, and you never take off your shoes.’ I looked over at Ryan and said, ‘She’ll do.”’