Imagine the nightmare of having the ultimate Marcia Brady specifically Jodie Foster, the child prodigy, Yale honors graduate, and winner of two Best Actress Oscars as your sister.
Such is the fate of Buddy Foster, failed child TV actor (Mayberry R.F.D.) and recovering drug addict, who, despite being five years older than Jodie and male to boot, is the quintessential Jan. Buddy, the first to start acting, lost a Coppertone commercial when 4-year-old Jodie charmed the casting director and got the job. Years later, trying to make a comeback in 1980's Foxes, Buddy was up for a key role only to see it yanked away when Jodie, unaware of his near hiring, snagged the lead; the producers felt Buddy could not play a love interest of his real-life sister.
You would think, then, that Foster Child, the story of Jodie and her tumultuous but little-publicized family, would be Buddy's chance for revenge. And, indisputably, a way to make a buck.
It is payback in a way. But the unusual thing about the book is that although it contains many juicy, hard-hitting details, it maintains a tone of respect and affection throughout. Buddy Foster, now 39, who once shot himself in an attempted suicide in 1988, tells an astonishing tale of a supremely dysfunctional showbiz family, replete with the requisite sensational allegations but most of them are about Brandy Foster, the mother of Jodie, Buddy, and their two sisters (Connie, age 41, and Cindy, age 42). Brandy Foster is described as a hot-tempered, sometimes violent woman who frittered away her children's show-business earnings.
Foster is more protective when it comes to Jodie to a point. In referring to what Foster calls ''the rumors for years that Jodie is a lesbian,'' he claims that while shooting 1984's The Blood of Others in Paris, ''Jodie was sharing her one-bedroom apartment with a woman about ten years older, a fashion-accessory designer and businesswoman from Los Angeles. They clearly had a serious relationship.'' But nowhere in his memoir does Foster ever contend that Jodie is definitely gay. Indeed he takes pains to point out that his sister has had several heterosexual relationships. The book, cowritten with Leon Wagener, is meant as an inside look at a notoriously private actress but turns out to be much more: a chilling but memorable picture of the tortured family of a star and the also-ran who survived it. It is Buddy's story as much as Jodie's, which only enhances its power.
According to Buddy, his sister's very conception was the culmination of a relationship fraught with chaos and hardship. Buddy says that Brandy and Lucius Foster had split in 1959 after years of violent battles, including a confrontation between Foster pere and Brandy's pistol-wielding lesbian lover. According to what Buddy says Brandy told him, Jodie was conceived in 1962 when Brandy went to their father to ''beg'' for child support money. Lucius then proposed a deal to Brandy: Have sex with me and I'll give you the money. She did, grudgingly. Nine months later, Jodie was born; Buddy says she and her father, now 75, have had virtually no relationship and do not speak.
Though Brandy has always been portrayed in the press as an astute and caring stage mother who guided Foster through the tricky transition from child to adult star, she does not get such kid-glove treatment here. In fact, she comes across as the most disturbing figure in the book prone to curling up in a fetal position in front of her children when battling depression or indulging her taste for big houses and fancy clothes with their money. One day, without warning, she gave away Jodie and Buddy's beloved dog when they were kids. Her son also accuses her of spending about $400,000 he earned as a minor (and expected would be waiting for him).
Jodie's response to their mother, says Buddy, was to become her ally. ''After failing, in her mind, with her first three children,'' Buddy writes, ''she found with delight that...her fourth [was] with the program from the start.... Jodie realized that doing what she was told...was the key to Mom's approval.''
Being so politic at home prepared her well for Hollywood. As Buddy's star waned and he dropped out of school and began taking drugs, Jodie, he says, ''persisted and prevailed. No matter how mean-spirited the director, cold the temperature at five a.m., heartless the reviews, or chaotic our home life, Jodie has soldiered on.''
Now drug-free, married to his third wife, and a construction worker in Minnesota, Buddy may well see Foster Child as his last gasp at the spotlight. Ultimately, his sad saga as the B side to Jodie Foster's hit single may be more about redemption than revenge. And it's the kind of truth only a black sheep can tell. B+