When it first appeared in book form in 1964, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet The Spy caused something of a minor scandal in the children’s literature world. An inquisitive but imperfect child who actually thought and behaved the way a real child might, personality flaws and all? That was clearly not appropriate material for the school libraries of America. But the book was a bestseller anyway, and by 1996 it was so deeply ingrained in popular culture that it was the subject of Nickelodeon’s first-ever feature film. Children of the 1990s should brace themselves for some potentially shocking news: The film adaptation of Harriet The Spy opened way back on July 10, 1996. That’s right. The film turns 20 this month, meaning that its nosy title character would be at least 30 by now if fictional characters aged like real people. To celebrate the milestone, writer Chloe Schildhause has assembled an oral history of the film for Uproxx, featuring new interviews with director Bronwen Hughes and several members of the cast, including Harriet herself, Michelle Trachtenberg.
Those involved with making Harriet The Spy seem uniformly pleased with end results and harbor fond memories of the film’s production. For the most part, they talk about how well they got along and how much they saw themselves in the characters they were portraying. So those hoping for horror stories are not likely to find them here. Rosie O’Donnell, for the record, is repeatedly singled out for praise. But there were amusing incidents along the way, too. Charlotte Sullivan, who played Marion Hawthorne, remembers a day when the other kids were supposed to be shaming Harriet in slow motion.
The really funny experience of that day was they were going to do the scene regularly, then they were going to do a slow motion shot of us all shaming her. The kids on action started doing everything in slow motion and the crew was laughing their ass off. We had no idea that the camera just does it. We thought we had to do the whole thing slow.
And now that she’s an adult, what would Harriet be doing with herself these days? Trachtenberg has some ideas.
I think Harriet achieved whatever she set her mind to. I would imagine she is probably the editor of a super hip magazine that puts out a great message to their readers of empowerment. Or followed in her father’s footsteps and became a writer on TV, a Shonda Rhimes type creative force.
Though not a runaway blockbuster, Harriet The Spy must have done well enough. Nickelodeon has released nearly 30 movies since then.