I am the only person who liked the original Pete’s Dragon better. I’m aware of that. But for one thing, it’s more fun. In part because of the cast. Oh, Helen Reddy isn’t the best of it, I’ll freely admit that. But she’s not bad, and she’s got a couple of songs I quite like, and after all she manages to show that there are all sorts of women who can be mother figures, which is part of the feminism she heavily embodied in those days. She had already been woman for some time, after all, but she could be woman and still take care of an orphan who’d been a literal slave!
She is one of those people whose story includes rebelling against fierce show business parents. Her parents were vaudevillians. They told her all through childhood that she was going to be a star, and she didn’t want to. Her way of rebelling against them was to insist that she was going to be a housewife, and indeed she married young. She actually went back to show business to support her daughter.
It initially did not go well; life in New York for struggling artists is not great, generally. She’d sneak out of hotels. She’d have to go to Canada routinely, because she didn’t need a work permit or anything there, as they were both Commonwealth countries. She even had a party where everyone paid $5 admission so she could pay her rent. Which is where she met her second husband. He was a music manager, and eventually, he managed her into a contract with Capitol Records. Though her first hit was the B-side of her first single, because the industry’s weird like that.
She didn’t have much of an acting career. Five movies, with a sixth listed as completed. Seven TV shows. And it’s never going to matter to me, because one of those movies was Pete’s Dragon, beloved of my childhood and still a movie that I quite like. I like her songs. I like her character. I like her performance. It’s genuinely one of my favourite bits of the movie, and that’s another one I know isn’t popular, but there it is..
Helen Reddy is, I freely admit, one of pop culture’s many minor footnotes. Having one Disney movie and an anthem for Second Wave feminism is better than a lot of them, but she’s still one of those people whose career is mostly remembered in trivia quizzes. Still, I think it’s a message worth going forward with, that there’s room for everyone and that you can’t own people. And that you shouldn’t underestimate the power of women.