When Jodie Foster came to Kansas

Bobby Detrich, a fourth grader at Jefferson elementary school in Great Bend, Kansas saw the girl, dressed in Depression-era clothing, looking like a tomboy. The charismatic blue-eyed girl was just his age. She emerged from her dressing room, and looked puzzled. She looked into her hands and fiddled with an old-fashioned wooden yo-yo. Although the girl was in Ellis County, Kansas, she hailed from California and didn’t know how to use a yo-yo. Jodie knew lots of things a kid from Kansas wouldn’t know. But Bobby Detrich knew all about yo-yo’s

Jodie Foster and Christopher Connelly in Hays, Kansas.

Most kids his age in tiny Great Bend, Kansas owned at least one Duncan yo-yo. And some kids, like Bobby, knew lots of yo-yo tricks: “Walk the Dog,” “Around the World,” and others. Detrich said the starlet was friendly and approachable, and told Bobby: “I don’t know how to yo-yo.” The screenplay required her to play with the yo-yo in the next scene.

Even though it was an antique wooden yo-yo, Detrich bedazzled the young starlet by showing her the basics, and then throwing in a few yo-yo tricks. He made it look easy. Detrich was damned lucky that day. He had a crush on the California girl, and he knew something she needed to find out quick: how to use a yo-yo. The 11 year old, Jodie Foster, didn’t have a clue.

On the heels of the hit movie “Paper Moon” (1973), ABC made a TV series by the same name. This time it wasn’t Ryan and Tatum O’Neal playing the con man and his precocious daughter. The TV series featured Jodie Foster, playing “Addie Pray,” the daughter of a con artist Bible salesman Moze Pray (played by Christopher Connelly).

“She was brilliant. She knew about martial arts. She knew about ballet, foreign languages, literature, piano, the cinema,” said Detrich 47 years later. Detrich, the son of an oil field hand and a waitress-turned-antique dealer appeared as an extra in this one episode. His mother, Norma Detrich, leased depression-era antiques to ABC for use on the set.

Detrich and Foster became friends-for-a-day. “She would go inside the dressing room trailer to change outfits and to freshen up, but she would come outside and visit” said Detrich.  Detrich remembers Foster’s mom, Evelyn “Brandy” Foster, as a typical “stage mom.” “Her mom hovered over her like a guardian angel. She was groomed to become a big star,” said Detrich. And how. Today, Foster, 57, has two Oscars on her mantle. But that day she was just a kid.

According to Joy Leiker’s article “Paper Moon Fever” in The Hays Daily News on October 27, 2003, Detrich wasn’t the only local who got to know Foster. Hays, Kansas dentist Dr. John Streck, who died four years ago, had seven lines in an earlier episode called “Birthday,” in which the Foster character celebrates her birthday and wants to talk to President Roosevelt by telephone. That episode was filmed mostly at the Rush County Courthouse. In 2003, on the Thirtieth Anniversary of the series, Dr. Streck recalled having to be on the set for about twelve hours in one day. During a break, Streck sat under a tree in LaCrosse, Kansas to get some shade and visited with Foster: “She was the sweetest little girl,” he said.

Detrich and his family were in a different episode. “The episode that day was about two sisters running a tent revival.They wore long, white gowns,” said Detrich. The episode aired on October 24, 1974 and was titled “Gimme That Old Time Relation.”  Bobby Detrich, along with his older brother Alan Detrich and their mother, wore period clothing and played Bible beating converts at the tent revival, shouting “Amen!” and other words of encouragement to the female evangelists. But Moze Pray was more interested in the collection plate than winning converts, and local farmer Bob Pfeifer and Hays artist Pete Felten  appear in the episode as “two silent thugs” who were rightly suspicious of Moze Pray.

That night, when Bobby Detrich got back to Great Bend, he decided to go back the next day with his mother and give Jodie Foster a gift to commemorate her time in rural Kansas.  Detrich rode his bike to Kwik Shop in Great Bend and picked out a shiny new red Duncan Imperial yo-yo to present to Jodie Foster. This yo-yo was not a piece of junk like the antique she used in the TV series.

The next day when Bobby Detrich got to the set of “Paper Moon,” things had changed. Word got out that the child starlet was in rural Kansas, and the next morning, clutching the yo yo, Detrich saw Jodie Foster surrounded by boys just his age, eager to get her attention. It wasn’t like the day before, when it was just him and her.

47 years later, Bobby Detrich regrets not presenting that fancy new yo-yo to Jodie Foster. “I was too shy,” he says, wistfully. “If she had been alone, I would have definitely given her the yo-yo. But all these other guys were competing for her attention,” says Detrich.

About five years ago, Detrich heard Jodie Foster being interviewed on NPR while working as a Warehouse Manager. It was a busy day at the warehouse. He sent NPR a quick email saying: “I taught Jodie Foster how to yo-yo on the set of Paper Moon.” Detrich completed his frenzied day managing the warehouse, and when he got home, he read his incoming emails: there were three emails from NPR urging him to call in to the show. Once again, he was close, but didn’t get a second chance to speak to the notoriously private Jodie Foster, now a historic movie star.

Had they spoken again Detrich could have told her about something he now knew about that Foster would probably find exotic and interesting: he and his brother’s career as dinosaur fossil hunters. Life is funny like that. Sometimes you just get one chance, and as we get older, we often regret affairs of the heart, however far fetched they might have been.