For whatever reason, I didn’t remember that this book was for much younger readers, like the 8-10 set rather than the 12+ set. The other Betty Miles books I’ve reviewed have been for the older readers. So I was shocked that I was able to finish it in about 30 minutes. But it’s not too bad, my seven year old will probably like it.
Larry Pryor lives in suburban Connecticut and one afternoon is in NYC to go to the dentist when his mom is approached by two modeling agents, who are looking for a red-headed boy Larry’s age to star in a commercial. Larry and the mom are skeptical, but they do agree to a meeting at the agency, the Zigmund modeling agency. Mr. Zigmund is talking up the agency to Larry’s mom, saying “We have all types [commercial actors]. You need a grandmother, we supply a grandmother. A plumber, we’ve got him. College Professor types, bride types!” Evidently they have all types except red-headed boys because they’re prejudiced against gingers or something.
After a whirlwind meeting, Larry is cast in a commercial for the ChampWin clothing company. It’ll be a commercial for a sports-line of clothes for the whole family, and will feature a family of redheads playing baseball. Larry’s a natural because he’s on the baseball team.
Which is the first problem in the book. At the very first practice, Larry is called away to shoot the commercial sooner than expected. And his beloved first-base position is given away to Knudson, the school knucklehead. His second-favorite position, shortstop, is given away to one of the two girls on the team.
The other problem? The commercial is for underwear. The commercial will show Larry and his fictional family playing ball in their underwear. (Underpants AND undershirts.) Larry is embarrassed to do it, but he is put at ease by Suzanne Ridley, the girl who’s playing his sister and who is kind of a big shot in the commercial acting world.
The commercial is shot in one day, and afterwards, Larry doesn’t tell anyone about it. He finally confesses to his best bud, Robert, but doesn’t tell him the commercial is for underwear. One day, his teacher assigns homework for his class – to watch a TV documentary about the Great Barrier Reef. Robert comes over to Larry’s and they watch together. Guess what comes on? Of course, Larry’s underwear commercial.
Robert is in hysterics over Larry playing ball in his underwear. Larry gets angry at him, and Robert feels bad about laughing at him. The next day at school, a lot of the kids are laughing at him, but others think it’s kind of cool. His nickname, which he hates, is Underwear Champ.
Larry’s baseball team has a big game against their rival, The Jays. Larry is a sub, so he spends most of the game on the bench. His team goes down 2-0, and Larry is put in to pinch hit for Robert. The kids on the Jays notice him and start teasing him about underwear. But Larry gets the last laugh. He hits a homer and wins the game for his team.
Things settle down at school, and Underwear Champ is shortened to Champ, a nickname Larry is fine with. Larry shoots another commercial for ChampWin, this time in tennis clothes. He becomes good friends with his commercial sister, Suzanne, and she even comes to watch one of his baseball games.
- Goddamn, the Zigmund’s are pushy people. They literally won’t take no for an answer when they meet Larry and his mom on the street. And they never even ask Larry what he thinks. Because he has red hair and they need him, they don’t care about his feelings.
- The woman who plays Larry’s commercial mom, has a nice rack. Which even 10-year old Larry notices (“She sure doesn’t look like my mom.”) The guys on the set of the commercial also notice and whistle at her when she’s in her underpants and undershirt. So, you know, nice of the director to allow the workers to sexually harass one of the stars.
- But at the same time, a big deal was not made about two girls being on the baseball team, and there was no weirdness about Larry losing out on his position to a girl. So score one for feminism.
- This book is copyright 1981. When Larry has to go to the city to shoot the commercial, both of his parents are at work. So he takes the train by himself into the city, then makes the three block walk by himself to the agency, then takes a cab by himself to Central Park. Where he is parent-less while shooting a commercial. I’m not an overbearing parent, and, if pressed, I would say I prefer the free-range parenting style. And I have no doubt a kid who lives in the city could easily be expected to handle that. But it seems surprising to me that a suburban 10 year old would do it, no questions asked. At least in 2014 it seems like that. Maybe in 1981, things were different.