Before Clarice Starling and Nell, before "The Accused" and "Taxi Driver," before all those Oscars and way before her strange, divisive speech at the Golden Globes in which she elliptically confirmed her homosexuality, Jodie Foster was the star of many commercials.
As she mentioned at the awards, Ms. Foster's been in show biz for 47 of her 50 years, a run that began when the towheaded 3-year-old starred in a Coppertone ad. More commercials followed, even as Ms. Foster got more and more TV and movie roles. There was one for Crest, one for a line of Mattel toys and one for McDonald's featuring a Ronald McDonald and Grimace so creepy they give Hannibal Lecter a run for his money.
One of Ms. Foster's best efforts came in 1971 for the GAF Viewmaster, an ad in which she wasn't even the only future Oscar-winner. GAF had hired acting legend Henry Fonda to lend some grandfatherly charm to the stereoscopic toy into which you could slip a reel devoted to a movie, TV show or some educational topic, put your eyes against the flimsy plastic viewfinder, and enter 3-D nirvana.
Conceptually, we're not given much to go on in this spot. It seems we've happened upon some sort of Viewmaster jam, with a bunch of kids poised to raise some stereoscopic ruckus with an old guy. Kicking things off, the folksy Fonda opines in his aw, shucks way that the Viewmaster is just a lot of fun. As he passes it to the kids, you imagine they will just grunt in agreement and drool because, you know, kids are so dumb. Nope! These Viewmaster-enthusiast kids blow our minds by uttering complete, even complex sentences, peppered with very adult words: "extraordinary," "instructional," "three-dimensional." Suffice it to say, this spot is all about the acting. We know Fonda's gonna be great, but kids in ads are a wild card. They can be cloying, too cutesy.
It turns out that each of the four child actors is good. Ms. Foster, naturally, is the best. Sure, her delivery's a bit rushed, but it's a lot of copy to get through and she makes up with sheer camera love, looking first at the device, then straight into the lens while delivering her mouthful of a line: "I've always found the GAF Viewmaster an ingenious invention, of great educational value." Gah! Goodgodshessocute! We're already drowning in charm and then we come back to Fonda, with his self-effacing kicker and the reminder that some people are made to be in front of a camera: "Gee, I always thought it was just a lot of fun."
Between Mr. Fonda and Ms. Foster, there are three Oscars and three Golden Globes represented in that spot, making it from our present-day vantage point one of the more prestigious Viewmaster jams in history.