The Director of “The Exorcist” and “French Connection” — at Age 12


My husband has been loving “The srynekkrnt
Friedkin Connection: A Memoir
,” by William Friedkin, director of The Exorcist, The French  Connection and more. The excerpt below is an incredibly stark reminder of how we used to trust — even expect — young people to be part of the real world. (It’s also a  stark reminder of how Chicago worked, but that’s another story.)

Trusting our kids to rise to the occasion is the opposite of “learned helplessness.” It’s learned competence, something we deprive our children of when we, out of love and fear, do everything with or for them (boldface mine):

At election time the Democratic ward committeeman, in our case the Forty-Eighth Ward, would come around and visit my mother. Drinking coffee in the kitchenette, he would show her a sample ballot and say, “Now, here’s who you vote for, Mrs. Friedkin, and these are the propositions you want to put a check mark next to”—all Democratic candidates and initiatives, of course.
My mother would smile, offer him more coffee, and agree to whatever he said. When he had gone over the ballot with her several times to make sure she understood, he would say, “Now, what can I do for you?”
When I was twelve and about to start summer vacation from school, she asked him if the Party could possibly find me a job.
“How old are you, William?” he asked.
“Twelve, sir.”
“Twelve—well, you know, you have to be sixteen to be eligible for Social Security and a decent job.” Frowns all around. “Do you like baseball, William?”
I did; I was a Cubs fan, though I had never been to a game, but I knew the lineup of the 1947 Chicago Cubs by heart. “Let me see what I can do,” he said.
He could do whatever he wanted. The Party ruled Chicago, and though I was an only child, my huge extended family represented a lot of votes.
Within a week I had a Social Security card declaring I was sixteen and a summer job selling soda pop at Wrigley Field. I carried thirty bottles of pop in half-moon-shaped cases with a thick strap around my neck. I would make two cents a bottle, sixty cents a load, and during a nine-inning game I could do twelve cases, six or seven bucks. Not chump change. On weeks when there were doubleheaders, I would sometimes bring home sixty dollars, which was more than my dad made as a salesman for the Duke Shirt Company on South State Street.
Not saying that every pre-teen soda seller goes on to direct movies that become classics. Just saying that if he hadn’t had that kind of early experience at flexing his gumption, maturity and actual muscles…the head spins.
Happy  INDEPENDENCE weekend! – L.


Speaking of connections, how about the one between childhood competence and adult confidence?

Speaking of connections, how about the one between childhood competence and adult confidence?


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18 Responses to The Director of “The Exorcist” and “French Connection” — at Age 12

  1. olympia July 3, 2016 at 12:24 pm #


    This is only tangentially related, but I still have fond memories of how I came to read “The Exorcist.” I was starting sixth grade at the time, not quite 11, and had just watched the (heavily edited for TV) movie version of the book. My interest had been piqued and I needed more. So I went to the library. I don’t believe I’d ever sought out books from the adult section before, necessitating assistance from the librarian. She was your classic, stodgy looking librarian, at least 60 years old, extremely conservative in both manner and dress- the kind of old lady who made gifts of her anadama bread and crabapple preserves. And yet she got up without a word, found the book, and checked me out without another word. So cool. The book was indeed too rich for my blood, much more so than the movie. I probably could have waited a few years to read it. But overwhelming my trauma 😉 over reading the book is my gratitude over the respect the librarian gave me.

  2. Alanna July 3, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    Wish my 19 year old daughter could get this kind of help finding a job. Or even me get that kind of help finding jobs!

  3. NY Mom July 3, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

    Build on strength. The opposite of learned helplessness.
    We are all born to win. No exceptions. We need food, clothing, shelter and opportunity. No exceptions.
    Why is that so hard to grasp in this over-wrought world?

  4. bob magee July 3, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    My first job, aside from landscaping (fancy for mowing lawns) was as a door to door salesman. I was a senior in HS. Every day after school I would be driven to a neighborhood and left for 3 hours to ring bells and generate sales. Since I was selling was for the Fuller Brush Co, and working afternoons, my customer base was nearly 100% women.

    Good luck with that today – both the door to door bit and a young man wandering a neighborhood looking to get inside the house of females.

    I made enough money to cover my prom and to put aside for 1st year of college living expenses.

    It was a great experience and certainly did a lot to bolster my confidence as I was preparing to leave home to live away at school.

    Stark contrast from thinking like our LEO friend in Ohio who thinks 16 is the age a child should first be allowed out unsupervised by adults.

    I will say there was one time that I did balk at the technique used for selling one of our more popular products that year. It was witchhazel lotion and I was instructed to grasp the hand of the (female) customer, squeeze out some lotion and proceed to rub it into her hand.

    Even back in 1972 I sensed that a young man – a stranger – grabbing the hand of a woman and rubbing lotion on her would not be considered too cool. I simply encouraged them to do so for themselves.

    Still sold my share.

  5. Rick July 3, 2016 at 1:37 pm #

    Reminds me of when I was a paperboy at age 13 back in the ’70s. I’d ride my bike around the various neighborhoods, 5 miles at least, alone of course, dropping papers in front of the houses. And every two weeks was “collection” when I’d have to knock on everyone’s door and whip out my collection book with how much they owed if they hadn’t paid in a while. You could tell some people looked happy to see me for the human interaction. Others not so much if they hadn’t paid for a couple of months. I’d earn at least $12-$16. I felt rich. I would even lend my parents money when they had forgotten to stop by the bank.

  6. LG July 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

    It’s quite unfortunate that 12-year olds today rarely get the chance for actual job opportunities. Or really, the opportunity to do much of anything that isn’t adult supervised. LOVE the French Connection, and always have. One of the best detective movies out there by far.

    “We need food, clothing, shelter and opportunity. No exceptions. Why is that so hard to grasp in this over-wrought world?”
    Over industrialization. We’ve become too spoiled, too paranoid of anything and everything that doesn’t make us feel “one-hundred percent safe” in our developed, childhood-obsessed nation (I speak of America I’m this). We’re too dependent. Sadly. Or at least some of us!
    Also-just a weird observation of how our society is with this ‘lil dumb thing called AGE. If you’re under 18, you’re lumped in as being a full-on helpless child, but when you hit 18, you’re suddenly, magically an adult. And we wonder why the millennial generation and the one below them has so many mental health problems and are incompetent. Hmmm, maybe it’s because we treat them like infant up until 18? Oh, and let’s not forget that Obama doesn’t even consider one an actual adult, capable of supporting themselves up until 26 years old!?

  7. Michael Fandal July 3, 2016 at 3:10 pm #

    Monumental lessons about the real world and how it works. Sometimes to quote Winston Churchill’s “terminological inexactitude” doesn’t hurt. In this case it led to a crash course in growing up with some pocket money

  8. Jessie July 3, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

    Gumption. I love it. So many kids these days are lacking in that department. They seem to rely on adults to solve the simplest problems. And the adults don’t seem to mind, either!

  9. Jessie July 3, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    When I was 11 or 12 (1992 or 1993), my sister and I were walking in our neighborhood when an elderly woman pulled over next to us and asked if we wanted to work for her. Of course we did, we wanted spending money to buy candy! We told our mother, but she never got involved. We just walked to her house and earned $1.50 an hour combing her wigs, filing her catalogs, and stirring the lumps out of her sugar all while she watched and barked out corrections. She was a tough old lady. I think she was lonely and wanted some young people to mentor.

  10. lollipoplover July 3, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

    My oldest daughter just turned 13. She’s been babysitting since she was 11. This weekend, she was hired for a wedding to babysit with her friend at the beach 8 children (of the wedding party) who are under the age of 5. They made arrangements to have these girls watch the littles while their parents enjoy the celebration. She gets $100 per day(rehearsal dinner/ceremony) and then she gets to spend the rest of the holiday at the beach! Kids are way, way, more capable than we give them credit for.

  11. sexhysteria July 4, 2016 at 2:13 am #

    I was delivering newspapers after school at twelve, and on Saturdays I went to meet clients at their homes to collect payments.

  12. PacMom July 4, 2016 at 1:52 pm #

    When I was 11 my 1st job was as a Mothers Helper. 2 hours twice a week I watched baby while Mom at home but she could take an uninterrupted bath,run down to Laundry room without dragging a fussy baby with her, go outside for a short walk without the stroller,stuff like that. She got to see how I was with the kid so when I got older she trusted me alone with him. My girls took babysitter class and I am looking for a job like that for them now.

  13. Coasterfreak July 5, 2016 at 9:57 am #


    I was in my late 20’s or early 30’s, had been a hardcore horror book and movie fan for at least 15 years, and had watched the TV and theatrical version of The Exorcist several times by the time I finally read the book. The book wrecked me, it was so intense.

    My wife, on the other hand, who does not like horror at all, has read the book and will watch the movie with me (she won’t watch any other horror movies with me) and it does not scare her for some reason. I actually find THAT a little bit scary! LOL

    Now, on topic — I had my first job, delivering papers, when I was 12 (1982). It was a once-a-week ad rag called Pennysaver and I delivered it to 150 houses in my neighborhood for 3 cents per paper. I had to pick the papers up, fold them in thirds and rubberband them. Then I had to pack them in my bag and walk up to the door of each house and rubberband the paper to the front door knob. It was a free paper, so I didn’t have to collect money, but I remember our paperboy who DID have to collect money and he was my age.

    Occasionally I would run into a grumpy person who would catch me at the door and yell at me because they didn’t want to receive the Pennysaver and then I would have to remember not to deliver to that house any more (not really difficult after being yelled at by a grumpy old man). I only mention that to say that even though I was pretty meek and introverted as a kid, getting yelled at by a stranger didn’t destroy me like it seems it does some kids these days.

  14. lollipoplover July 5, 2016 at 10:35 am #

    Kind of OT (but relevant to capable kids), but we saw The BFG this weekend (my youngest is a huge Roald Dahl fan and loved all of his fantastic books) and she remarked on the capable Sophie who is actually kidnapped by a giant. I heard it disappointed at the box office but my group loved it (so did I) and were amazed at the redeeming qualities of a great fart scene, especially involving the Queen of England.

    The BFG was dark and had scary scenes involving a child (orphan) and no parents. Yet Sophie gets things done. She is smart and clever and speaks her mind. I don’t think that rings well with most traditional US parents who’d rather see a snarky fish with short-term memory loss (though my daughter also loved Finding Dory). But it was refreshing to see on an Independence Day weekend.

  15. baby-paramedic July 5, 2016 at 11:59 am #

    At 12 I learnt to lie to the inspector when he came around about how old I was (needed to be 15 to be working, or 14.5 with parental permission). I would memorize my new date of birth and rattle it off with ease (as well as what grade I was in, who my teacher was etc). No one expected someone below driving age to have ID, so the inspector just relied upon startling us into the truth.
    Made what seemed like quite a fortune working over my school holidays, kept it up until it was time to get a “real job”, one that actually required some ID.

  16. Julie July 5, 2016 at 12:49 pm #

    I too delivered newspapers. When I was twelve, in 1974, the regular carrier became unable to deliver the weekend papers. So for a whopping $20 I loaded up 100 thick with circulars and comics newspapers into my green wagon and a newspaper bag, worn across my shoulders and walked miles down a road delivering them to a far flung customer base. I paid my own way to a week of camp and later to a school trip to Washington DC. I was so proud to wear that newspaper bag and earn my way! Parents don’t allow your kids to miss out on these ability building experiences. They are damned important.

  17. JLM July 5, 2016 at 7:00 pm #

    The only thing that stood out for me in this story was the fact that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Still applies today.

    I wonder how many other 12yo kids would have done as great a job, but didn’t have the right connections?

  18. olympia July 5, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

    Coasterfreak- Yeah, my horror threshold is pretty high, but “The Exorcist” pretty much did me in. At one point I thought I heard strange noises coming from the book, so I had to relocate it to my sister’s room.