The Boy in the Plastic Bubble is a 1976 American made-for-television drama film inspired by the lives of David Vetter and Ted DeVita, who lacked effective immune systems. It stars John Travolta, Glynnis O'Connor, Diana Hyland, Robert Reed, and P.J. Soles. It was written by Douglas Day Stewart, executive produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg (who, at the time, produced Starsky and Hutch and Charlie's Angels), and directed by Randal Kleiser, who would work with Travolta again in Grease shortly after. The original music score was composed by Mark Snow. The theme song "What Would They Say" was written and sung by Paul Williams. William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills was used for filming.
The movie first aired on November 12, 1976, on the ABC television network.
|The Boy in the Plastic Bubble|
|Written by||Douglas Day Stewart|
|Story by||Joe Morgenstern
Douglas Day Stewart
|Directed by||Randal Kleiser|
|Theme music composer||Mark Snow
|Country of origin||United States|
|Executive producer(s)||Aaron Spelling
|Location(s)||Malibu Lake, California
20th Century Fox Studios - 10201 Pico Blvd., Century City, Los Angeles, California
|Editor(s)||John F. McSweeney|
|Running time||96 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Spelling-Goldberg Productions|
John and Mickey Lubitch conceive a child. After multiple previous miscarriages, Mickey fears the likelihood that something gravely wrong could happen to their child.
The pregnancy results in the birth of a live baby boy, whom they name Tod. Tod's immune system does not function properly, meaning that contact with unfiltered air may kill him, so he must live out his life in incubator-like conditions. He lives with his parents, in Houston, Texas. He is restricted to staying in his room all his life, where he eats, learns, reads, and exercises, while being protected from the outside world by various coverings.
As Tod grows, he wishes to see more of the outside world and meet regular people his age. He is enrolled at the local school after being equipped with suitable protective clothing, similar in style to a space suit. He falls in love with his next door neighbor, Gina Biggs, and he must decide between following his heart and facing near-certain death, or remaining in his protective bubble forever. In the end, after having a discussion with his doctor who tells him he has built up some immunities which may possibly be enough to survive the real world, he steps outside his house, unprotected, and he and Gina ride off on her horse.
The "Bubble Boy" who inspired this film, David Vetter, questioned the film's depiction of how sterile Tod's use of the spacesuit was. Vetter scoffed at the idea that Travolta's character could simply wear the space suit back into the isolator without contaminating the bubble.
Days after Bill Clinton was inaugurated as U.S. President, William Safire reported on the phrase "in the bubble" as used in reference to living in the White House. Safire traced that usage in U.S. presidential politics to a passage in the 1990 political memoir What I Saw at the Revolution by Peggy Noonan, where she used it to characterize Ronald Reagan's "wistfulness about connection"; Richard Ben Cramer used the phrase two years later in What It Takes: The Way to the White House with reference to George H. W. Bush and how he had been "cosseted and cocooned in comfort by 400 people devoted to his security" and "never s[aw] one person who was not a friend or someone whose sole purpose it was to serve or protect him." Noonan's use was a reference to The Boy in the Plastic Bubble.
The film inspired the first song on the 1986 Paul Simon album Graceland. In 1992, the film's premise was satirized in the seventh episode of the fourth season of Seinfeld. It was also the subject of the 2001 comedic remake Bubble Boy and the 2007 musical In the Bubble produced by American Music Theatre Project and featuring a book by Rinne Groff, music by Michael Friedman and Joe Popp and lyrics by Friedman, Groff and Popp.
The film was mentioned several times on the series That '70s Show, in the episodes of NCIS "SWAK" and "Thirst" and in the film Superstar. In "Thirst" "Very Special Agent" Tony DiNozzo mentions it to partner Tim McGee, who asks if it was "pre or post Barbarino" to which Tony says that he thinks it was post, suggesting that Tim watch in Netflix. It was actually during Welcome Back, Kotter, which began in 1975.
The film had a personal impact on Travolta and Hyland, who began a six-month romantic relationship until her death, after the film ended principal photography.
A copyright was registered for The Boy in the Plastic Bubble in 1976, and under current copyright law, it is not scheduled to lapse into the public domain until 2072. This copyright has not often been enforced; bootleg recordings of the film, with the last few seconds cut off, have been widely distributed under the assumption that the film was not properly copyrighted and is thus in the public domain. (The bootlegs do not have any copyright notice as required under U.S. copyright law, but it is plausible that the original copy had its copyright notice in the last few seconds of the film that are cut off from the bootleg copies.)
AMTP's newest musical was inspired by multiple "bubble boy" sources in pop culture, including the 1976 Emmy-nominated made-for-television movie "The Boy in the Plastic Bubble," starring John Travolta; the 1987 Paul Simon song "The Boy in the Bubble"; a 1992 "Seinfeld" television episode; and Bandeira Entertainment's 2001 screen comedy "Bubble Boy," starring Jake Gyllenhaal, (and more potently, the protests surrounding the Gyllenhaal film).
At the cast party, Travolta remembers, 'we admitted not only a friendly attraction but a sexual one. The intensity of it was new to both of us.'...She [later] told him that their six months together were the happiest time of her life.... Says Travolta, 'I would have married her.'