Thursday, May 28, 2015

Little Natasha Ryan Cried Last Night

For television movies in the 1970s, the go-to actress to play an emotionally and physically abused little girl was Natasha Ryan. In films like Sybil (playing the title role as a little girl), The Amityville Horror and The Entity (taunted by spirits with James Brolin and Barbara Hershey respectively), the appealing Ms. Ryan left an indelible impression on those who watched her cinematic abuse.

Natasha's most poignant role might be the engrossing and depressing Mary Jane Harper Cried Last Night, in which the child is physically abused by Susan Dey. The television movie (written by Joanna Lee who also wrote Dey's Cage Without A Key) also stars Kevin McCarthy, Priscilla Pointer, Rhea Perlman, Bernie Casey and Tricia O'Neil. It's on YouTube in seven parts and watching it again made me wonder what happened to the embattled Natasha Ryan.

Ryan's last film role was in 1983. The rest of her story was documented in this interview by Cindy Bellinger (who died of cancer in 2012) for the Santa Fe New Mexican. It was published on August 1, 2007 and titled Down the Street: Former Actress Finds Comfort in Glorieta.

This is a story about heading one place and ending up somewhere else. Natasha Ryan left Southern California nearly 14 years ago. "I was on my way to Canada and decided to stop three places," said Ryan. "One was Santa Fe. I liked it, so I stayed for a while. But I was curious about Wisconsin. So I tried that, too. But I came back to Santa Fe." Ryan was 23 at the time.

Now 37, she lives atop a mountain in a cabin with no running water or electricity, but it's home - maybe the only place she's been able to call home since she was a child. "I didn't have a pretty childhood," said Ryan, who was raised by a foster family. Ryan said she worked in movies and television starting at the age of 1; by the time she was 13, she had appeared in 16 movies and television series. TV shows on her resume include Starsky and Hutch and movies include The Entity and The Day Time Ended. From 1975 to 1980 she played the young Hope Alice Williams in the soap opera Days of Our Lives. In 1976, at the age of 6, she played the role of young Sybil in the TV movie about a woman with multiple-personality disorder. When she turned 13, things changed.

"Overnight I became a really fat, pimply, ugly kid, and I wanted to be like other 13-year-olds," she said. "I wanted a mohawk. I wanted to dye my hair and pierce everything. They wouldn't even let you get a tan in the summer. So I quit making movies." Ryan said she was kicked out of her foster home and ended up living on the streets in Venice, Calif. "The whole time I tried not compromising my morals for a burrito, and I tried to sleep," she said. "That's not an easy thing to do for a 14- year-old girl, to find a safe place to sleep." A few others on the streets became her protectors. "I called home several times, but my foster mother wouldn't let me come back," Ryan said. "So I continued living in an old brick building, The Ellison, with a working gigolo and drug addicts."

Many Web sites are devoted to Ryan. "My 15-year-old daughter, Sienna - I named her after a crayon - told me there are a lot of Web sites about me. But I'm completely computer illiterate (and) haven't seen them." After years of doing the "Santa Fe shuffle" - working various jobs such as blowing glass, working with silver and leather and coaching in a gym - Ryan now works in construction. "I fell into the manhole of construction," she said. She and her crew do solar construction, plastering and anything else that needs to be done, and she saves every cent for her daughter's education. "Sienna is 15 and goes to Desert Academy," Ryan said. "Her passion is acting. Guess she got the gene." Her daughter's father lives in Santa Fe, and Ryan said Sienna spends more time there. "She's embarrassed about living in a hippie shack and bringing her friends here," she said. "But I hope some day she'll become part of a back-to-the-Earth revival and thank me."

Ryan found her land in Glorieta when she was teaching a friend's daughter to drive. They went up a steep road and learned the land at the top was for sale. That was that. She said she lives frugally to save money. But some of her earnings will soon be spent on a Russian turtle she got as a gift. "It's only 6 months old, but it needs a climate that's constantly 90 degrees," she said. In the house, all the solar power goes to him. "It's this little guy that'll probably force me onto the grid so I can keep him cozy," Ryan said. "And I'm ready to take a shower in my own house."
Nice to read that little Natasha Ryan is not crying anymore.