The Three Potatoheads

Institute History

  • 1994 January Screenwriters Lab


It's the end of summer, 1959. Fallout shelters, hula hoops, and repressed sexuality are big. Khrushchev's on his way to visit the public consciousness. Girls are either very good-or very, very bad. This is the story of three seventeen-year-old girls, their sexual secrets and their rocky road to sexual courage as the '50's finally give way to the 1960's.

That summer before our senior year, everyone had something going, Arlene tells us. Cheryl was hot and heavy with Charlie from the bowling alley. Joanie was crazy about this guy she met at camp, Al. Though she won't let us meet him. And I,1 had my rock collection.

Through Cheryl's eyes we see the story of how her relationship with Charlie got sexual. She was pushing it that way. She wanted what she wanted, even in a world with very particular ideas about what women can and can't do. She wonders if there's something wrong with her.

When she gets pregnant, she's adamant she can't go to her parents; they'd want her to marry Charlie and she thinks he'd want that too, so he can't know either. Her friends are the only ones who can help. What about Joanie's new boyfriend Al? He's in college, he lives in the city, maybe he'd know someplace.

Al does indeed know someplace. The only problem is, as we see how Joanie and Al's romance evolved, we discover that, unbeknownst to Joanie's friends, Al is actually short for Allison.

Allison, a working class Red Diaper baby from Brooklyn, is used to being marginal in a way that Joanie, the Rabbi's daughter, is not. She tells Joanie, My parents only really believed in two things: the Communist Party and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Both let them down. But Joanie wants to continue to live in the world she grew up in. She doesn't want to have to give up her friends, to enter some underground world cut off from everyone she's known.

On the other hand, that underground world is glamorous and exciting in a way her Levittown type suburb will never be. And her passion for Al won't go away—though she tries various bizarre methods to extinguish it.

As Joanie walks the thin line, trying to help Cheryl without revealing her secret, Arlene struggles with her own fear that something's wrong with her. Will she ever be part of the world of passion swirling around her? Does she even want to be? Her quest to be a hero for Cheryl draws her into her own secret as she forms an alliance with Charlie who will try anything to get some answers.

Finally, armed with a phone number, a meeting place, and a secret code word, Cheryl and her friends face the terrifying reality of abortion before it was legal. And it becomes clear that the only way Joanie can really help her friend is to risk bringing her worlds together.


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