PHOTO BY JON FAR MER
Michelle Trachtenberg makes
as Harriet the Spy.
TH E DE TR OI T J EWIS H NE WS
MICHAEL ELKIN SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
Meet Harriet, the spy who
came in from the cold shoul-
Harriet M. Welsch, an
adorable adolescent with a habit of spy-
ing on her friends and family and writ-
ing down the painful truths she observes,
is shunned by her fellow sixth-graders
when they discover her notebook of nas-
Sixth grade as the age of innocence?
Edith Wharton never came up against
an 11-year-old with a mean streak.
But Louise Fitzhugh must have. Har-
riet the Spy, now playing at area theaters,
is based on Fitzhugh's popular and
award-winning 1964 children's book.
The book is an account of the games
kids play, often with rules made up as
they go along: Children can be harsh, hi-
larious, cruel, cunning and caring — all
at the same time. When Harriet discov-
ers that truth hurts — and becomes the
target of tricks inflicted on her by her for-
mer friends — she leaves childhood be-
For Harriet, Nickelodeon Movies and.
Paramount Pictures uncovered a real tal-
ent in Michelle Trachtenberg, a 10-year-
old veteran of more than 100
commercials, the Nickelodeon series "The
Adventures of Pete & Pete" and ABC-
TV's "All My Children" (she plays Lily,
Michael Elkin is the entertainment editor
of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.
Laurel and Jack's autistic
Acting is all Michelle
ever wanted to do, says the
native New Yorker. And
what a perfect project for
a feature-film debut.
"I read Harriet the Spy
a while ago, in fourth
grade," she says. "I found
it really interesting. It was
one of my favorites."
Like Harriet, Michelle
favors tomato sandwiches
for lunch. "And we both
like to read and write; and
we're dressed alike, in bag- Ten-year-old Michelle Trachtenberg has been in more than 100 commercials, a Nickelodeon series and "All My Children."
gy pants," she adds.
"They don't think of me as a star," she
But surely, Michelle, you never spied and wind up making herthe Poster Child
says. "I'm just a kid in the movies."
on people the way Harriet does, taking for Prozac.
Not that she wants to be recognized as
"Did my friends ever turn on me? Well,
notes on what they're doing?
"Yes, I did," she admits. "I had my one of my friends and I got into a big the new Jane Bond. Michelle isn't inter-
mother's opera binoculars, and I would fight," remembers Michelle. "There was ested in being made to feel different,
look out the windows and spy on our a lot of arguing and stuff, but nothing whether it be in school, at play or at
neighbors. I once saw a boy kissing a girl, to the extent" of what happens in the synagogue, which she considers "a very
special, very holy place" where she likes
but then they pulled the shades down."
Besides, that was so long ago. "Second to go because "it means something."
Not that Harriet is a shifty character:
The young actress enjoyed playing the
She spies to increase her power of ob- grade," she says.
It must be difficult being a child in to- part of a spy. "I'd like to continue being an
servation, and she takes notes to devel:-
actress when I grow up, or be a writer,"
op her talent as a writer. She thinks this day's world.
"Uh-uh," says Michelle. After all, there she says. The right career would be a com-
will help her get smart.
But there's a catch: A really good spy are theme parks, Sega video games. bination of the two, says the star, who
doesn't get caught. Harriet pays the price "Life is good," she says charmingly: Sure, looks up to Jodie Foster for inspiration.
"What I would really like," she says, "is
when her friends pass notes about her easy for her, the star of TV and film, to
around school, "accidentally" pour blue say. Aren't her schoolmates a littiejeal- to write my own movie and star in
it." ❑ .
paint on her dress, talk behind her back ous?