Kristy McNichol was one of the biggest child stars of the 1970s performing within an ABC series called Family (1976 – 1980) in the role of Letitia “Buddy” Lawrence, winning two Emmy Awards as a result. Her skateboarding prowess on television made her an early influencer, and she also became an unknowing queer punk icon for her “tom boy” character even though she wouldn’t officially come out until 2012 at age 50.
Kristy took up skateboarding along with her brother, Jimmy in the 1970s like many kids of her generation. Her skills were especially useful for the two-part episode of Family called “Jury Duty” which aired November 16, 1976. In Part One, Kristy is ripping around, making friends and enemies while practising for an upcoming contest. And then in Part Two, she fends off an accused child molester / murderer with her skateboard, follows up the battle with a slalom race where she wins $100 and takes down a nasty girl!
The episode had impact, and ABC network took many photos behind-the-scenes which are found on Getty images. If only she got to skate with fellow child-star Jodie Foster, maybe some magic and a meaningful friendship would’ve ensued.
At age 14, Kristy agreed to be part of the CBS Celebrity Challenge of the Sexes (aired April 17, 1977), taking on Dan Haggerty the 35-year-old star of “Grizzly Adams” in a skateboarding contest. They had to go down a ramp for speed, through a 12-foot tunnel and a short slalom course of four cones. According to Jim O’Mahoney who organized and hosted the race, they were “head to head at the bottom of the ramp” but Dan put too much weight on the nose of his board and “did a beard plant at the tunnel entrance. Kristy floated through to win easily.” The skateboard magazine Wild World of Skateboarding reviewed the drama in their February 1978 issue, and it sounded like a really good time.
In 1978, Kristy recorded an album with her brother in the band, “Kristy and Jimmy McNichol” with the hit cover song “He’s So Fine” by the Chiffons. According to her brother’s Wikipedia, Kristy had a manic breakdown while performing in France and was soon after diagnosed with bipolar disorder, although other sources suggest her breakdowns were in the 1980s with all kinds of speculation around substance abuse and mental illness. Needless to say, she was struggling.
It couldn’t have been easy for Kristy hiding her sexuality while having her appearance, dating life, and “femininity” constantly scrutinized by so-called fans and media outlets – she was just a child in an adult’s world. And the support for LGBTQ2S+ individuals wasn’t anything like today (although the battles continue). But deep underground, within the queer punk community a zine called JD’s by Toronto artist, G.B. Jones and Bruce LaBruce celebrated McNichol within issue #6 in 1989, published by the New Lavender Panthers.
Issue #6 was flush with Jones’ drawings of “Tom Girls” (her version of Tom of Finland) often on skateboards and two fan pages of McNichol. LaBruce even took photos of the episode where Buddy is fending off her attacker with her “gnarly board as a weapon.” Even if Kristy couldn’t articulate her sexuality, she was loved by those who understood.
Kristy officially retired from acting in 2001 so that she could finally play her biggest part, which was being herself and seeking personal happiness and well-being. In 2012 within the January issue of People magazine she was able to reveal that she was a lesbian and had been living with her partner Martie Allen since the early 1990s. Her publicist explained that Kristy was dismayed that young people were being bullied for their sexuality and she hoped that her speaking-up and coming out might help.