Child’s play

kara schlegl looks back on some iconic on-screen babysitter­s.


Fran Fine in The Nanny A list like this has to begin with a nanny named Fran. Hired off the street with a résumé written in lipstick, Fran Fine is a charmer. She has the looks of Audrey Hepburn, the comedy stylings of Lucille Ball and the voice of Gilbert Gottfried. In other words, she’s the whole package. But what makes her a stand-out is her enormous heart that she wears on her heavily discounted Moschino sleeve. She saunters into the lives of three children who have recently lost their mother, and brings colour back to their beige, grief-stricken existence. She’s a fashion icon, a role model for single women in their 30s – I mean, single women in their late 20s – and a dream nanny. The kind who supports and loves you, but will stop you from leaving the house if you’re wearing the wrong shade of lipstick.

Mrs Sturak in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead If Fran Fine is the dream, Mrs Sturak is the nightmare abominatio­n your parents threaten you with if you don’t do your homework. A total sadist, this elderly neighbour-turned-babysitter loathes the sight of children unless they’re crying out in pain. We watch her torture 16-year-old Sue Ellen ‘Swell’ Crandell (Christina Applegate) and her younger siblings by forcing them into hideous gender-conforming outfits, making them clean up after themselves and, worst of all, turning off the TV. I know, it’s horrifying, but stay with me. Sturak’s 40-pack-a-day rasp and her flawless switch from doddering old woman to menacing drill sergeant makes her a formidable villain on screen, but it’s her sensationa­l death at the sight of exposed breasts that lands her on this list. Even as a corpse, she manages to make life for the Crandell kids a living hell, so she might not be the nicest babysitter, but she’s certainly the most devoted to her work.

James in Look Who’s Talking Younger readers might find it difficult – if not disturbing – to learn that famed Scientolog­ist John Travolta was once a heartthrob. But if you can suspend your disbelief long enough, you’ll be able to get on board with his charming portrayal of James, a New York cab driver-turnedbaby­sitter in this bizarre rom-com that follows a knocked-up single woman who gives birth to a baby voiced by Bruce Willis. To this day, there’s something deeply radical about seeing a man on screen unapologet­ically assuming a caregiving role. More common is the portrayal of men as reluctant caregivers, in over their heads, staring at a nappy like they’re trying to defuse a bomb. James, on the other hand, knows full well how to change a nappy. This makes him both competent and (unfortunat­ely) very sexy. Yes, the bar for straight men is that low.

Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Dawn and Jessi in The

Baby-sitters Club I was not one of those girls who grew up collecting Baby-sitters Club books. As a Goosebumps fan,

I was generally put off by their pastel-pink covers and lack of gore. But then came a slumber party screening of the 1995 film, and my life was changed. This group of tween girls who start a babysittin­g business from scratch are an inspiratio­n to generation­s of budding capitalist entreprene­urs. But what’s so special about them is that they don’t cave to a girl-boss culture that says women need to behave like men in order to succeed in life. Instead, they offer a diversity of takes on what it is to be a girl, and teach us it’s OK to wear a backwards cap, or flirt with boys, or have diabetes. The lesson of The Baby-sitters

Club is that our difference­s make us stronger, and that 12- to 13-year-old girls might be slightly too young to be looking after kids.

Maria in The Sound of Music Let’s be real here, Maria might be the most over-qualified nanny ever committed to screen. Firstly, she can sing, dance, run up very big hills at a recordbrea­king pace and make an entire summer wardrobe out of curtains. But she also manages to flout every fascist regime she stumbles into: her nunnery, the Von Trapp household, Nazi Germany – they’re all just opportunit­ies for her to deconstruc­t toxic masculinit­y through the power of song. Yes, she’s great at looking after kids, but she’s even better at teaching them how to embrace anarchy in the face of a rigid dictatorsh­ip. We can learn a lot from her unrelentin­g optimism, and her ability to bag a wealthy and incredibly hot Captain. Asking “how do we solve a problem like Maria?” is the same as asking “how do we stop progress?” The answer Maria gives us is, we can’t.

Mrs Doubtfire in Mrs Doubtfire After losing custody of his kids, divorced dad Daniel Hillard disguises himself as a strict Scottish nanny to infiltrate their home and get some time with them. Everything about this character shouldn’t work. At the very least, you’d expect Robin Williams’ portrayal to not age well considerin­g there’s a strong legacy of male comedians in the ’80s and ’90s wearing dresses for laughs. But here, Williams plays gender so fluidly Harry Styles would baulk. Daniel so completely inhabits the role of Mrs Doubtfire that even when her fake boobs catch on fire while she’s cooking dinner, she still feels like a real person. In fact, she becomes a vehicle for this dad to express another side of himself, a caregiver side that has long been suppressed. And damn, she’s good at her job. This makes Mrs Doubtfire both a wildly transgress­ive representa­tion of drag, and a nanny who’s easy for kids to fall in love with.

Nell Forbes in Don’t Bother to Knock Nell Forbes is not the type of babysitter you want around your children. The plot of the film she appears in is quite simple: a pilot fuckboy staying at a hotel spots the beautiful, charismati­c Nell in a window across the way. Thinking she’s alone and filthy rich, he harasses her over the phone until she eventually lets him come round. It’s when a kid in Nell’s charge interrupts their tryst that things start getting weird. This is Marilyn Monroe’s first attempt at a dramatic role, and (mind the pun, but) she knocks it out of the park. Nell is refreshing­ly chaotic, taking her babysittin­g duties to an unexpected extreme, and making the man who thought he could get into her pants shit his own. Admittedly, part of Nell’s infamy comes from the history of how Monroe was cast in the role, working tirelessly to prove she was more than just a blonde bimbo and delivering a performanc­e so cracked that her critics were forced to agree.

Laurie Strode in Halloween The babysitter-turned-heroine might now be a trope of the slasher genre, but Laurie Strode was the first, and arguably the best. She starts the Halloween franchise as an unassuming teenage girl who looks after the neighbourh­ood kids, but quickly shows us what a girl is capable of if you give her five bucks an hour and a butcher’s knife. Through Laurie, Jamie Lee Curtis gifted us with a new type of horror heroine, one who isn’t killed off before the third act, or rescued by a burly detective who wears a fedora and gives off serious MRA vibes. Here, Laurie is the protector, going above and beyond by saving a kid from being gutted. Her vicious power struggle with bloodthirs­ty asylum escapee Michael Myers has proven so compelling, it’s spanned over four decades, eight sequels, three remakes and about a thousand copycat films. Of all the babysitter­s on this list, it’s Laurie Strode’s legacy that’s least likely to die.

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