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Paper Moon is a 1973 Americanmarker motion picture comedy directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The screenplay was adapted from the novel Addie Pray by Joe David Brown, and the film was shot in black-and-white. The film is set during the Great Depression in the U.S. state of Kansasmarker and it starred the real life father and daughter pairing of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, as on-screen father and daughter Moses and Addie.

In September 1974, a television series called Paper Moon, based on the film, premiered on the ABC television network, with Jodie Foster cast as Addie and Christopher Connelly (1941-1988) playing Moses. O'Neal and Connelly had appeared as brothers in the earlier ABC series, Peyton Place. However, it was not a ratings success and it left the air in January 1975.

It currently holds a 95 percent approval rating from critics, based on 22 reviews, at Rotten Tomatoes. While Vincent Canby of the New York Times found the juxtaposition of the saccarine-sweet plot with Laszlo Kovacs' stark black-and-white images of Depression-era poverty unsettling, Roger Ebert, who gave the film his top rating, found the mix to be the film's greatest virtue


The story follows con man Moses Pray (Ryan O'Neal) and young Addie Loggins (Tatum O'Neal), an orphaned daughter of a prostitute. Because Moses had once had an affair with her mother, there is speculation that he is in fact Addie's father (which he denies). Moses is charged with bringing Addie to her aunt's home. Along the way, Moses manages to con the man who hit Addie's mother with his car into giving him two hundred dollars, claiming it's for Addie. Addie overhears this conversation and later demands the money from him. Because he spent the money, Moses is forced to keep Addie with him until he has raised two hundred dollars to give to her. Addie soon learns how Moses makes his money - he finds recently widowed women and visits them pretending to be a Bible salesman who recently sold a Bible to the deceased husband. The widows then pay him for the book. Addie joins in the scam, pretending to be his daughter, which makes the widows more willing to pay (as it makes Moses seem more legitimate). As time passes, Moses and Addie become a formidable team and seem to forget about Addie leaving for her aunt.

As they travel, Moses picks up a stripper named Miss Trixie Delight (Madeline Kahn) and her downtrodden African American maid Imogene (P.J. Johnson). Although Addie becomes friends with Imogene, she becomes jealous of how Moses begins to focus more and more of his attention to Miss Trixie. When Addie discovers that Moses spent their money on a new car to impress Miss Trixie, she quickly devises a plan to get rid of her, which results in Moses catching Miss Trixie in bed with another man. Devastated, Moses leaves Miss Trixie behind.

At a hotel, Moses is able to find a bootlegger's store of whiskey, steals it, and sells it back to the bootlegger. Unfortunately, the bootlegger's brother is the sheriff, who quickly arrests Moses and Addie. Addie hides their money, steals back the key to their car, and the pair escape to Missouri, where the Kansas law can't follow them. The sheriff finds them in Missouri however, and unable to arrest Moses, he beats and robs him. Humiliated, Moses sends Addie to her aunt's house. Addie quickly misses Moses however and returns to him, reminding him that he still does owe her two hundred dollars. The film was shot in and around the St.Joseph (Missouri)/Kansas area.


The film project was originally associated with John Huston and was to star Paul Newman and his daughter, Nell Potts. However, when Huston left the project, the Newmans became dissociated from the film as well. Peter Bogdanovich had just completed What's Up Doc? and was looking for another project when his ex-wife and frequent collaborator Polly Platt recommended filming Joe David Brown's script for the novel Addie Pray. Bogdanovich, a fan of period films, and having two young daughters of his own, found himself drawn to the story, and selected it as his next film.

At the suggestion of Polly Platt, he approached eight-year-old Tatum O'Neal to audition for the role although she had no acting experience. Bogdanovich had recently worked with Tatum's father Ryan O'Neal on What's Up Doc?, and decided to cast them as the leads.

Various changes were made in adapting the book to film. Addie's age was reduced from twelve to nine to accommodate young Tatum, several events from the book were combined for pacing issues, and the last third of the novel was dropped. The location was also changed from the rural south to midwestern Kansasmarker and Missourimarker.

Peter Bogdanovich also decided to change the name of the film. While selecting music for the film, he heard the song It's Only a Paper Moon (by Billy Rose, Yip Harburg, and Harold Arlen). Seeking advice from his close friend and mentor Orson Welles, Bogdanovich listed Paper Moon as a possible alternative. Welles responded — "That title is so good, you shouldn't even make the picture, you should just release the title!" Director of photography László Kovács used a red filter on the camera on Welles' advice. Bogdanovich also used deep focus cinematography and extended takes in the film.


Tatum O'Neal won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Addie. She is the youngest winner in the history of the Academy Awards. Madeline Kahn was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress but lost to Tatum that year. Since O'Neal's win, other child actors such as Haley Joel Osment, Abigail Breslin, and Saoirse Ronan have gone on to earn nominations, with some, like Anna Paquin, even winning the award.


Popular culture

References to Paper Moon have appeared in several different popular media. In The Great Money Caper, an episode of The Simpsons that shares a similar plot to the movie, it is referred to when Homer Simpson and Bart Simpson try to trick Ned Flanders into receiving a fake Bible by saying that his deceased wife, Maude ordered it before she died. This prompts Ned to say after a few moments, "Wait a minute, this sounds like that movie Paper Moon...".

In a parody in Mad Magazine, there is an introductory speech hypothetically delivered by Ryan O'Neal, expressing the magazine's opinion of the movie: that nepotism prompted O'Neal to cast his daughter.

The song lyrics for "Sitting on a Paper Moon" by The Pillows from their album White Incarnation are based on the movie.


  1. Canby review
  2. Ebert review
  3. Jeff Stafford, Paper Moon, Turner Classic Movies article, October, 2006

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