Reflecting on Samantha

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983.

This post is the last in a series of retrospectives, all written in January 2015.

To some, Samantha might have been a pawn for propaganda between the two superpowers of the Cold War. But to others, such as myself, she is a hero. She showed that even the youth can make a difference in this world. It is sad to note that only a few remember/know this story. We need someone like her, in these troubled days. It’s hard to believe that 25 years have passed since she died.

– 15-year-old me, 2010

The passage above came from the archived comments section of the Evening Magazine excerpt from 1985 detailing Samantha’s short life and death (the video is no longer available). Since then, the site dedicated to her legacy has gotten a makeover, more videos of/about her have emerged, people have talked about her in multiple Reddit threads, and her story was adapted for a fictional novel with mixed reviews.

The comment, along with a letter I wrote two years ago, has led me to yet again reflect on Samantha’s life, keeping in mind everything I have learned while preparing the retrospectives since January. This is closure on my part, realizing the circumstances of her significance while learning from it, in doing so letting go of a piece of my youth. Criticism perhaps, but more of hindsight.

Was Samantha’s story only the result of forces beyond her control?

There is no denying that the Soviet leadership in 1983 under Andropov saw her and her letter as an opportunity to pull off the peace trump card. With the stagnation under Leonid Brezhnev and the early 1980s recession (affecting not only the Soviet Union, but also US and the rest of the world), the Soviet Union could hardly compete in the arms race with the United States. It needed a respite from the rising tensions due to the war rhetoric.

However, this does not mean Andropov was the kind of man who would avoid violence and embrace peace: his Wikipedia article details his involvement in crushing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the 1968 Prague Spring, in suppressing dissidence in the Soviet Union, and in insisting on the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan. Andropov had to sell out with regard to addressing Samantha’s fears of a nuclear war. Anyway, the Soviet leadership would not be able to maintain good PR as a result of Samantha’s letter and visit. Only a month later, it was in hot water for shooting down Korean Air Lines Flight 007.

Samantha’s background also helped explain her prominence. Her ordinariness (yes, that’s a word) was part of her appeal. She was not a prodigy, but was simply concerned. She wasn’t from the capital of the USA, she wasn’t even from the capital of Maine (though she lived near it). Then again, she came from a white middle-class American family. If it were someone from a black, Asian or a Native American lower class background, I believe the appeal would have been less. However, even race and economic stature are factors Samantha had little control of.

Ultimately, looking at only the structural aspects would deny the agency and free will she had exercised in the two years since writing to Andropov. She could have just ignored her mother’s “Why don’t you?” when she asked why no one asked the then-new Soviet premier if his country would launch a nuclear war or not. After all, she got nothing but a form letter the last time she wrote to a world leader. When her letter was published on the Soviet newspaper Pravda, she could have just simply acknowledged it rather than writing to the Soviet embassy in the US asking whether or not Andropov would reply to her. (Even in the first letter, her persistence in getting a reply is shown by the often-omitted postscript: “Please write back.” Yet, she is given less credit than she deserves.)

How does understanding a people help in bringing about peace?

Critics have faulted Samantha for believing that the “Russians are just like [Americans]”, saying that she should have realized that the Soviet leadership were “cruel, ruthless men who…are doing their best to extirpate them from the face of the earth” (AIM Report 1983).

I believe that a distinction must be made about the people and their leaders. The latter have a political obligation to the former, and that the ruled must keep the ruler in check. Samantha’s trip allowed her to see that the Soviet people wanted peace. The next steps should have been to show the people that their government was accountable to them, that the people should sway their leaders and not be swayed by them, and after doing so, to pressure the leadership to work towards genuine peace, not just rhetoric.

Had she survived the plane crash, would Samantha still have served as a goodwill ambassador through adulthood?

I have often thought about going to the past in a DeLorean to warn her and her father not to board the small plane and to stay there to ensure her safety. However, if there’s anything Back to the Future taught me, it’s not to mess with time. Besides, we are no closer to time travel as we are to hoverboards.

Kidding aside, I don’t know. Samantha simply did not have the opportunity to reflect on her role as a goodwill ambassador and decide whether or not she would continue to be defined by that moniker for the rest of her days (a midlife crisis, maybe). She spoke of being tired of talking about peace all the time (Citizen Diplomats). But I believe she was just experiencing burnout. I think she pursued acting not as a result of a long-thought out decision but because of the need to escape from the role she was typecast-ed on.

Can something new still be said about Samantha?

Yes. Discussions about her need not be confined to her being a propaganda pawn, or to the circumstances of her death. Peacock (2008) compared and contrasted the Soviet and American images of the child and how these functioned in the Cold War, concluding with Samantha to show how her Soviet and American identities differed from one another (particularly p. 343-350). Gill (2012) used Samantha’s story to understand “how the question of truth remained a powerful weapon for everyday citizens and state powers until the very end of the Cold War” (p. 27-28; part about Samantha at p. 67-71).

Nothing has also been said about the influence of Catholic values to Samantha. (I think she was Catholic; her memorial service was held in a Catholic church in Augusta.) [UPDATE (25 November 2016): Victor Matrosov comments below this post that Samantha was not Catholic.]

The often-quoted version of her letter omits the following lines: “God made the world for us to share and take care of. Not to fight over or have one group of people own it all. Please lets do what [He] wanted and have [everybody] be happy too.”

Do we still need her?

Yes. In times of conflict, which never seems to go away, people will look back at her outcry and plea for peace and understanding and echo them. Otherwise, her tragedy will always remind people of the ability to accomplish a lot in only a short period of time, and hopefully inspire them to do well in any endeavor (or put them at least in a philosophical quandary).

Multiple Sides, Different Views of Samantha’s Story

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983. This post is the fifth in a series of retrospectives, which will run until August 2015, the 30th anniversary of her death, along with her father Arthur and six others, in a plane crash in August 1985.

Today’s retrospective presents different views of Samantha Smith – her life, the context, and the circumstances behind her letter to Yuri Andropov and subsequent popularity – both in favor and against. These interpretations are from people with different levels of prominence and influence (from world leaders, commentators, and ordinary people). This isn’t an attempt to cover all views, mainly only English ones. If I may have missed one article, if you translated one non-English opinion, or if you wish to share your views on the matter, feel free to comment on this post.

Bridge between two peoples and capability to influence events

After Andropov replied to Samantha’s letter in 1983, the Chicago Tribune published a letter to the editor by Stuart Oliver of Oakland, where he wrote that Samantha’s letter and Andropov’s reply could signal the start of a new relationship between the two superpowers, particularly people-to-people. He even asked her to write another letter, this time to Soviet children, urging them to write to US President Reagan about their feelings on war and peace.

When Samantha died in 1985, then-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wrote to Jane Smith, Samantha’s mother, that the Soviet people would remember Samantha as the American girl who yearned for peace and friendship between the peoples of the USA and the USSR. Reflecting 30 years after Samantha’s trip to the Soviet Union at the invitation of his mentor Yuri Andropov, Gorbachev said (in the article by Lena Nelson, webmaster of SamanthaSmith.info):

“I was very concerned at the time with what was happening,…and once I assumed the post of the General Secretary I immediately set out to renew contacts at the highest level. During his second presidential term, Ronald Reagan too understood that it was best to go down in history as someone who stood for peace, rather than for war.”

Once, during one of the summits, Gorbachev recalls telling Reagan: “Mr. President, I have a feeling that our people have a better grasp of the situation and are able to come to an understanding sooner than you and I can. If this continues, they will fire us.”

In 1996, attorney Edgar Heiskell III (also a family friend of the Smiths and was a member of the Advisory Board of the Samantha Smith Foundation) said that Samantha demonstrated the ability of individuals have the ability to influence world events, “[serving] as a catalyst to the whole dialogue between the Soviets and the Americans, which led to the Reagan-Gorbachev summit.”

This was also a point raised by Josie Huang, writing twenty years after Samantha’s trip to the Soviet Union, adding that both Samantha’s admirers and critics could agree to this and that her visit “served as a precursor to glasnost, the official Soviet policy of ‘openness’.” Huang then mentioned the opinions of different people, all positive with some negative ones tempering through time:

“The public images of the Soviet Union and United States began to improve dramatically” after her visit, said Andrew Kuchins, head of the Russian and Eurasian program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, D.C. “She might have unexpectedly been a harbinger of things to come.”

“I think her legacy was not just for good relations between the United States and the Soviet Union” but for peace in general, said George Mitchell, the former U.S. Senate majority leader from Maine, who promoted better relations with the Soviets after Samantha’s death.

“While adversaries of change and issues have changed, there is still a hope and desire to have peace among people and not just in this country,” Mitchell said.

Comparisons to Samantha’s work have been made to Seeds of Peace, a program that brings teenagers from Israel, Palestine and other hot spots in the world to work out conflicts in Otisfield.

Indeed, John Wallach, the late founder of Seeds of Peace, liked to call Samantha part of Maine’s peace heritage, along with Mitchell and former U.S. Sen. Edmund Muskie.

Similarly, peace activists have made her a role model, making her statue a stopping point during peace rallies against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

Everyone – from students at Samantha Smith Elementary School in Sammamish, Wash., to high-powered leaders of humanitarian groups and people who remember her exploits – calls her an inspiration.

“I look at Samantha Smith as the child who says the emperor’s not really wearing any clothes,” said Tandy Ratliff, a 32-year-old mother of two from South Portland who, inspired by Samantha, traveled to the Soviet Union as a teenager.

“She was saying the Soviet Union’s not really evil and everybody else said, ‘Maybe, she’s right.'”

There is still debate about whether Samantha was exploited by government operatives from either of the countries.

That was the mindset of Andrij Krockhmaluk of Richmond, a first-generation Ukrainian-American whose father, a journalist and publisher, was imprisoned by the Soviet government.

Krockhmaluk was certain Samantha’s visit was a public relations stunt set up by the Communists to showcase an “openness that didn’t exist” and overshadow the oppression faced by peasants.

But time has tempered his opinion. “She was a lovable young lady and if she won over a few hearts, more power to her,” said Krockhmaluk, now 58.

Kuchins, who was a graduate student when Samantha visited the Soviet Union, agreed: “At the time, I shared the cynical view that she was being used principally by the Soviets for propaganda. But on the other hand she’s so cute and attractive and it was such a nice story, who cares? She transcended the propaganda.”

Bonnye Good wrote in a Suite.io article in 2012/2013 that Samantha’s letter could not have come at a better time, “as both American and Soviet leaders privately exhibited interest in lessening the Cold War’s chilling effects during the 1980s, but public rhetoric heightened concerns that war could happen.” She added that, “unexpectedly benefiting public relations”, the heartfelt sentiment in Samantha’s letter warmed the impressions the citizens of the USA had on that of the USSR and vice-versa. Finally, she concluded that Samantha’s story served as a reminder that children willing to keep track of world events and ask important questions could accomplish beneficial work.

Propaganda stunt and childish delusion for peace

Cartoon by Jim Borgman, 1983

Criticisms of Samantha and the Soviet leadership were not only conveyed in text, but through visuals as well. This editorial cartoon, by Jim Borgman of the Cincinnati Enquirer, is one example. The Political Cartoons section of the SamanthaSmith.info archive includes other editorial cartoons, some of them with a similar premise to the one in the image (source).

Citizen Diplomats by Gale Warner and Michael Shuman, published in 1987, recounts criticisms of Samantha and the Soviet Union’s motives behind the letter.

But even as millions of people on both sides of the Cold War…falling in love with Samantha, others were plainly irritated by this…squeak who had dared infiltrate the adult world of diplomacy. [Even]…the staff writers of People Magazine were scrambling to get to [Manchester]…and find out the names of Samantha’s dog and cats, scores of [editors]…chastised the American people for being duped into believing that…[Andropov’s] message might be sincere.

While no editorialists went so far as to suggest that Samantha…was devious,the Soviets were castigated for taking advantage [of]…Samantha’s naiveté. U.S. News and World Report ran a story by [Nicholas] Daniloff bluntly headlined: “Samantha Smith: Pawn in Propaganda [War]”. Opined the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “Although the letter surely [provided] Samantha with an enormous thrill, it nevertheless was a [manipulative] and exploitative thing to do to an innocent ten-year-old.” A [Japanese] newspaper cartoon portrayed Samantha as Little Red Riding Hood and Andropov as the Wicked Wolf.

The entire correspondence. went a prevailing theory, had [been orchestrated] by the Soviets to help lull the American people into [believing] that the Soviets desire peace, while designs to take over the world pro…apce within the Kremlin. Some speculated that the letter and [invitation] were the results of months of planning: KGB agents snooping at Maine had profiled the Smiths. decided that Samantha had just the combination of poise, pulchritude, and peaceful rhetoric. and then…word to pluck her letter from the pile. Others took a less extreme…saying that the Soviets had probably had nothing so grandiose in…when they first printed Samantha’s letter in Pravda, but, noting…Western press’s response to the letter’s publication, had smelled a…public-relations move, and were simply lucky to have picked a [child]…capable of handling the media blitz. (p.16)

After Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down in September 1983, the AIM Report criticized Samantha’s visit to the Soviet Union for failing to “accurately” understand the mentality of Soviet leaders (This criticism is similar to Claren 2003, detailed later):

The little Maine schoolgirl, Samatha Smith, was invited to the Soviet Union after the Kremlin propagandists decided to use her letter to dictator Yuri Andropov to demonstrate how the Soviet Union loves peace. Young Samantha’s red carpet tour was given extensive media coverage in this country even though the American reporters in the USSR understood very well that it was all carefully orchestrated to serve the ends of Soviet propaganda. The message was that the Russians are just like us. This is phoney understanding. The tours of the New England newspaper editors and Samantha Smith did nothing to help them understand the mentality that led to the Korean Airlines massacre. Indeed. the opposite was true. What we need is greater understanding that the Soviet Union is ruled by men who are not just like us. They are cruel, ruthless men who don’t share our [Judeo-Christian] values. On the contrary, they are doing their best to extirpate them from the face of the earth. Talking to them will never alter that. Ostracizing them and neutralizing their propaganda machine might.

After the publication of Journey to the Soviet Union in early 1985, Susan Stobaugh of The Boston Phoenix wrote that there was “something wrong with adults who think any child has a contribution…to complex issues of foreign relations,” writing sarcastically:

If one needed further proof that Smith hasn’t much to contribute to the debate on foreign affairs, simply look at her book’s descriptions of life inside Russia. I bet there are a lot of Jewish kids or peasant kids or just plain kids in that country who’d be delighted to know that talent is the ticket into the posh Soviet resort where Smith spent a week. Naturally, it has noting to do with whether your parents are high muck a mucks in the Communist Party. And that Yuri Andropov, he’s a nice guy, too. He told Samantha that Russians want to cooperate with all their neighbors, with those far away and those nearby. I know that will be good news to the Afghanis. I’m sorry Father Popieluszko [of Solidarność in Poland] isn’t alive to hear it (links supplied).

In Useful Idiots: How Liberals Got It Wrong in the Cold War and Still Blame America First (excerpt available here), Mona Claren (2003) criticized Ellen Goodman’s article from 1985 praising Samantha’s directness in writing to Andropov, “before diplomacy breeds directness out of them, before cynicism and a sense of powerlessness sets in” (Goodman’s words). Claren argued that many American wishful thinkers failed to shed this “childish sense of directness” and recognize the necessity “to protect oneself with weapons against those who have evil intentions,” instead “preferring to call self-delusion and childishness ‘idealism’.” She also dismissed the notion that the Cold War occurred because of “misunderstandings” between the two sides, but because “the Soviets were aggressive and predatory, and the United States (along with its allies) sought to thwart it” (compare with the AIM Report from two decades earlier, detailed earlier).

Finally, Claren contrasted Samantha with that of Irina Tarnopolsky:

Samantha Smith had one more imitator, but this one did not get worldwide attention and acclaim. Irina Tarnopolsky, age twelve, heard about Andropov’s correspondence with the American girl, and was inspired to write a letter of her own to the Soviet leader. She wrote to Yuri Andropov pleading for him to release her father from prison. Yuri Tarnopolsky, a research chemist who taught at Krasnoyarsk, had applied for an exit visa for himself, his wife, and their daughter. Permission was refused and Tarnopolsky was dismissed from his position as a professor. Tarnopolsky then joined other Soviet Jews in agitating for freedom of emigration. He also smuggled out a book of poetry which was published in France. At this, he was arrested and sentenced to three years in a labor camp for “slandering the Soviet system.” He was also accused of “parasitism” by the KGB — for being out of work.

Irina never became an international celebrity.

In reviewing Elliot Holt‘s You Are One of Them, Jesse Baron of the New York Observer wrote briefly of Samantha, “By the time of her death, Ms. Smith had already started to seem like a younger Rachel Corrie, naïve and overprivileged, with good intentions but no clue.”

Some ordinary Americans also wrote letters to the Smiths warning them against the Soviets’ motives. Citizen Diplomats recalls one such letter, from a “Mrs. John Smith,” with no return address:

You lovely, sweet people must wake up and smell the coffee! You are all as gullible as two-year-olds taking candy from strangers. The Russians say the word ‘peace’ and you grab at it, and at them, like candy. Yes, they want peace – but how? Under their terms! They want to dominate the world and that includes us. Doesn’t that frighten you? They will never change. They have used you poor people and my heart aches for you because you have been so blind (p. 25).

Role in ending the Cold War?

With the end of the Cold War coming only a few years after Samantha’s letter, opinion on her role in it is similarly mixed. In April 2014, RchrdStvr posted in the Science Philosophy Chat Forums, “By opening the door to discussion, an act of diplomacy Reagan refused to consider, 10 year old Samantha brought out the human side of Andropov and effectively ended the cold war.” Replies to the topic, however, have ranged from pointing to other reasons (i.e. the Soviet Union not being able to keep up with the arms race) to the lack of both research and analysis with the argument.

Several comments in the Yahoo! feature (archived here) placing Samantha side by side with other “unlikely foreign ambassadors” such as Dennis Rodman (to North Korea), Sean Penn (to Haiti), and George Clooney (to Darfur) dismissed the possibility Samantha may have contributed in ending the Cold War:

Comment A: I never saw Smith as having anything to do with ending the cold war.

B: Samantha Smith helped end The Cold War? Please!

C: This chick had absolutely zero to do with the “thawing” of the Cold War. The “thawing” occured for one reason, and one reason only…..Ronald Reagan. These Liberal pinheads are revolting.

D: She had nothing to do nor did anyone else have anything really to do with ending the Cold War. We outspent the USSR in the arms race, that’s the only reason.

E: This is feel good stuff, this girl had NOTHING to do with the end of the cold war.

F: We all know who really helped to thaw the Cold War. Ronald [Reagan] and his no-nonsense hardball style diplomacy, and Gorbachev trying to bribe Russians with just enough freedom to satisfy them, yet keep himself in power.

G: Samantha Smith’s letter did absolutely nothing to thaw the cold war. What it did was to briefly catapult her into the spotlight that indirectly led to her own death and that of her father. Yes, the death of any little girl is tragic. No, she left no legacy on the world stage, however the media might want to make it sound that way.

Samantha on herself

A year after her Soviet Union trip, Samantha said, “I never thought it would result in all this….I hope it’s done some good for our country. Otherwise, it’s been a lot of fun traveling.”

In April 1985, Gale Warner asked Samantha and her parents their opinions on the issues raised above. These were eventually documented in the chapter about her in Citizen Diplomats. Regarding accusations that she was a propaganda pawn, Samantha said:

Well, I think they were using me. but it was propaganda for peace. I mean, what were they doing it for, so that they could have a war? It doesn’t exactly fit together. So it was propaganda for peace, to get me over there so I could see what it was like, and come back and tell people how nice it was. (p. 17)

Recounting when people ask her whether the whole thing was set up, she replied:

Well, of course they did. I mean, what are they going to do, show me the grossest parts of all, or just let me wander around on my own. Of course not. If I had a new friend come over to my house, I wouldn’t take them down in the basement where it was all cluttered. Here [is] an invitation from the Soviet premier, and what are they supposed to do, tell me to get lost or something? I’m sure they’re going to say, here are some tickets, go have a good time, ‘bye. (p. 19, italics not mine, but from source text)

What I would have asked Samantha

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983.

This post is not part of the series of retrospectives which started in January 2015 and will run until August this year. The next part of the series will appear next month.

The previous retrospectives about Samantha have been heavy and serious. So, on the occasion of her birth month, I decided to write something less heavy-handed: a compilation of trivial questions that I would have asked her. By trivial, I mean the really pointless questions that don’t have anything to do with her exercise in children’s diplomacy.

Disclaimer: This is my attempt to make a meme out of a 13-year-old who died 30 years ago. My apologies. (The Russians have been doing the same thing for some time now though.)

1) Were you ambidextrous or were you only left-handed? What issues did you encounter because of being left-handed?

Source video

Here’s proof. (Source video)

2) What inspired you to get a new hairstyle by the summer of 1985? (What do you call that anyway?)

It's not bad though, compared to these (Source video - Lime Street).

It’s not bad though, compared to these (Source video – Lime Street).

3) What did you think of New Coke?

coca-cola-manchester-ss

Inspired by this picture (Source, in turn from this)

4) What game did you have in your Game & Watch?

game

Donkey Kongmaybe? (Source)

5) What music did you listen to?

barbiemag

Did you hear “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” or “Take On Me” while you were in London? (They were released earlier in the UK than in the US, where they ranked high in the Billboard Hot 100 after August). If yes, did you like them (cause I do)? (Source)

6) Were you Catholic? I assumed you were because your funeral service was held in a Catholic Church?

7) Had you considered going to space?

Spacepeople

Did that thought come to you after meeting the first woman in space and the first American to orbit the earth/oldest person in space? (Source of images: left, right)

8) Why did Andropov’s copy of your letter differ from the version published in your book Journey to the Soviet Union?

Letter

Left: Samantha’s letter from the Russian Federal Archive Agency, image released last year with Andropov’s other papers (Source, in turn from this) Right: As it appears in Journey to the Soviet Union

Lime Street

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983. This post is the fourth in a series of retrospectives, which will run until August 2015, the 30th anniversary of her death, along with her father Arthur and six others, in a plane crash in August 1985.

Bangor Daily News - August 21, 1985

This article from the Maine-based Bangor Daily News dated August 21, 1985 is currently the last that appeared before Samantha’s death (Source) . The two pictures of Samantha shows how much she had aged in only two years. Either that or she opted for a more mature look thanks to Hollywood. Lastly, Lime Street was not a sitcom.

Samantha began appearing in American television soon after the Soviet Communist newspaper Pravda published her letter in April 1983. She was interviewed on Nightline, CBS Morning News, The Today Show (source), and the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (still waiting for that on the Johnny Carson YouTube account). She also appeared on a Disney Channel special where she interviewed candidates aspiring for the Democratic Party nomination for the 1984 US presidential election. However, this stint drained her interest in journalism, so she turned to other things instead, including acting (Source, page 22). She made her acting debut as a minor character in Charles in Charge in the fall of 1984. But the opportunity to make an acting breakthrough came to her on 1985.

Wikipedia notes that there are two versions how Samantha was cast into Lime Street:

[One] story states that she had caught the attention of [Linda] Bloodworth-Thomason in early 1985 when the latter’s brother-in-law spotted her on a talk show and suggested that she might fit the role of the elder daughter in the series, at that time known as J.G. Culver (People, 3 June 1985). Another suggests that [Robert] Wagner, who had first seen her on The Tonight Show, called her up, asking her to audition for the role (People, 9 September 1985).

Douglas Snauffer’s The Show Must Go On cites an account by executive producer Harry Thomason, which differs from those earlier cited but seems to merge them together:

My brother…saw Samantha on the central time-zone airing of The Tonight Show and knew we were casting. He called us in California and said, “Here’s a little girl you should look at.” So we watched her that night on The Tonight Show and were very impressed. We then flew Samantha out and auditioned her. We thought she was wonderful, and ABC agreed, so we put her in the show (p. 143).

Finally, Samantha had her own account on how she landed the role. Peter Jackson of the Associated Press wrote on August 1985:

Samantha said she tried out for the part at the invitation of the show’s writer, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who had seen Samantha on the “Today” show. “I thought I did really terrible,” she said of the tryout. “I was almost in tears. When Linda came over though, she told me hat I had the series.”

Samantha’s father Arthur said to Time in March 1985 that he approved of the role after meeting Wagner and finding him to be a pleasant low-key family man. In August 1985 (shortly before her death), Samantha said that “Wagner was lots of fun to be with. It’s easier to work with someone who knows what he’s doing. He was really like my own father. He helped me and Maia [Brewton, who played the younger daughter,] out a lot, giving up tips on acting. He’s a sweet man, great with kids.”

Samantha played the role of Elizabeth Culver, the elder daughter of J.G. Culver, played by Wagner. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the show’s co-producer and writer, described Elizabeth as “an old-fashioned kind of girl, nothing Cyndi Lauperish, who is polite, well-read and aware of something in the world besides MTV.” The pilot was filmed in March 1985. When asked by Gale Warner, author of Citizen Diplomats (p. 22), whether she wanted it to become a series, she replied “Yeah, I really like California.” Her father Arthur said that Los Angeles was not what people expected it to be, “Everyone we met there was very down-to-earth, very reasonable, very real.” ABC eventually picked up the show for its fall 1985 season. Speaking to Bangor Daily News shortly before she died, Samantha described being in Hollywood as “great fun. It’s easy to get around. You can walk everywhere.”

Lime Street was shot on location in Virginia and in London. The latter allowed Samantha to appear in BBC’s Breakfast Time to promote Lime Street (User newdonia‘s “About Me” on YouTube, which has disappeared since the latest YouTube redesign, recalls this guesting). She had been in London with her father for eight days before going home to Maine on August 25, 1985.

Everyone who was part of the show were all praises for Samantha’s performance (her parts may be viewed here). A People magazine article from May 1985 goes:

The two-hour pilot has already been shot, and cast and crew alike were bowled over by Smith’s charm. Predicts the show’s co-producer and writer, Linda Bloodworth, “I think she’s going to be President in a couple of minutes.”

After Samantha’s death, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason said that while she had her doubts when Wagner asked Samantha to audition for the role, she “immediately fell in love with her [upon speaking to her]. She told me that her dog had just had puppies and she didn’t know if she would come out. That was exactly what we wanted, that kind of quality.”

Lime Street - Robert Wagner, Maia Brewton

Image from the set of Lime Street after Samantha’s death. Caption from People, 11 November 1985 read: “Director Ray Austin rehearses with Wagner and Maia. “The first day was very hard for her,” says Lime Street co-producer Linda Bloodworth.” (Source)

Speaking to The Daily Mail, Wagner said, “Samantha was a special girl. We fell in love with her the first time she walked on the set.” (According to an article from the magazine GQ in March 1986, “Wagner was adamant [regarding the debate whether or not to replace Samantha]; you don’t replace people he told network executives.) Actor John Standing said that she was the most enchanting sweet girl and had great potential as an actress. Thomason likewise said that she was destined to be a major talent.

Those who have seen the show also gave positive comments about Samantha’s foray into acting. Wikipedia quotes John Leonard of the magazine New York, “…Samantha was wonderful – gawky but sincere, life-loving, a saint with bangs….” Reviewing the series 20 years after it aired, F Gwynplaine MacIntyre from the Internet Movie Database said, “The ensuing publicity got her cast in ‘Lime Street’, but it was no stunt casting: she shows real talent and presence here, as well as being photogenic, and could have had an impressive acting career.”

However, like its fallen star, Lime Street had its critics. The title of the review by Bill Kelley of Sun-Sentinel from September 20, 1985 was “Originality Not Found On ‘Lime Street’.” Kelley goes on:

Each season, the networks try to satisfy this audience with new shows that can sarcastically be described as “the same, but different“ — familiar enough not to send shock waves through Middle America but not so trite that viewers will mistake them for a 5-year-old, syndicated rerun. The leader in delivering such shows is ABC; one of the masters at starring in them is Robert Wagner.

Apart from the fact that the pilot devotes a large volume of boring time to depicting Wagner`s J.G. Culver character as a doting father, there is virtually nothing to separate Lime Street from such Wagner series as It Takes a Thief, Switch or Hart to Hart. He`s still a devilish rascal with a sly grin . . . and a firm moral code. The series pins its hopes squarely on the TV audience`s fondness for the Wagner they have come to know over the years, rather than on plot turns or originality (Source).

Suffering from an unattractive Saturday night time slot, Lime Street also suffered a beating from NBC’s The Golden Girlswhich started airing a week earlier (and in 1987, would have an episode inspired by Samantha’s letter to Andropov). By November 1985, Lime Street‘s producers pulled the show from ABC, hoping that the network would give it “a more favorable time slot on a different day” (People, November 1985). Alas, this was not meant to be. According to an article from GQ in March 1986:

Late in the fall, ABC was taken over by Capital Cities Communications, and Brandon Stoddard replaced Lew Erlicht as entertainment president. Wagner was optimistic, since he was indeed much closer to Stoddaid than to Erlicht, the man who had yanked Hart to Hart [Wagner’s last series with ABC before Lime Street, running from 1979-1985] off the air. Yet there is an article of faith in Hollywood among network presidents: Thou shalt not pursue thy predecessor’s troubles. Stoddard had some misgivings about the show and didn’t feel he could offer Wagner a plummy time slot. Still, out of respect for Wagner’s performances he left the final decision up to R. J. Wagner, who, shrewd enough to know when to fold his cards, did so. As Wagner sums up, “It would be like playing, out of town over and over again.”

I recommend the GQ magazine article cited above and Douglas Snauffer’s The Show Must Go On for more information about the production of Lime Street. Note that I have been careful not to comment on the series until I have seen it for myself. I have read from a YouTube comment by tracy80sgirl that Wagner does not want it released on DVD. After reading about the show’s misfortunes, I think I understand why.

If Facebook existed in the 1980s, how would Samantha’s timeline have looked like?

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983. This post is the third in a series of retrospectives, which will run until August 2015, the 30th anniversary of her death, along with her father Arthur and six others, in a plane crash in August 1985.

I saw this page while I was surfing the Internet for articles that could be added to the SamanthaSmith.info archive. Apparently made by an eighth grade student of a school in Maine as part of their class’ “Famous Mainers” project in 2010, the page made me curious what Samantha would have posted had Facebook existed in the 1980s. I believe the student did a good job, but I would like to add to it. (Not making a mockup though, leaving that to someone more skillful.)

Samantha continued to talk about peace and her trip to the Soviet Union in numerous speaking engagements in her country (The Citizen Diplomats chapter earlier linked describes one event) and beyond (in Japan, where she proposed a “granddaughter exchange” by 2001). Had Facebook existed, she may have posted about them as well, probably over and over again. Then again, she probably would not have. By 1985, she was getting weary about it, being quoted in People:

“I urge peace. I’m against all bombs and the MX missile, but I don’t talk about it all day long. In fact,” she adds, sounding like the 12-year-old she is, “I don’t talk about it much at all.”

I’m guessing these posts would have attracted heated comments between critics and admirers (or, haters and fans). Alternately, she could have just limited her timeline to “friends”, and limited “friends” to people she actually knew and interacted with in a daily basis.

Samantha Smith, 1983

If Instagram existed in the 1980s, maybe she would have posted on it too (Source: SamanthaSmith.info, Alamy)

Samantha might have more likely shared pictures of places she had visited, the Soviet Union (in fact, her book might not have been made had Facebook existed back then), Japan, and (thanks to Lime Street) the United Kingdom and Hollywood (in Disneyland maybe?).

She might have also posted some behind-the-scenes shots on Lime Street, or alternately, she might have been tagged to pictures uploaded by others which included her (on talks most likely, maybe also on chance encounters). She might have also shared:

Or, she might have chosen to share plain things: like (a) sleepovers with friends (her “notion of a good time,” from People, 9 September 1985), (b) dislike of homework (from Citizen Diplomatsp. 15), (c) her pets (she had a Chesapeake Bay Retriever for a best friend, from Citizen Diplomatsp. 15; this page also has pictures of her with puppies from winter 1985), (d) or softball.

Yes, Samantha was a softball player; she was a catcher on her team, the Malacites. Her book Journey to the Soviet Union included this passage:

After we got back from California, I had to finish the fifth grade and start practice with my softball team. I played catcher or shortstop on the team and that spring we had a great season. When I tried real hard to hit a home run, I could never do it. Then, when I didn’t think much about it- blam!-I could hit a homer with the bases loaded. It’s hard to relax when everybody is yelling like crazy.

Had Facebook existed in the 1983, I believed this anecdote would have appeared on her timeline instead of on her book. It just seemed out-of-place on the latter.

What Samantha might have posted had Facebook existed in her time would have been similar to what her peers might have done, and what 11-13-year-olds do today. Ultimately, she was an “ordinary” girl (at least among Americans), who was thrust into the limelight under “extraordinary” circumstances.

The Samantha Smith Foundation/Center

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983. This post is the second in a series of retrospectives, which will run until August 2015, the 30th anniversary of her death, along with her father Arthur and six others, in a plane crash in August 1985.

The real important thing is to make Samantha’s life valuable by moving on to this new step. And most of all, it’s a way for me to keep in touch with both of them. – Jane Smith (Picture Week, September 30, 1985).

The Samantha Smith Foundation was established five months after Samantha and her father died in a plane crash in August 1985. Setting up shop in Hallowell, Maine, it initially utilized donations from people touched by Samantha’s story and funds from sources like the Rockefeller Family Fund, the Charles Revson Foundation (Source), the United States Information Agency, among others. By 1989, the foundation had been renamed to the Samantha Smith Center.

Jane Smith and Katya Lycheva

Jane Smith with Katya Lycheva, the Soviets’ response to Samantha Smith, in 1986 during the Goodwill Games (Source, in turn from RIA Novosti/Sputnik News)

The Foundation initially focused on Soviet-American children exchanges. A 1987 article by Bunny McBride closed with the following words: “The Samantha Smith Foundation is unusual among citizen diplomat organizations in that it focuses on tomorrow’s leaders – children. And it is unique in that Samantha left it with an unusually open door to the Soviet Union.”

In July 1986, it sponsored the trip to the Soviet Union of Samantha’s friends and classmates in time for the Goodwill Games (video 1 in Russian/ longer video 2). The following year, it sponsored Soviet children in a two-week visit to the United States (documented in the October/November 1987 issue of the Foundation’s Samagram). In summer 1989, the now-Center sponsored 52 Americans to the Soviet Union and 56 Soviets to Maine in the United States; in summer 1990, 100 Americans and 200 Soviets, including those affected by Chernobyl in 1986. (The Newsletters section of the SamanthaSmith.info archives include pictures, stories, and testimonials by youth delegates from both sides.) The Center partnered with various camps throughout the United States to accommodate Soviet delegates, while American delegates were hosted mainly in Artek (but in 1990, other hosts included Orlyonok and the Bolshoi Camp).

In addition, the Center in 1988 began setting up the Samantha Smith WorldPeace Camp in Poland Spring, Maine. The camp completed its first season in the summer of 1989, with 170 campers, 20 of whom from the Soviet Union. (According to Lurningcurve from Reddit, the camp was renamed the “OMNI Camp” and later, “Camp North Star“.)

In 1991, the Center began a Job Shadow Program, aimed at immersing mostly Russian citizens with the free market by bringing them to Maine and assigning them to mentors in different businesses for four to six weeks. That year, the Center organized a business delegation that studied the possibility of expanding the program and visited Moscow. The program continued in 1992 and 1993.

Jane Smith, Samantha’s mother, chaired the foundation and worked on it full-time at the height of its operations. Among others, the board of directors included Maine politicians Severin Beliveau and James Tierney, first women’s Olympic marathon runner champion Joan Benoit Samuelson (whose blueberry jam named “Joanie’s Jam for Sam” served as one of the foundation’s fundraisers), publisher Margarett “Peggy” Pusch, and camp director Jean McMullan. The WorldPeace camp had a separate board, but some of its members were also part of the Center’s board.

The foundation also had an advisory board composed of, among others, television producer Al Burton (Charles in Charge), philanthropist Laura Chasin, psychologist Matina Horner, actor Robert Wagner and his third wife, actress Jill St. John, political scientist Robert Legvold, astronomer Carl Sagan (yes, that Carl Sagan), and child psychologist Lee Salk (who wrote the introduction for Samantha’s book Journey to the Soviet Union). The advisory board eventually included some former members of the Center’s board.

The Foundation/Center was not spared from challenges. Financial difficulties would come up repeatedly. Competition was another issue: with the improvement of US-USSR relations in the mid-1980s, other organizations also conducting youth exchanges started emerging. By the mid-1990s, the Foundation stopped running its own programs. A 2003 USA Today article quoted Donna Brunstad, formerly the Foundation’s executive director, as saying, “Nothing slowed down, the world just changed. When that happened, we did not go out for grants any more. I think the work that it was originally formed to do has been done.”

Additional reading: Jane Smith wrote in 1993 a message summing up the Center’s programs for its first eight years (1985-1993).

What could have been had Samantha Smith lived?

Samantha Smith (1972-1985) was known as “America’s young ambassador for goodwill” for bridging the two sides of the Cold War through her 1982 letter to then-Soviet leader Yuri Andropov (1914-1984) where she asked him whether his country would launch a nuclear war, his April 1983 reply assuring her that the country would not and inviting her to come to the Soviet Union to “see for [herself that] in the Soviet Union, everyone is for peace and friendship among peoples,” which she and her family accepted and undertook in July 1983. This post is a first of a series of retrospectives, which will run until August 2015, the 30th anniversary of her death, along with her father Arthur and six others, in a plane crash in August 1985.

Samantha may not have lived to use a smartphone or a tablet, but at least she was able to play on what appears to be a Nintendo Game and Watch. She probably got it in Japan in 1983 during her visit there. (Photo from the Disney Channel special she hosted in 1984).

There have been guesses on what could have happened to Samantha Smith if not for that fatal plane crash in August 1985. In the interview for Citizen Diplomats (1987) in April 1985, she said, “If my acting career doesn’t follow me, I’ll probably become a free-lance photographer.” She herself said to a reporter a month later, “When I am 16, I want to get my driver’s license. After that, who knows?” Before her letter was published on the Pravda, she wanted to be a veterinarian (also from Citizen Diplomats).

In a USA Today article from 2003, her mother Jane said “She thought she wanted to be a veterinarian and a ballet dancer, even though she had never taken a ballet lesson.” Reflecting on the 30th anniversary of Samantha’s trip (in 2013), former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said that Samantha could have been an active participant in social change. Elliot Holt’s novel You Are One of Them has a character based on Samantha who is suggested to have defected to Russia instead of dying. Other people have thought that Samantha could have (1) become a US President, a Senator, as a politician or diplomat (2) become an activist for nuclear disarmament, (3) fade in obscurity before re-emerging as an adult “with more solid, realistic ideas on maintaining as peaceful a world as possible,” and (4) even join of the Communist Party of the USA (eventually becoming as the US’s first Communist president).

Alternate history writers have also speculated on this, not only changing Samantha’s fate but also the larger context in which she lived. A search in Google yielded the following results:

  • 1983: Doomsday: This alternate universe assumes that an officer other than Russian colonel Stanislav Petrov is stationed in the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow in September 26, 1983. Petrov assumed that the early warning system was faulty. Thus, when the system showed that the United States had launched missiles toward the Soviet Union, he decided not to report it to his superiors. In the Doomsday timeline, the officer at watch assumes the opposite and reports the matter to the higher-ups. The Soviets then launch their entire nuclear arsenal, prompting the Americans to launch theirs as well, leading to what Samantha feared – a nuclear holocaust. However, the Smiths survive and move (back) to Houlton along with what remained of Maine’s state government. Samantha eventually rises into positions in the now-named Aroostook government before becoming its President.
  • 1983 USA in 1873This timeline has the United States sent back from September 3, 1983 to a random date in 1873. DTF955Baseballfan describes that she either (1) gets kidnapped by her stalker, escapes, and brings to light the dangers of stalking, or (2) becomes a role model, appearing as herself in some television shows like Full HouseEventually, DTF955Baseballfan notes that they “leave her with probably a career in journalism, but she was young enough any of a variety of things would be open to her. I can see her doing a number of different careers, depending on what sparks her interest.”
  • A Mirror Reflection: It is unclear when this timeline deviates, but the Soviet Union still exists (this time, as a democratic socialist republic). Here, Samantha gets to interview teacher and astronaut Christa McAuliffe (the space shuttle Challenger accident is butterflied away), continues to be involved in the nuclear disarmament and peace movements, starring in nine seasons of Lime Street, and eventually be appointed by US President Barack Obama as Ambassador to the Soviet Union. (She goes by the name “Samantha Reed Smith-Collins”.)
  • Dirty Laundry: In this timeline by Andrew T, Don Henley fails to include his song “Dirty Laundry” on his 1982 album I Can’t Stand Still. It flops because of this, sending Henley into retirement. On the other hand, Samantha livesLime Street airs an hour later instead of going head-on against The Golden Girls and 227 and becomes a hit. (In reality, Lime Street is cancelled after only a few episodes, with tough competition and Samantha’s death as contributing factors.)
  • Gorbachev MkII: It is also unclear when this timeline, by LacheyS, diverges from reality. Anyway, this timeline has Samantha re-arranging her schedule on Lime Street in August 1985 to allow her to return to the Soviet Union and meet Katya Lycheva. (In reality, Katya visited the US in 1986, after Samantha’s death.) Samantha returns again in October 1987 to endorse Lomonosov State University’s decision to endorse scholarships in Soviet studies for US citizens. She last appears in the timeline in September 1988, where she is present in the audience of an address by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev regarding Soviet relations with the US.
  • Rabbit Stew (1979-2012)This collaborative timeline starts with US President Jimmy Carter being killed in May 1979. Samantha still goes to the Soviet Union and pursues an acting career, Bar Harbor Airlines flight 1808 still crashes in Auburn, but she survives with minor injuries. She then appears in some films and concerts oriented at different advocacies.

Common themes among these alternate universes have Samantha become socially-relevant, have her assume political positions, with an acting career on the side.

Tips in Writing a Samantha Smith “What-if”

Unless the larger context is radically changed or the deviation takes place much earlier than August 1985 (as with 1983: Doomsday), the following issues should be considered in the short-term:

1. How should Bar Harbor Airlines Flight 1808 be addressed?

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The crash site is marked by a sign listing the passengers who died on that fateful night of August 25, 1985. (Source)

Some have decided to address the plane crash that killed her: Dirty Laundry has Lime Street filmed in a soundstage in Hollywood instead of in location in Virgina and England (presumably allowing her to ride another plane in Maine instead of Bar Harbor), Gorbachev MkII has her not going home in August 1985, while Rabbit Stew retains the crash, only it does not kill her.

2. Does Lime Street become a hit or miss?

A Mirror Reflection and Dirty Laundry presume that Lime Street becomes a success. But Andrew T, author of Dirty Laundry, notes that “it was pretty bad — kind of a Greatest American Hero knockoff without the magic suit (or Connie Selleca).” (I would pass judgment though until I finally get to watch all episodes. I have not found it in the Internet.) However, Samantha’s acting was praised, even if the show was not.

3. How should the whole stalking dilemma be addressed?

At the time of her death, Robert John Bardo was stalking Samantha. He had traveled all the way to Manchester, Maine just to meet her, only to be caught by the authorities after asking for directions. Due to this, and the fact he eventually ended up killing Rebecca Schaeffer, Bardo would have been a credible threat. AlternateHistory.com user d32123 commenting: “This guy probably would have killed her if the plane crash didn’t.” Only 1983 USA in 1783 addresses this, by sadly having her be kidnapped. She does escape however.

Final words

While Samantha did not live to the 21st century, she had her own vision of the year 2001. Before an audience in Japan in December 1983, she said:

But, today, we are not here to look back on the summer or to look backward at all. We are here to look ahead. I spent the last several weeks picturing myself in the Year 2001, and thought of all the things that I would like the world to be eighteen years from today. First of all, I don’t want to have these freckles anymore, and I want this tooth straightened, and I hope I like the idea of being almost thirty. Maybe it’s because I have traveled a lot and maybe it’s because I’ve met so many wonderful people who look a little different from the way I look – maybe their skin, or their eyes, or their language is not like mine – but I can picture them becoming my best friends…Maybe it’s because of these things that I think the year 2001 and the years that follow are going to be just great… (source)

My computer of 2001 will transfer good food, good shelter, and good clothing to the people who need them, and all of it will come from places and countries where these things are plentiful so that it won’t hurt what my teacher explains is “the balance of trade.”

In my 2001, there’s an abundance of everything, and lots of ways to harvest it and transport it to people in need. By the way, my computer is made up of microchips and wires and electric gizmos from probably 158 different countries. It’s a very friendly international computer, and I hope you’ll join me in 2001, to help push all the buttons (source).