After spending 15 of her 18 years in the glare of show business, Jodie Foster desperately wanted to be just an ordinary college freshman. Her choice of schools was not that surprising. With its mock-Gothic spires, ivied courts and boola-boola spirit, Yale has always seemed like a Hollywood version of a tranquil college campus. Foster, by all accounts, was eager to shuck the nymphet roles she had developed in movies for the studious life of an Ivy Leaguer. "Yale actually invited me—little smog-ridden me—to sink my blond teeth into its dusty brick and ivy," she joked in an article she wrote for Esquire last fall. "I'm trading my lifeguard shades for that good ol' New Haven grime."
Armed with an Olympia electric portable, a reading lamp and her dream of normalcy, Foster came East to the Connecticut campus last September—and, except for the fact that she paid the $9,000 tuition, room and board fee out of her formidable acting earnings, she began doing a creditable interpretation of an average Jane College. After an initial period of discreet gawking, Foster's fellow Yalies quietly decided to accept the star of Taxi Driver and The Little Girl Who Lived Down the Lane as one of their own.
Then, cruelly, the bullets that threatened the lives of President Reagan and three other men in Washington two weeks ago also shattered Jodie's academic idyll. The disturbing suggestion that alleged assailant John Hinckley Jr. may have been motivated by an erotomanic obsession with Foster so exposed the 18-year-old to the spotlight of public attention that Yale's appalled President A. Bartlett Giamatti called it "an ancillary horror to what happened in Washington." Foster has been forced to leave her dorm temporarily for more secure quarters and to accept plainclothes protection. Then, in yet another bizarre twist, 22-year-old Edward Michael Richardson, who according to the Secret Service shared Hinckley's obsession with Foster, was arrested last week in Manhattan while carrying a loaded handgun. He was charged with threatening the President's life and reportedly had written a letter to Foster. Federal prosecutors said Richardson also admitted to telephoning a bomb threat, demanding the release of Hinckley, that caused a brief evacuation of Foster's dorm. Understandably, as the pressure has mounted, Jodie has missed classes. "She can't do her work, it's really too much," one friend reports. Says Yale junior Artie Isaac: "Everybody here feels sorry for her."
John Hinckley's particular motivation may never be understood (see following story). A family acquaintance has pointed out that his mother's nickname is Jodie and that Foster bears a striking resemblance to Mrs. Hinckley when she was young. In any case, Hinckley has haunted Foster for months. Last fall he wrote to screenwriter Paul Schrader, author of Taxi Driver, the 1976 film about a crazed cabbie (Robert De Niro) who tries to assassinate a political candidate to prove his love for a teenage prostitute, played by Foster. In the letter, which Schrader ignored, Hinckley requested an introduction to Foster. More recently Hinckley dropped a series of notes into the actress's mailbox and pushed others under the door of her suite in a Yale freshman dorm. Although Foster receives hundreds of fan letters a month in her box at Yale's postal station, most go unanswered. But Hinckley's scrawled hand-delivered protestations of love alarmed Foster so much last month that she showed them to her dean, who turned them over to authorities. Foster never received Hinckley's last love letter. Found in his hotel room after the assassination attempt, it read: "Dear Jody [sic]...there is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan...I love you very much." The New York Times reported that Hinckley may have taped a phone call he had with the actress (although she could recall no such conversation later).
Fan interruptions are anathema to Jodie, a serious-minded student who graduated class valedictorian from Los Angeles' rigorous Lycée Français. At Yale, she is enrolled in such courses as upper-level French and diplomatic history. A proud accomplishment: an A on a freshman English paper. "I chose Yale basically for writing and literature," she says. "Of course, you can't be sure—you get your first D and could decide to be a chemistry major."
Dorm food and midnight pizzas—plus forays like a pajama-clad visit to a campus sweetshop—have added 20 pounds to her slight frame, and college has changed her style of dress as well. "When I first saw her, she wore gauzy tops and brief briefs," says one Yalie. "Now she dresses in muted colors, in kind of a preppie health-food look." Scoffs another—apparently disappointed—fellow student: "She doesn't look like a movie star. A lot of the guys here don't think she's as special as she's supposed to be." Foster has no steady boyfriend; although she dates a variety of Yale men, her evenings are more likely to be spent in the underground bunker-like Cross Campus Library, where she prefers the smoking section.
Foster lives modestly on campus. She shares a newly rehabbed, loft-like suite in her 1891-vintage dorm with three randomly assigned freshmen women. A good friend is producer Ely Landau's daughter Tina. Next September Jodie will move to Calhoun College, an upper-class residence with a jockish cast whose master, Davie Napier, is a professor of Bible and ministry. Nor has she demanded special privileges: Foster handed out programs at a Bonnie Raitt concert and auditioned like anyone else for a role in a local production of last season's off-Broadway hit Getting Out. She got the second lead—the part of a prostitute being released from prison after serving a term for robbery and murder—but only after proving herself to censorious fellow thespians. "She had a couple of problems at first intrinsic to her work in film," the producer, senior Andrew Paulson, says. "She didn't project and she understated. But shortly after rehearsals began, these problems vanished." The play was halfway through its two-week engagement when President Reagan was shot; Foster finished out the run. It was, she said, one of her favorite roles: "I got to scream a lot, which I've never done before. The parts I've had almost always are as an articulate kid who is brighter than her years, like Bugsy Malone."
As the shock waves of the assassination attempt subside, Jodie will once again attempt to fade into student obscurity. Even now, she is preparing for next month's final exams—though this summer she will be filming O'Hara's Wife, co-starring with Ed Asner. Friends report that she has regained the poise that was temporarily shaken after the shootings: "She's cool as a cucumber," reports an admiring Paulson. All of Yale seems to share that admiration—and a determination to give her the protected student life she wants. "She's just a normal student as far as I'm concerned," says senior Lawrence Hatch. "I grant that she's news—but she shouldn't be disturbed." Foster's unassuming demeanor has earned her that kind of loyalty—and Yale's president is proud that his college has rallied around her. "Students here have always been a kind of family," says Giamatti. "That's the way it should be."