1976’s ‘The Boy in the Plastic Bubble’ Makes Rare TV Premiere

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, ABC, 1976, John Travolta
Credit: ABC/Everett Collection

Where to watch The Boy in the Plastic Bubble has finally been answered.

Based on a true story, the 1976 original drama The Boy in the Plastic Bubble makes a rare TV premiere on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, March 22 at 10pmET/7pmCT. The emotional made-for-TV film, produced by Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg, originally aired on ABC on Nov. 12, 1976.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble featured some familiar TV faces including The Brady Bunch’s Mike Brady himself Robert Reed alongside Diana Hyland (Peyton Place, and later Eight Is Enough mom Joan Bradford) playing parents Robert and Mickey Lubitch.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, John Travolta, Glynnis O'Connor

Credit: ABC/Everett Collection

A young John Travolta was gaining momentum with one season as Vinny Barbarino on Welcome Back, Kotter under his belt, and his first major film role in the Sissy Spacek horror film Carrie in theaters (Nov. 3, 1976), when TV audiences were introduced to him as Tod Lubitch, the boy who was suffering from an immunodeficiency that forced him to live within the confines of a plastic, germ-free environment. Travolta forever imprinted in our minds what life would be like living in a plastic bubble.

The real “Bubble Boy” on whom the film was based was David Vetter from Texas. He was born in 1971 with a severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and was forced to live in a completely sterile and germ-free environment. Sadly, David only lived to age 12.

The film starts in 1959 with a doctor delivering good news to Robert and Mickey Lubitch that a baby is on the way. His message, however, is greeted with reservation as the couple had already suffered the loss of another child due to a rare immunity deficiency. When Mickey gives birth to Tod, they quickly learn that he, too, was born with the same deficiency and his life would most likely always be within hospital walls and incubators.

The film quickly flashes forward four years where we see Tod as a toddler thriving in his sheltered surroundings, and eventually getting transferred to the Lubitch home. While the Lubitches are quite private people, news of their unusual situation travels and their neighbors, the Biggses, insist on welcoming Tod home where he is first introduced to their toddler daughter Gina.

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble, John Travolta, Glynnis O'Connor, 1976

Credit: ABC/Everett Collection

It’s not until the film advances again, this time 12 years forward, that Travolta and Glynnis O’Connor (who plays the older Gina) appear. Travolta (donning ’70s short-shorts and long Vinny Barbarino-ish hair), brings a great likability to the quirky, naive boy who’s coming of age captive in his sterilized bubble room. As technology advances, so do Tod’s opportunities for expanding his freedoms and desire to be closer to Gina. The film sweetly follows his crush on her and their friendship, as well as his resolve to live as a normal teenager.

Offscreen Travolta (22) and Hyland (40) were a true couple. The two met on the set and dated for a year until Hyland’s tragic death in 1977 from breast cancer. She died while Travolta was still in production with Saturday Night Fever.

John Travolta and Diana Hyland sighting in LA

Photo by Tom Wargacki/WireImage/GettyImages

“I have never been more in love with anyone in my life,” Travolta told People magazine in 1977. “I thought I was in love before, but I wasn’t. From the moment I met her, I was attracted. We were like two maniacs talking all the time on the set of Bubble. After a month, it became romantic.”

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble premieres on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, March 22 at 10pmET/7pmCT. You can also stream the film for free on tubi.

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