bad TV, movies, narcissists, true crime

I just watched Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer…

About fifteen years ago, when Bill and I were still living in my native state of Virginia, I read a true crime book by Kathryn Casey. The title of the book was She Wanted it All: A True Story of Sex, Murder, and a Texas Millionaire. At the time that I read the book, Bill was serving a deployment in Iraq. As worried as I was about him, I was also freaked out about his ex wife, who had done some extreme things in the previous year to mess up Bill’s relationship with his daughters. In so many ways, Celeste Beard Johnson’s story reminded me of Ex, only there wasn’t a murder involved.

I reviewed Kathryn Casey’s book on Epinions.com, noting that the story of Celeste Beard Johnson reminded me a lot of my husband’s ex wife, and the drama she was visiting on us at the time. I got nightmares after reading that book. You can find my review here; when Epinions.com died, I managed to save some of my old reviews and have put them on my blog.

Last week, I noticed that a lot of people were reading my review of She Wanted It All. I am Facebook friends with Kathryn Casey, and she had posted about how Celeste’s daughters, Jennifer and Kristina, had done an interview for 20/20. I wasn’t able to watch the show because I live in Germany, and I wasn’t home when it aired, anyway. Maybe I’ll see if I can find it on YouTube or iTunes.

Anyway, when I noticed I was getting a bunch of hits on that old book review from the spring of 2007, I did some Internet sleuthing and discovered that last year, Lifetime put out a made for TV movie about Celeste’s story. The movie, Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer (2021), stars Julie Benz, whom I knew from Desperate Housewives. Julie Benz and I are about the same age, but she’s still very attractive. I liked her in other things I’ve seen her in, so I downloaded the movie and watched it yesterday.

One thing it’s important to remember, of course, is that a made for TV movie is really a movie that’s based on a true story. It also requires condensing a story so that it fits in a short timeframe. Celeste Beard’s story is a hell of a lot more complicated than the way it was portrayed in the made for TV movie. I think Julie Benz was a good choice to play Celeste, but the story is a bit watered down, as it would be. What’s kind of sad about it, though, is that Lifetime’s treatment of it is actually kind of campy. That’s too bad, because I think there are a lot of women like Celeste in the world… toxic, money grifting, narcissistic assholes who are not much better than vampires.

The official trailer for the movie… At this writing, someone has also uploaded the whole thing, so you don’t have to pay iTunes to see it.

At the beginning of the movie, Celeste (Benz) is shown flirting with an older man at an Austin, Texas country club, serving him vodka tonics. The lonely old man, Steven Beard, is a wealthy Austin area television mogul. He’s loaded with money, but since his wife died, he has no one to share his good fortune with. Celeste zeroes in on him, putting on the charm, batting her eyes, and quickly convincing him to fall in love with her and let her and her two daughters, Jennifer and Kristina, move in with him. The movie doesn’t explain this, but Jennifer and Kristina are twins, and products of Celeste’s first marriage to Craig Bratcher. She alienated the girls from their father, and they even wound up in foster care a few times, when she couldn’t foist them off on family. Bratcher eventually committed suicide, as Celeste drained her subsequent husbands of money and other resources. When she married Beard, Celeste insisted that he adopt her daughters, although in the film, it looks as if adopting them was Steven’s idea.

She would marry twice more before making Steven Beard her fourth husband. At the beginning of their relationship, Beard was very kind and generous, and he was patient and understanding when Celeste would spend his money recklessly. When he finally got fed up with her crazy spending habits, Beard brought up the “D” word. Celeste responded by threatening suicide, which led to her being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. There, she met Tracey Tarlton, who was an openly lesbian woman with anger issues and a history of depression. She and Celeste became buddies, and later, had a relationship.

Tracey Tarlton is played by Justine Warrington, who gives the character an almost comic treatment. She confesses to Celeste that she got in trouble for hitting an ex lover’s husband with her truck. When Celeste asks her if she really did that, Tracey says, with a conspiratorial giggle, “No… but I thought about it.” It was at that point that I realized how tasteless this adaptation of Beard’s story really is. Lifetime turned it into a salacious tale, seeming to miss that a man who had friends and family members who loved him was killed for Celeste’s selfish agenda.

Celeste talks Tracey into killing Steven Beard. She convinces her that he’s an abusive man who will leave her destitute and alone if they get a divorce. Tracey got it into her head that if Steven Beard was out of the way, she and Celeste could be together and live happily ever after. But after Steven died, Celeste took up with her fifth husband. That was when the real life Tracey spoke up. The movie makes it appear that the girls had talked her into confessing what really happened. Celeste had signed a prenuptial agreement that would have given her $500,000 in the case of divorce. But if Steven died, she’d get half of his fortune, as the other half would go to Steven’s daughter from his first marriage, a woman named Becky (Patricia Harras) who was older than Celeste. In real life, Celeste was 38 years younger than Steven Beard. Julie Benz is clearly older than the real life Celeste was when this was happening in the early 90s. The actors portrayed Celeste and Steven were too close in age.

One thing I noticed was the detective– Detective Rolands– who seems to pronounce the name so that it sounds like “Rawlins”, which made me think that’s a common name for cops and detectives on TV. Every time he referred to himself by name and flashed a snarky look at Celeste, I was reminded of cheesy 70s and 80s era cop shows.

I didn’t think the acting in this movie was particularly good, either. I remember thinking Julie Benz was so beautiful when she was on Desperate Housewives. I thought she was a good actress, too. In this film, she was all gushy and unconvincing. I came away with the idea that she did this movie strictly for the money. It’s not that I really expected a whole lot better from Lifetime TV. Most of the newest movies I’ve seen made by them are pretty terrible on every level, from the quality of acting, to the veracity of the stories presented, to the way certain things are presented, like crime investigations. They bear little resemblance to the truth and aren’t plausible. Some of it probably has to do with the budget and needing attractive people to star. I’m also sure some people like vapid, shallow, forgettable movies rather than detailed stories.

There was a time when they made movies that were of decent quality, but the ones I’ve seen recently have been disappointing. I saw one they made with Judd Nelson in it. I like Judd Nelson as an actor– I grew up in the 80s, after all. But that movie, Girl in the Basement (2021), which was loosely based on the Josef Fritzl story, was also very campy, salacious, and poorly acted. And both of these movies, made for Lifetime TV, barely scratched the surface of the complexity of the stories. In better hands, this could have been a very compelling movie. I would hope it would have been handled with more respect, too. Lifetime treats it almost like it should be a funny story. There’s nothing funny about what Celeste Beard did to Steven Beard, his daughter, or her daughters, who– thankfully– are much better people than she is.

When I reviewed Kathryn Casey’s book, She Wanted it All, my husband was very estranged from his daughters. As time passed, one of his daughters reconnected and has shown us that, like Jennifer and Kristina Beard, she’s a much better caliber of person than her mother is. Sadly, like Jennifer and Kristina, my husband’s daughters were basically turned into servants, serving their mother’s narcissism and need to take everything from everyone close to her. But when I first read about Celeste Beard, I literally had nightmares, because she reminded me so much of Ex. This movie is laughable and silly… just as Ex has become to me… even if she’s still not a laughing matter to her poor daughter, who still takes her seriously, because she’s still her mother, even if she is a lying, narcissistic twit.

I feel like this true crime story should have been treated with a lot more seriousness and respect. If you are truly interested in this story, I would definitely recommend taking the time to read Kathryn Casey’s book. It’s very comprehensive and well-written, and you’ll get the real story, rather than this appalling bullshit that attempts to turn a tragedy into a comedy show. It’s really not funny, and shouldn’t have been turned into a campy Lifetime TV story.

Celeste Beard is currently serving a life sentence, although she will be eligible for parole in 2042. Tracey Tarleton was released from prison in 2011 and has completed her parole. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

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musings

Facebook is a lonely place…

Ever since this social isolation stuff began, I’ve noticed people are hanging out even more on social media. I run a Facebook group for food and wine and we’ve had a surge of new members. Why? Because people are sitting at home, drinking a lot… cooking a lot… and probably gaining weight.

For the most part, it’s been alright to hang out on Facebook even more than usual. I have noticed, though, that some people may think of Facebook friends as appearing closer than they actually are. Sometimes social media turns into a substitute for actual friendships.

Don’t get me wrong. There are people I have “met” online that I consider real friends. Hell, I was friends with Bill for 18 months, having met him online. He truly was a friend to me during a time when I needed a friend… and he needed a friend. We chatted every day and got to be very close, even though we hadn’t met offline. I never thought I’d ever meet him, though, let alone marry him. And then there are people I have met offline and been friends with on Facebook who turn out to be people who fade away…

I did read a rather sad comment from someone this morning, though, which has inspired today’s post. This guy decided to go to the grocery store on his bike, and announced it on his Facebook page. He asked his friends for prayers. No one responded. He came back from the store and wrote:

Nobody responded to my bike post yesterday — and I literally almost died. Thank you so much for your concern…

I sense a bit of sadness and disgust in that post. I suspect this dude is kind of lonely. I have never met him before. He’s someone Bill knows from his adolescent days. In fact, this guy was someone who knew Bill when he got run over by his “friend’s” Subaru Brat. I’ve written this story before, but because I don’t have anything else to do and some readers might be curious, here’s what happened…

When Bill was sixteen years old, he was hanging out with some buddies. They were all drinking beer. One of his friends had a girlfriend who was doing that usual teen angst shit that teenaged girls are so good at. She stormed off, and her boyfriend, who owned a Subaru Brat (basically an ugly car with a bed like that of a pickup truck), got behind the wheel. Bill had gotten a ride with them, so he went to clamber into the back of the car. His friend didn’t see him, and started backing up as Bill was trying to mount. Bill lost his footing in the gravel and slipped under the car. His friend backed over him. The rear tire went right over Bill’s chest.

After a week in the hospital with a collapsed lung and extremely bloody eyes, Bill was released relatively unscathed. He does have a bit of arthritis in the area that was injured. A couple of his discs were crushed. He also says he had a near death experience. I believe him when he tells me that, because Bill is an unusually empathetic person. He’s very much in touch with God.

Oh nooooo!

Anyway… ever since then, people have called him Mr. Bill… including me. Even people who don’t know what happened to him try to be clever by sharing a picture of Mr. Bill on social media. This was a thing on Saturday Night Live. He kind of sounds like Towelie on South Park. It’s kind of funny to watch this. The world was a lot more dangerous back in the 70s and 80s. Interestingly enough, Mr. Bill was created by a guy who responded for a request from Saturday Night Live to send in home movies.

Walter Williams got a job writing for SNL after this.

So anyway… where was I. I got sidetracked by Mr. Bill…

Facebook offers a facade of closeness that doesn’t actually exist. Because so many people use it, you may find yourself connecting with people you’d never meet… or ever even want to meet. And people think they know you, but they don’t. So sometimes, you might feel slighted when you reach out on social media, hoping for prayers or whatever, and no one responds. The fact is, without social media, you might not have a connection anyway. I doubt I’d know Bill’s former classmate if he hadn’t decided to friend me on Facebook.

And while I don’t wish Bill’s friend ill, I don’t actually know him well enough to care about whether or not he goes to the store. I don’t think I ever even saw his post, but if I had, I probably wouldn’t have prayed for him. I don’t pray for most people. It’s not something I do. I completely missed that he posted this, though…

Good morning all!
Later on this morning I am going to get on my 18 speed mountain bike (which I haven’t done for about 10 years) and ride over to the grocery with back-pack and mental list! I have been told I should wear a mask — thing is I look odd as it is! Will you guys lift up a prayer for my safety, please? Thanks & God bless.

I can tell he was disappointed that no one responded. Sometimes, I’ve been disappointed in responses from other people, too. I try to remind myself that most of them are strangers. It hurts more when people I actually know or am related to ignore me. Then I realize that they have lives, just like I do. Most of my stuff just isn’t as interesting to other people as it is to me. And social media is, by and large, a facade. The real stuff happens offline. But then… maybe for some people, being online is less painful than dealing with reality offline.

On the other hand, I’ve been watching Desperate Housewives again. It’s a very entertaining show. I’m still on season one. Felicity Huffman’s character, Lynette Scavo, wants to get her kids into a private school and she mentions paying $15,000 as a “donation” to up her chances. That episode was from 2004 or 2005… interesting how art imitates real life sometimes. Years later, Huffman “donated” $15,000 to improve her daughter’s SAT scores. She ended up doing time in a federal prison.

Maybe this social isolation is getting to me. Hopefully, it won’t last too much longer, although my next door neighbor seems to be ignoring it. She’s had people over for the past three nights.

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musings

What inspired this?

I have a feeling this song was inspired by something besides sunshine and flowers…

Last week, I started watching the new show Fosse/Verdon, a series about Bob Fosse and his wife, Gwen Verdon. Ever since I saw the 1979 film, All That Jazz, I’ve been a fan of this famous Broadway duo. I also remember watching the 1985 film, A Chorus Line, in which their daughter, Nicole Fosse, starred. All That Jazz was based on Bob Fosse’s life; the movie, which starred Roy Scheider as Broadway choreographer Joe Gideon, ended with the protagonist’s rather surreal death, although Fosse lived until 1987.

This is one of the more memorable scenes in All That Jazz.

The first time I saw Gwen Verdon dance was on the old 1980s TV show Fame, based on the film of the same name. Gwen Verdon was a guest star, and she and Debbie Allen did a number. I gotta say, as talented as Debbie Allen is, I was left kind of awestruck by Verdon, who even in older later years danced like a dream.

She makes it look so easy.

I am not myself a dancer. My eldest sister got those genes and she was pretty good at cutting the rug– especially in ballet. Thanks to her involvement in dance, I was often dragged to ballets and other cultural shit when I was a kid. I developed an appreciation for it, even if I am myself somewhat unrefined about some things. Still, as I watched the first video in this post, I was kind of wondering what made Paul Simon come up with those sunny lyrics. Although I don’t know for certain, I kind of get the impression that maybe it was the green, green “grass” that has inspired so many artists over the years. Or maybe he was just high on life.

Listening to Simon’s lyrics, coupled with the strange “Dr. Suess-esque” set and Verdon’s own impossibly fluid dancing, makes me think the world would be a better place if more people enjoyed a little weed. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible that this number was inspired by the weirdness that was the 1970s. I only remember the mid to latter years of that decade myself, but to me, it was a magical time… probably because I was a little kid with no responsibilities.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I smoke weed myself. I’ve actually only tried it once, and that was in June 2015, when we visited Haarlem, in the Netherlands. Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands, so it was a prime chance for me to see what all the fuss was about. While I’ve heard that some people don’t like pot, I found it kind of relaxing and fun. It definitely made the drive back to Germany less dull. I think I could use another trip to Haarlem, not just for marijuana, but also because it’s just a really nice little city that manages to be quaint even though it sits next to Amsterdam. I had decided to stay there based on Rick Steves’ advice and several of Bill’s Dutch colleagues congratulated me for that. Apparently, Haarlem is one of the better kept secrets to visiting Amsterdam, which I found expensive, overwhelming, and not all that charming.

Anyway… watching Verdon’s floaty dance moves in her pink outfit, looking like she stumbled into Dr. Seuss’s world as she flitted and flowed to Paul Simon’s “groovy” lyrics made me wonder what inspired that number. And my thoughts about potential drug inferences might have come from Desperate Housewives, and a memorable scene set to “Feelin’ Groovy” as Lynette Scavo tries to deal with the chaos of dealing with four, young, very active little kids. A little better living through chemistry… quite tempting when things get crazy. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one who got the connection.

Whoa… obviously I’m not the only one who gets the reference.

I actually meant to write about politics this morning. I’ll probably get around to it, after I pull the sheets out of the dryer. But anyway, I like Fosse/Verdon. Michelle Williams does a great job as Gwen Verdon and has come a long way from Dawson’s Creek. Watching FX’s new show reminded me of how lovely Gwen Verdon was and seeing that clip from the Carol Burnett Show was a treat this morning. It kind of makes me wish I’d taken some dance lessons myself.

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complaints

This bugs me…

This morning, as I was celebrating the fact that Bill gets to come home even earlier– as in today, instead of tomorrow, I went to RfM to see if anyone had posted anything interesting. Near the top of the list of posts was one called “My take on Donnie and Marie.” I apologize in advance, because this is going to make me sound even more hyper anal retentive than usual. But, before I even opened the thread, I was annoyed. Why? Because the person who wrote this post misspelled Donny Osmond’s name.

It bugs me when people misspell other people’s names, especially if the person is famous. Maybe it’s because I am a writer– in the sense that I write every day and majored in English– and proofreading and editing are a big part of that process. There’s something really lazy about misspelling a person’s name, particularly a common first name, like Donny. And when the person is famous, it’s especially annoying to me.

Maybe this is akin to people who get irritated when other people chew loudly. I have a couple of friends who suffer from misophonia, which is “select sound sensitivity syndrome” (try saying that four times fast!). A lot of times, people who have misophonia can’t stand certain sounds and, in my experience, most of these people don’t like the sound of someone else chewing. I can’t say that I enjoy the sound of a person chewing, but it probably doesn’t irritate me as much as off-key singing does.

What is even more annoying is when a person misspells a person’s name and then continues to misspell it. Oftentimes, when you correct the person, they get exasperated and claim it doesn’t matter. I think spelling matters, especially when it’s a person’s name. A person’s name is one of the most important things about them. These details matter. I’m always disappointed when someone says, “It’s no big deal. We know what was meant.”

I encountered that attitude a few months ago when I got involved in a discussion about HIPAA. People kept spelling it “HIPPA”. When I finally said something, people not only said it didn’t matter, but others actually told me I was wrong. I knew I wasn’t wrong and proved it, only to have the group owner say that “we all know what was meant.” But what if HIPPA stands for something else? A quick Google tells me that at this point, it doesn’t. In fact, if you search for HIPPA, you’ll get a suggestion for HIPAA. Instead of taking a minute to check this, people just insist that I’m wrong.

No one likes to be caught in a mistake, even though everybody makes them. I don’t like it any more than another person does. However, I think when that happens, it’s better to just swallow your pride and learn the lesson. That way, you don’t look uninformed and no one will feel the need to correct you.

Anal retentive Bree sewing on a button for the shrink…

When it comes to names, though, I think spelling is especially important. A person’s name is a very personal thing. Donny Osmond probably doesn’t pay attention to people who spell his name Donnie. I don’t care enough about this issue or that person’s thread to go back and correct the spelling. It’s just that whenever I see it, it sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m reminded of an early episode of Desperate Housewives, when Bree Van de Kamp was visiting her therapist. She sees that he has a loose button on his jacket and insists on mending it right then and there because it was bugging her.

Power struggle between Bree and Rex’s mom.

Same as when her husband, Rex, dies suddenly. Rex’s mother insists on burying him in a school tie that looks ridiculous. Bree is compelled to change the tie. Actually, the scene is kind of funny, since Bree is easily able to pull Rex to an almost sitting position. I would have expected him to be stiff as a board by that point.

Bree switches out Rex’s tie.

Maybe I have a little Bree in me, although I’m not nearly as polished as she is, and I’m not as uptight about certain things like whether or not there’s dog hair in the door jamb. I am uptight about other things, like spelling, grammar, diction, and pitch. I’d probably be better off if I were a more relaxed person, but it’s not really in my nature. I’m probably a product of my environment and upbringing, just like everyone is.

Well, hopefully Bill will be home by late afternoon. I look forward to seeing him again and hope we can salvage the weekend before he has to work another seven day week.

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