mental health, movies, true crime, TV

Celebrity stalkhers… guys who can’t accept rejection.

Before anyone asks, yes, I meant to type “stalkhers” as opposed to “stalkers”. I was inspired to title this post with the misspelling because I was reminded of a guy I ran into many years ago in a BDSM themed chat room. There were a lot of people in that room who had come up with “clever” names for themselves that also addressed their kinky interests. “Stalkher” was one guy’s nickname. I happened to chat with him briefly, once or twice. I remember him to be an interesting character who liked to be “stern” and shaming when he did BDSM themed “scenes”.

Anyway, none of that is either here nor there. It just made for an interesting anecdote to add to today’s topic of celebrity stalkers. It also gives me a chance to write something provocative. I do enjoy being shocking at times. Perhaps the most shocking thing about that particular BDSM chat room is that aside from being for kinky people, it was really not that kinky. At least not in the main chat room. Most people acted like they were at a virtual cocktail party, or something. I don’t think Stalkher and I were very compatible. He wanted me to wear nipple clamps.

A scene, for those who don’t know, is a role playing fantasy people in the chat room would do. Sometimes the scenes were interesting or exciting. Other times, they got really boring, especially when they involved a certain narcissistic guy who fancied himself an author and repeated the same misogynistic crap over and over again. Most people did their scenes in private rooms, but every once in awhile, people did them publicly, titillating the community. The funniest thing is, most of the people in the chat room weren’t chatting about BDSM.

Yesterday, I happened to watch a movie on YouTube that originally aired on NBC in 1984. It was called Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story. I actually saw this movie when it originally aired. I remember it distinctly, because I was in seventh grade at the time, and I kept a diary. I wrote about seeing that made for TV film in my diary. I’m not sure why I was so moved by the movie in 1984, since it was pretty typical movie of the week fare that was so common in the 80s. But I do remember being shocked by what happened to Theresa Saldana, which is probably why I decided to watch it again yesterday.

Theresa Saldana, who died of pneumonia in 2016, was an up and coming actress in 1982. The New York transplant, who had been in a few movies and on some television shows, was about 28 years old in 1982. She lived in West Hollywood, California and was married to a man named Fred Feliciano, who worked as a drug and alcohol counselor.

Theresa was attacked by a man from Aberdeen, Scotland named Arthur Richard Jackson. Jackson had seen Theresa Saldana in the films, Defiance and Raging Bull, and he eventually became obsessed with her. He thought the angels had told him to kill her. So he showed up in California, armed with a 5.5 inch hunting knife. On March 15, 1982, he came up behind Theresa as she was about to get into her car, asked her if she was Theresa Saldana, then repeatedly stabbed her in the chest. In total, Jackson savagely knifed Saldana ten times and came very close to killing her. She spent four months recovering in a hospital.

The TV movie about Theresa Saldana. She starred as herself.

Although I’m not sure why Theresa Saldana’s specific story was so riveting to me when I was 12 that I immortalized it in my diary, I did find the movie to be fascinating, mainly because it covered a lot of perspectives. Theresa and Fred eventually divorced, in part, because their marriage could not withstand the terrible stresses caused by Theresa’s stabbing. Theresa was very badly injured, so she was unable to work and had to be hospitalized for months. That put the couple in dire financial straits. Fred was so overcome by the trauma of the stabbing that he soon became ineffective as a counselor and had to quit his job. Meanwhile, Arthur Richard Jackson got all of his needs cared for by taxpayers, as he was incarcerated… or, at least that’s what Theresa complains about as she’s faced with the extremely high costs of recovering from the brutal attack. And those were 80s prices!

Theresa was eventually allowed to stay at the Motion Picture and Television Hospital, which is a facility that serves motion picture and television veterans with limited means. She found the hospital oppressive, due to its many rules and regulations. One of the nurses is a bit of a hardass, which causes Theresa to freak out. But then it turned out that the nurse had also been attacked by a man, so she understood where Theresa was coming from. They became friends, and Theresa eventually started a victim advocacy group which was instrumental in developing anti-stalking legislation.

Notably, it was Saldana’s Victims for Victims group that helped get a 1990 anti-stalking law passed, as well as the 1994 Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. The Driver’s Privacy Act was introduced in 1992, in response to attacks perpetrated on abortion providers. The abortion providers were being attacked and killed by anti-choice activists, who used the Department of Motor Vehicles to get the names and addresses of the providers. Fellow celebrity stalking victim, Rebecca Schaeffer, was also attacked, in part, because in the 1980s, the DMV would provide names and addresses to anyone who paid a fee. Schaeffer’s killer, Robert John Bardo, got Schaeffer’s address from the DMV before he shot her in the chest at close range. I remember Rebecca Schaeffer well, as she was on the show My Sister Sam, which also starred Pam Dawber. I loved that show.

I’m sitting in my bedroom right now, typing this post on my new laptop and watching Dr. Todd Grande. He just so happened to make a video about Rebecca Schaeffer yesterday. That’s why I’m writing about this today. It’s just too weird that I would watch Theresa Saldana’s TV movie yesterday, completely by chance, and Todd Grande would post a video about Rebecca Schaeffer on the same day. Rebecca Schaeffer’s killer was inspired by Saldana’s case.

Weird… this comes up the same day I watched Theresa Saldana’s movie, which I hadn’t seen since it aired in 1984.

After the video on Rebecca Schaeffer was finished, I kept watching Grande’s videos because I was in the middle of a game on my iPad. His next case analysis was about a Mormon guy named Steven Koecher, who had mysteriously disappeared in 2009. I hadn’t heard about that case when it happened, but I do remember the Susan Cox Powell case, which involved a beautiful young Mormon mom who disappeared. Susan’s creepy husband, Joshua Powell, claimed that perhaps Susan ran off with Steven Koecher. Josh Powell, of course, later killed himself and his two sons with Susan Powell, who to my knowledge, still remains missing. There’s no telling if Steven Koecher had anything to do with Susan’s disappearance, but it’s interesting to hear Todd Grande talk about it.

Interesting case, especially since I know a bit about Mormonism myself. Steven was very stereotypically LDS.

According to Dr. Grande, Steven Koecher was going through some tough times just before he died. He was months behind in his rent, had a poorly paid job, and was having trouble finding a relationship. Grande doesn’t discuss this in the video, but Koecher was likely under a lot of pressure due to the LDS culture. Young men are expected to follow a straight and narrow path to include being an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts, going on a church mission, graduating from college, finding well paid work, marrying a nice Mormon woman, and having a family. Like so many young people, Koecher was having trouble connecting all of the dots in a timely and linear fashion. He did apparently have a supportive and loving family who were trying to help him. Koecher didn’t want to accept his family’s help and was wanting to solve his problems on his own. I’m still not sure what happened to Koecher. His case is still a mystery. I’m sure his family is still devastated, as they have been denied closure.

Phew… once again, I’ve managed to tie together a bunch of topics that don’t seem to have that much to do with each other. I just thought it was kind of interesting that I watched an old made for TV movie about a celebrity who was stalked, then by complete chance, watched a newly created YouTube video on Rebecca Schaeffer, who was also stalked and attacked… and then that led to a case about the disappearance of a Mormon. Mormons are, of course, one of my pet topics. Then I throw in a blurb about kinky BDSM chat rooms, which aren’t really all that kinky after all.

I’m not sure what we’ll do today. The weather is nice and my neighbors are annoying me by using some kind of loud electrical power tool. I’m kind of tired… but I hate to waste a day off for Bill. I wish we could have gone somewhere fun this weekend, since there’s a holiday on Monday. I would have been happy just to go to Stuttgart to get a dental cleaning, at long last. But we just never got around to planning anything, even though COVID-19 cases have dropped very low and we’re both vaccinated. Bummer…

Ah well, I guess we’ll figure out something to do. Hopefully, it will be something healthier than sitting around drinking beer. Maybe we’ll get kinky instead.

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movies, true crime

Repost: A review of A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story…

This is a review I wrote in March 2011 of the first of two made for television films starring Meredith Baxter and Stephen Collins as Betty and Dan Broderick. It appears here as/is.

From April 2014

Since I’m reading Betty Broderick’s story as told by her daughter, Kim, I’ve decided to repost the movie review I did of her life story.  I think I only reviewed the first film.  There were two done.  One was about how Betty Broderick ended up in prison and the other was about how she was convicted of murdering her husband and his second wife.  Naturally, this story is compelling to me, even though from what I can tell from other sources, the movie makes Dan Broderick seem too nice.  Of course, Stephen Collins portrayed him and I think Stephen Collins is kind of a boob, so there you go…

From March 2011

I just read Meredith Baxter’s bio, so I thought it would be fun to watch one of her many made-for-television movies.  It so happened that one of Baxter’s most notorious flicks, A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story, was uploaded in its entirety on YouTube.  Naturally, I had to watch it and see Meredith Baxter portray the infamous murderer Betty Broderick.  It was a role completely opposite of Baxter’s turn on the hit sit-com, Family Ties and it also satisfied my love of true crime films featuring psycho women.

Who is Betty Broderick? 

For sixteen years, Betty Broderick was the loyal wife of Dan Broderick, one of Southern California’s most prominent medical malpractice lawyers.  Raised a strict Catholic, Betty Broderick believed in marriage for life.  She reportedly worked very hard to raise the four children she had with Dan Broderick and give him a beautiful home.  She also reportedly worked hard so that he could attend both medical school and law school.  As both a physician and a lawyer, Dan Broderick was a force to be reckoned with in the courtroom.  By Betty Broderick’s rather hysterical account, he couldn’t have achieved that success without her.

Despite his brilliance in the courtroom, by many accounts, Dan Broderick was also a bit of a scumbag.  In the early 80s, he hired a beautiful blonde 21 year old named Linda Kolkena to work as his assistant at his law firm.  Despite the fact that Linda couldn’t type and had little experience, Dan paid her lavishly and it wasn’t long before they were having a very public affair. 

Betty Broderick evidently felt pushed aside as Dan reportedly fooled around with his young lover, but she wasn’t one to take such shenanigans lying down.  While Dan Broderick carried on with his girlfriend, Betty Broderick carried on with his personal property, setting fire to his clothes, smearing Boston Creme Pie all over their bed, and eventually driving a car into the front of Dan’s house.  Dan and Betty got divorced and Betty was served with many restraining orders, but Betty continued her harassment, breaking into his home, vandalizing his property, and attempting to alienate their children and mutual friends. 

When Dan and Linda eventually married, Betty Broderick completely snapped.  On the morning of November 5, 1989, she visited the newlyweds in their expensive home and shot them both as they slept, killing them.  After two trials, one of which ended in a hung jury, Betty Broderick was convicted of two counts of second degree murder.  By all reports I’ve read, she has yet to express any remorse.  Nevertheless, a lot of people feel Betty Broderick was perfectly justified in what she did and even today, she serves as sort of a role model/heroine to disenfranchised women.  She’s even been held up as an example in women’s shelters as someone who invested too much in a relationship.

The film version of the “war of the Brodericks”

A Woman Scorned was not originally aired on the Lifetime Movie Network, but it was destined to become a staple of that channel.  Stephen Collins (of 7th Heaven fame) portrays Dan Broderick, with Baxter playing his wife, Betty, and Michelle Johnson playing Linda Kolkena Broderick.  One interesting aspect of watching a film like A Woman Scorned on YouTube is that people leave comments.  Many people who had followed the Betty Broderick case claim that the film version made Dan Broderick out to be a much nicer guy than he actually was.  Some people also claimed that Linda Kolkena Broderick was, in real life, a “gold-digging hussy”. 

It’s true that the jerkier aspects of Dan Broderick seem to be tempered by Stephen Collins’ “nice guy” portrayal.  Even when he’s threatening to cut off Betty’s alimony for harassing him, he seems sympathetic.  While I don’t know the Brodericks personally, I’m guessing that the real Dan was probably much more of a cut-throat bastard with more of a killer instinct.  Most extremely successful malpractice attorneys are like that. 

I think Meredith Baxter was an excellent choice to play Betty Broderick.  She pulls off the over-the-top behavior of her character without a hitch.  Betty Broderick supposedly has narcissistic personality disorder.  If that’s the case, I think Baxter portrayed that type of person to a tee.  I almost cringed as her character set Dan Broderick’s wardrobe on fire on the front lawn of their swanky home and calmly said, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”  It was perfect.

I wasn’t as impressed with Michelle Johnson’s portrayal of Linda Kolkena Broderick.  She came off as too nice and lady like for the role.  I’m guessing the real Linda wasn’t as dignified as the film version of her was.

The Brodericks’ children are portrayed by Kelli Williams (Kate Broderick), Jandi Swanson (Debbie Broderick), Aaron Freeman (Grant Broderick), and Jordan Christopher Michael (Tommy Broderick).  The characters’ names have been changed from the real Broderick children’s names.  I suppose that was to protect their identities, though this case got a lot of coverage on Court TV and is widely written about on the Internet. 

My thoughts about Betty Broderick    

As much as I enjoyed A Woman Scorned, I certainly don’t condone Betty Broderick’s actions, even if the real Dan Broderick was a scumbag.  For one thing, despite her personal sacrifices to aid Dan Broderick’s career– a choice that she apparently made of her own free will– Betty Broderick comes off as a personality disordered individual.  Even if Dan Broderick cheated on her and dumped her for a younger woman, I could hardly blame him for doing so.  Both the true accounts I’ve read about this case and the dramatized film version of Betty Broderick make her out to be completely nuts.

For another thing, no matter how rotten Dan and his second wife Linda were to Betty, she had no right to take their lives!  When she killed Dan and Linda, Betty took away her children’s father and their home.  She also effectively took away their mother, since she was sentenced to 32 years to life in prison.  I do not applaud her crazy actions, though I have to admit they were entertaining to watch on television as portrayed by Meredith Baxter.  And in her memoir, Baxter admits that playing Betty Broderick was great fun; she initially had sympathy for her, but then learned more about who Betty Broderick is and supposedly changed her mind.

And finally, I wonder how people would react if Dan Broderick had been a woman named Danielle with a husband who had sacrificed everything for her career, only to be dumped by a younger, more handsome model.  I wonder if people would be so eager to champion the cause of a man scorned…   I doubt people would be justifying murder if Danielle Broderick had been killed at the hands of a jealous, vengeful husband.  Indeed, I bet a lot of people would be screaming that the jilted man should be locked up for life.  And indeed, that’s the punishment I think Betty Broderick deserves.  Scorned or not, she had absolutely no right to kill.

For kids?   

This is a made-for-TV movie circa 1992, so swearing and smut are somewhat kept to a minimum.  I doubt most kids would be interested in this film and some of the younger ones might be confused by it.  However, I don’t think it’s a bad film for older kids to see.  If anything, it might serve as a warning against getting too involved with personality disordered people.  It might make a good way to introduce a discussion about relationships with others and choosing the right person to be with.

Overall

Yes, A Woman Scorned is typical Lifetime movie fare, but it’s still a pretty good film.  I give it four stars.

Here are both parts of Betty’s story presented in made for TV form…

Part 1
Part 2

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movies, nostalgia, YouTube

Watching Gulag– anti Soviet propaganda thirty-six years later…

Yesterday’s post about “The Red Scare” inspired me to watch a movie I haven’t seen in years. I grew up at a time when everyone talked about the possibility of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. That fear was referenced in a lot of pop culture in the 80s.

In early 1985, the Cold War was in full swing.  I was twelve years old and acutely aware of the threat of nuclear war.  There were many books, TV plots, and movies about the hostilities between the United States and the former Soviet Union.  I was fascinated by it, though I lacked the ability to do a lot of reading about the Soviet Union.  I didn’t have Internet, nor did I have a library card until I was about fourteen.  What I did have in those days was HBO.  When I was growing up, a lot of my world centered around what was on HBO.

Back in the 80s, there was no shortage of films depicting how nasty the Soviet people were.  We had Red Dawn, which was about the United States being invaded by Russians and Cubans.  I watched film that I don’t know how many times.  It thrilled twelve year old me, even to the point at which I felt pretty strongly that I would join the military if the Russians ever invaded.  I think that was also one of the very first movies to have a PG-13 rating.  Since I was twelve, I thought it was “neato” that I got to see Red Dawn, even if I’d been watching R rated movies on HBO since I was about eight.

We had Born American,  a strange film by Renny Harlin that came out in 1986.  It was about three foolish guys on vacation in Finland who decide to cross into the Soviet Union just as some village girl is being raped and slaughtered by a local priest.  The guys get blamed for her rape and murder and end up in a hellish prison where humans are playing a bizarre chess game.

There was 1985’s White Nights, a film notably starring Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines.  Baryshnikov’s character was a famous ballet dancer who had defected to the United States and ended up back in Russia after a plane crash.  There, he meets Hines’ character, an American who grew disenchanted with the United States after Vietnam and ended up marrying a Russian.  They form an unlikely partnership, dance a lot, and escape to the West.

And there was also Gulag, a film that was made for Home Box Office.  It starred David Keith (of An Officer and a Gentleman and The Lords of Discipline fame) and Malcom McDowell, a Brit who has been in a shitload of films.  I remember seeing Gulag on HBO not long after it premiered.  I was probably too young to be watching it.  Having seen it on YouTube yesterday, I know I was too young.  It was actually a pretty scary film.

Gulag is the fictional story of Mickey Almon, a track star and Olympian who has been hired by a television network to cover sports in Moscow.  He and his wife are enjoying Soviet hospitality, although Mickey is a bit of an ugly American.  He’s loud, obnoxious, arrogant, and has a false sense of superiority for being from the United States.

At the beginning of the film, Almon runs into a Russian man who claims to be a scientist and asks him to take his story back to the United States.  The man promises that if Almon helps him, he’ll win the Nobel Peace Prize.  Almon is perplexed.  He’s not in the Soviet Union to help anyone.  He’s there to do a job.  But the guy’s request is compelling and as an American with a hero complex, Almon feels compelled to take action.  Naturally, he soon finds himself in serious trouble with the police.  Turns out the “scientist” is really a member of the KGB who has set Almon up to be a political pawn.

Next thing Mickey Almon knows, he’s locked in a filthy cell reeking of raw sewage.  The Russians demand that he sign a confession to spying.  Almon refuses for months and keeps going back to the rotten cell.  He’s forced to wear the same uniform for months, not allowed to shower, and grows a heavy beard.  One day, the guards tell him his wife has come.  They let him shower and give him fresh clothes.  Just when he thinks he’s going to see his wife, they bring back the putrid uniform and demand that he put it back on.

The prospect of wearing the filthy uniform and going back to the disgusting cell is too much for Mickey.   He finally breaks.  He’s been promised that if he confesses and makes a video for the Soviets, he’ll be deported back to the United States.  Of course, the promise of going home turns out to be a lie.  Pretty soon, Mickey is wrestled onto a crowded train with a bunch of other prisoners.  That’s when Almon learns he’s not going to the airport.  He’s destined for a ten year sentence at a gulag in Siberia.  Almon puts on a brave show, swearing at the guards and refusing to cower.  But eventually, Mickey Almon determines that he must take things into his own hands.  No one is going to rescue him.  He either has to stand the brutal, inhuman conditions, or find some way to escape.

As I was watching this film yesterday, I couldn’t help but realize that if Mickey Almon had actually been arrested in Moscow in the 80s, he would not have done ten years in a Soviet gulag.  The Soviet Union fell apart in 1991.  But in the 80s, we had no idea that it was going to fall apart.   In those days, the Soviet Union was a massive superpower and it was perceived to be a huge threat to the United States.  There was a lot of talk about who was going to “push the red button”.

Since I remember the 80s so clearly and they don’t seem like they were really that long ago, this film still gave me the willies.  And yet, just ten years after Gulag was released, I went to the former Soviet Union to live for two years.  I quickly found out that Soviets… Armenians, anyway… were just normal folks like everybody else.  Yes, the lifestyle there was different than what I was used to, but at their core, people living in what used to be Soviet Armenia were just people who wanted the best for themselves and their loved ones.  And I happened to be there at a time when their country was going through extreme turmoil due to the fall of the Soviet Union.

Another thing I noticed was that the film looked “old”.  I mean, I remember watching movies from the 60s and 70s when I was a child and thinking they looked dated.  I had that same experience yesterday.  1985 really was 36 years ago!  To put that in perspective, it would be the same as me watching a film in 1985 that was made in 1949.  1949 in the 1980s sure did seem like it was ages ago.  Hell, that was back before my parents were married.  The upshot is that now I feel ancient.

Actually, I’ve been going through a bit of a mid life crisis lately, so it probably wasn’t the best idea to watch this film.  It really does seem like yesterday that I was a teenager.  Now I’m about to turn 49 and I feel like there’s a lot I haven’t yet done.  I have never had a “real” career.  I don’t have children.  I have a great marriage and I’m grateful for that, but I think it’s mainly because I found an unusually patient guy who has already survived the wife from hell.  Anything I do seems to be very small potatoes to him.

I still have a few Armenian friends.  I wonder what they would think of Gulag and the other American made propaganda films.  I am sure they’ve seen their share of anti-American propaganda, too.  I kind of wish I’d had the chance to talk to some of them in person about it back when I saw them on a daily basis.

Anyway, if you’re curious, here’s a link to Gulag, which also has helpful Polish subtitles.  Enjoy!

Here’s the film, Gulag, which aired on HBO all the time in the 80s! It’s the only film, besides An Officer and a Gentleman I have ever seen David Keith in. What’s weird is that I have twin cousins who look a lot like David Keith. Every time I see him, I think of them.
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bad TV, mental health

The tasteless dramatization of self-starvation…

This post may be triggering for anyone suffering from an eating disorder. Reader discretion advised.

A couple of days ago, I decided I couldn’t stand to watch any more old episodes of Snapped. I actually find Snapped very interesting, but I can barely stand to listen to the former narrator, Sharon Martin, who (to me) has an annoying, over-the-top, salaciousness about her that bugs. I read that Sharon Martin was replaced as the narrator on Snapped. Having looked her up online, I know I’m not the only one who finds her irritating. She must also have her fans, though, because she was the narrator for many years, and there was even a Change.org petition to bring her back.

Because I needed to break away from Snapped, I went on a downloading binge. I ended up buying the box set of Growing Pains, which was a popular show, starting when I was a pre-teen. That show famously starred the late Alan Thicke, Joanna Kerns, Kirk Cameron, Tracey Gold, and Jeremy Miller. I’ve just now started the second season and am unexpectedly delighted by how well written and funny the early seasons are. Kirk Cameron was legitimately cute and funny before he became a Christian evangelist nightmare. Jeremy Miller was seriously adorable when he was a little kid. And then there’s Tracey Gold.

I’ve always had kind of a love/hate fascination with Tracey Gold. I think she is a talented actress, although the roles she’s played have often annoyed me. I remember seeing her on shows like Trapper John, MD and any number of movies of the week. She truly has a gift for acting, especially the kind of acting required by shows of the 70s and 80s, which was the height of my childhood. I probably know her best from her time as Carol Seaver, though… and I remember all too well how she was often made fun of on the show for being fat, ugly, and nerdy. Then, when she was in her late teens/early 20s, she developed anorexia nervosa and had to leave Growing Pains for treatment.

In 1994, Tracey Gold even made a TV movie about her real life eating disorder. For the Love of Nancy is one of maybe a dozen or so television movies about the horrors of eating disorders. For all I know, Tracey has recovered from her illness. I haven’t seen her on TV lately, but then I also haven’t been in the United States since 2014.

Yesterday, as I was watching old episodes of Growing Pains, I started thinking about all of the eating disorder themed movies of the week and after school specials. Next thing I knew, I started searching Google and promptly fell down a rabbit hole. My search was prompted by a guest star on Growing Pains by an actress named April Lerman (now known as April Haney). She played an annoying, pretentious girl named Juliet on Growing Pains. In 1987, she also played a girl named Cindy Greco on an after school special called Little Miss Perfect. On that show, she was second banana to Mary Tanner, who played the lead role– a bulimic girl named Debbie Welker.

I remember watching that special and being a bit shocked by it. On that special, Debbie (Mary Tanner) was upset because her mother remarried and forced her to leave her old neighborhood. She finds herself in a new school, where she has to prove herself as a budding musical theater star and high school cheerleader. I distinctly remember the cheerleading coach making comments about how the high school cheerleaders needed to make the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders “jealous” of them.

The hourlong show culminated with a scene showing Debbie stuffing her face with tons of junk food and then throwing up. She ruptures her esophagus and ends up in the hospital, where her mother lectures her about her habits. Cindy Greco (April Lerman) is there doing a horrible Humphrey Bogart impression as Debbie’s mom promises her that they will “lick” (see what they did there?) this problem together.

I went looking to see if I could find that particular cringeworthy special on YouTube. I have seen it there before. Alas, it’s one of the lost episodes that isn’t currently on the popular video platform. I’m sure it will show up again at some point. What I did find, however, was a hilarious article about movies and shows about eating disorders. This snarky piece, written by Claudia Eve Beauchesne, makes the very astute observation about the the media’s portrayal of eating disorders. She writes:

Between 1981 and 2003, at least a dozen cookie-cutter movies and after- school specials about eating disorders were broadcast on North American television. Nearly all of those films had titles combining the words “Dying,” “Perfect” and “Body” (Little Miss Perfect, Perfect Body, Dying to be Perfect, etc.) or including the word “Secret” (Kate’s Secret, The Secret Life of Mary Margaret, A Secret Between Friends, etc.) Save for a few exceptions, they all followed the same recipe:

A white, upper-middle-class teenage girl with mommy issues and a name that ends in a “y” sound (Casey, Debbie, Nancy, Lexi, etc.) secretly begins to “scarf and barf,” or stops eating altogether, in an effort to excel at a performing art or competitive sport, to emulate a popular new friend, or to regain a sense of control after a move or her parents’ divorce. A few dramatic incidents later—often messy binges involving chocolate icing, desperate midnight workouts and/or laxative theft—her friends and family start to tell her that she looks too thin, yet fail to notice that she now also sports ghoulish purple eye shadow and beige lipstick.

Eventually, our heroine faints in public and wakes up in the hospital, her mother asks herself out loud, “What did I do wrong? What did I miss?!” and a doctor gives the worried parents a complete rundown of the possible causes and effects of eating disorders. After a failed attempt to run away from the hospital, our heroine learns that her enabler friend or sassy hospital roommate has died of heart failure or committed suicide. The news sends her on a downward spiral until she hits rock bottom and resolves to get better. Cue the tearful reconciliation with mom.

I sat there chuckling, because Claudia is so right. I’ve seen most of those movies. Some of them are better than others, but they all do follow that basic formula. And they all kind of make it out that the only real eating disorders are anorexia nervosa or bulimia, and they’re only “real” if someone winds up in the hospital on the brink of death. Also, one thing Claudia doesn’t mention, but I’ve noticed, is that they always show the heroines jogging through beautiful neighborhoods, as if they are so healthy and wholesome… but underneath, there’s a bucket of crazy!

The first movie about eating disorders. It’s loosely based on the novel by the same name.

The actors portraying the victims sometimes actually look the parts they play. Jennifer Jason Leigh portrayed Casey Powell in The Best Little Girl in the World, an ABC movie of the week loosely based on the book of the same name, written by famed eating disorder therapist Steven Levenkron. I read that Jennifer Jason Leigh lost about 22 pounds to play Casey. She’s also a legitimately good actress. But they still used an emaciated body double in a doctor’s office scene. You can tell, because Jennifer Jason Leigh had really beautiful, thick, natural hair, and in that scene, it’s obvious the body double is wearing a godawful wig. But the shot only lasts a few seconds.

In For the Love of Nancy, there’s a similarly revealing scene. Tracey Gold, who actually did have anorexia nervosa, comes into a Christmas party looking like death warmed over. In that scene, it really looks like they mostly used her real body, although she was reportedly in recovery when that film was made.

Like The Best Little Girl in the World, For the Love of Nancy starts with a jogging scene…

I’ve seen For the Love of Nancy a bunch of times. This is the first time I’ve actually stopped to look at this scene closely. It’s probably because this movie kind of grates. Even though it has a somewhat decent cast, there’s not a lot of chemistry among the actors. Jill Clayburgh and William Devane are not convincing as a couple and the siblings all look like they came from different gene pools. But now that I look at it this infamous scene in slow motion, I think they used body doubles for this film, too. Tracey Gold probably no longer had the super skinny body that would deliver the requisite shock value to viewers, since she had been in recovery. I’m sure this film was not easy for her to make. It was probably pretty triggering for her.

Nowadays, movies of the week aren’t as common as they used to be. We have so many outlets for entertainment now. All of the streaming services make their own content now– Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu all have their own shows, and there are so many dramatic subjects that can be tackled that shock even more than anorexia nervosa does. Personally, I think these kinds of movies, which entertain in a way akin to that of horror movies, do a disservice to people.

There are a lot of different kinds of eating disorders. They are all soul crushing and devastating in their own ways. But no one wants to see an obese woman with compulsive overeating disorder stuffing her face and not vomiting, even though compulsive overeating is, in fact, a dangerous eating disorder. Ditto to orthorexia, which is an obsession with “clean” or “healthy” eating. Even though it’s unhealthy and destructive, it’s not as dramatic or sexy a subject as is anorexia or even bulimia. Maybe a really gifted screenwriter and director could make a compelling film about the lesser acknowledged eating disorders, but they probably wouldn’t stir as much interest, even though informing the world about those problems would probably be a public service. At most, people with compulsive overeating or binge eating disorders will get spots on a “freak” show aired on The Learning Channel (TLC).

This movie is pretty obscure these days. I’m not sure I could “stomach” it today.

The one film that probably came closest to such an ideal was the 1990 comedy-drama film, Eating, which starred Mary Crosby. And that movie, which I have seen, is not that great. I remember there was another show– it was an actual series that quickly got axed– that was called Starved. It attempted to put a comic spin on eating disorders and, quite predictably, was deemed in poor taste.

Yes, the episodes of Starved are on YouTube. No, I haven’t watched all of them. Maybe I will, though.

I seem to remember Tracey Gold tried to do a series about eating disorders, too. Her show was more of a documentary/talk show format. I think I saw it once or twice before it was canceled. It didn’t have the best time slot. If you check YouTube, you can find a number of episodes of Tracey’s show, Starving Secrets, posted there.

One of my favorite movies about eating disorders remains the totally horrifying Karen Carpenter Story. Premiering on CBS on New Year’s Day 1989, this film starred Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter and Mitchell Anderson as Richard Carpenter. Neither actor looked much like the person he or she was portraying, which meant there were really awful wigs used. There was also lip synching aplenty. I read that Cynthia Gibb actually had to wear Karen’s clothes, per Richard Carpenter’s insistence. Later, I read that Richard hated the movie and was sorry he’d had anything to do with making it. It’s a pretty campy movie and I’m not sure it holds up well against the test of time, however I will always love it for the music. I am an unabashed Karen Carpenter fan.

The Karen Carpenter Story…

Cynthia Gibb also portrayed an anorexic on the old TV show, Fame. Her character on that show, Holly Laird, becomes anorexic when her parents divorce. Of course, since it was 80s TV, Holly gets sick and is completely recovered by the end of the show, even after a hospital stay. It’s never mentioned again. Naturally, this is a pretty unrealistic characterization of eating disorders. They don’t magically go away.

Cynthia Gibb plays Holly Laird on Fame, who was anorexic for just one episode.

Below are a few screenshots from the dramatic fainting scene… these are supposed to be high school students!

Perhaps the best portrayal of anorexia nervosa I’ve seen yet– and perhaps as much because of accuracy as sheer entertainment value– was that of Emma Rigby’s portrayal of anorexic teen, Hannah Ashworth on the British soap, Hollyoaks. I enjoy British TV anyway, but these scenes are so over the top compelling. And as an American, I find the concept of “sectioning” someone kind of fascinating. Yes, one can be committed in the United States, but Brits make it sound so much more caring when they do it. That kind of warms the cockles of any drama queen’s heart.

You could spend hours watching this shit… Fans of this particular genre have uploaded every scene.

Emma Rigby is also a good actress and the writers seem to have really done their homework about the most dramatic aspects of anorexia nervosa. They even mention the putrid breath one gets when one is in ketoacidosis from eating nothing but protein with no carbs. I was impressed by that. It’s not a very sexy aspect of anorexia and I have never seen it mentioned on any other dramatized program about eating disorders. It looks like Hollyoaks has gone there again more recently with a character named Cleo. I haven’t actually watched Cleo’s story, so I can’t comment too much about it yet…

Oh dear!

I could continue writing about this, but it would take all day. I haven’t even scratched the surface. However, just to bring this back to the original topic that caused me to fall down this rabbit hole, I will mention the dreaded Cameron family again. Remember, I got on this subject because of Tracey Gold, who famously starred with Kirk Cameron on Growing Pains? Well, his real life sister, Candace Cameron Bure, is also an actress. And she also portrayed someone with an eating disorder on the family friendly show, Full House. Her character, D.J., diets compulsively for one episode in which she decides to lose weight for a pool party at Kimmy Gibbler’s house.

You can find clips on YouTube, but I prefer this Funny or Die video… They do a good job summing things up. I like it when Jesse (John Stamos) tries to lay down the law.

Anyway… I figure I’ve prattled on long enough about this subject today. Maybe I should write about politics again, but to be honest, I never enjoyed writing about politics that much. I only felt like doing it when Trump was in charge. My original blog was less about politics, anyway, and I’d kind of like to get back to that content… which is less depressing.

Is watching old episodes of Growing Pains better than watching “murder porn” shows like Snapped? Especially when it leads me to looking up movies and TV shows about eating disorders? I don’t know. I used to be pretty obsessive about dieting when I was young, which is why I know about this genre in the first place. I am less obsessive about this subject now, although it’s not something that ever totally goes away. I know I’m not alone, though, which is why I’m writing about this now.

Time to practice guitar before I completely lose my motivation and watch more bad TV from the 80s.

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book reviews, celebrities

Repost: Brooke Hayward explains how her family went Haywire

Here’s another reposted book review. I originally wrote it for Epinions.com on January 9, 2012. It was reposted on my old blog exactly six years later. And now, I’m reposting it again, almost three years after the last repost. As this was written in 2012, please bear in mind that some things in my life have changed since then.

Television has certainly changed since I was a child.  Back when I was still at a tender age, movies of the week were very common on the big three networks.  I remember back in 1980, there was a movie of the week starring Lee Remick and Jason Robards called Haywire.  Though my memories of the actual film are hazy, I did remember the movie was high on drama and based on a book by the same name written by Brooke Hayward.  When I recently got the urge to read something new, I went looking for Haywire.  To my delight, it was available on Amazon.com, both in print form and for the Kindle.  I downloaded a copy and spent the next week reading all about how Brooke Hayward’s family went “haywire”.

Who is Brooke Hayward?

Being a child of the 70s, I haven’t seen that many classic movies.  Consequently, I am not all that familiar with Brooke Hayward’s mother, Margaret Sullavan, who was a successful actress and film star.  I’m also not familiar with Brooke Hayward’s father, Leland Hayward, a reknowned Broadway and Hollywood agent.  But the two were at one time a couple and their marriage produced three children: Brooke, Bridget, and Bill.  Besides her turn as an author, Brooke Hayward is known for being Dennis Hopper’s first wife and a model and actress.

Brooke Hayward has also had many famous stepparents.  Her father was also married to Nancy “Slim” Keith and Pamela Harriman.  His first wife was Lola Gibbs.  They divorced, remarried, and divorced again before Brooke was born.  Also before Brooke was born, her mother had a brief marriage to Henry Fonda and a slightly longer marriage to Hollywood director and screenwriter, William Wyler.  At the time of her early death, Margaret Sullavan was married to Kenneth Wagg, an investment banker.

How things went “haywire”

Haywire is, at its core, a book about growing up with Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward as parents.  But at a deeper level, this book is also about being a child of divorce and an innocent bystander to mental illness.  This book was written in 1977, before people talked about how divorce affects children.  Indeed, when Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward split up, divorce was not nearly as common as it is today.  It was a source of shame.

In her elegant writing style, Hayward describes how Leland Hayward and Margaret Sullavan grew up and eventually came together, even though they were very different people.  Leland Hayward liked to live a fancy life, while Margaret Sullavan was more grounded and determined not to let their children grow up spoiled.  Hayward liked the city, while Sullavan preferred the country.  Hayward was a sophisticated jetsetter, while Sullavan remained faithful to her Virginia roots.  They were a mismatched couple, even though their marriage lasted a somewhat respectable (by Hollywood standards, anyway) eleven years.

When Brooke Hayward’s parents split up, she and her brother and sister were asked to take sides.  By Hayward’s account, Margaret Sullavan was very possessive of her children and would manipulate them through guilt.  When they had disagreements with her, Margaret Sullavan would suggest they go live with their father, suggesting that it was somehow a punishment.  One day, Bridget and Bill Hayward agreed that, yes, they would prefer living with their dad.  Apparently, that revelation drove Margaret Sullavan to a nervous breakdown.

Aside from problems stemming from their parents’ divorce, Bridget and Bill Hayward had significant mental health issues.  Both committed suicide.  Bridget died of a drug overdose in 1960 at age 21, just months after Margaret Sullavan’s own suicidal overdose.  Bill Hayward died in 2008 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  Both Bridget and Bill spent a great deal of time in mental hospitals. 

Interspersed with her ruminations about life with two world famous but troubled parents, Hayward injects plenty of tales about her contemporaries.  Peter and Jane Fonda were contemporaries and Brooke, Bridget, and Bill spent a lot of time with them.  She describes the elegant lifestyle she enjoyed, despite her mother’s determinations to prevent her children from being spoiled by excess.

This book was updated in 2010 and has a new epilogue, which updates readers on how Brooke and Bill turned out.  There are also pictures which looked great on the Kindle.

My thoughts

I am not a child of divorce, but I am a stepmother to my husband’s two very alienated young adult daughters.  I have only met my husband’s daughters once and they haven’t spoken to my husband since 2004.  Like Brooke Hayward, I have had an up close and personal look at the way divorce can screw up children.  On ther other hand, divorce can be a lifesaver when two people don’t get along.  And if it’s done correctly and the parents put their kids first, it can be a good thing for a dysfunctional family.  Naturally, it works best when parents can cooperate with each other. 

As I read Haywire, it appeared to me that Margaret Sullavan and Leland Hayward did, on some level, try to co-parent.  Sullavan didn’t like sending her kids to see their dad, but she did at least allow them to maintain that relationship.  However, Brooke Hayward’s account is very telling in that Sullavan was adept at emotionally blackmailing her children.  She made disparaging remarks about Leland Hayward and, though she might not have done it on purpose, asked her kids to take sides.  Clearly, this kind of manipulation eventually took a toll on all three children.  While most children of divorce do grow up without having to do time in a mental hospital or prematurely ending their lives, Hayward’s account of how she missed out on time with her father is very revealing. 

Leland Hayward was not blameless either.  He was somewhat guilty of being a “Disney Dad”, lavishing gifts and money on the children in order to assauge his guilt over not being around.  He was not faithful to Sullavan and that was one of the reasons they split.  I’m sure there was guilt stemming from that as well.

One thing I was glad to see is that Brooke, Bridget, and Bill seemed to get along with all of their stepparents.  I did notice that they seemed to like some of their parents’ choices more than others.  For instance, Brooke really seemed to like her first stepmother, Nancy, more than she liked socialite and future U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman, who was married to Leland Hayward at the time of his death.  Of course, Pamela Harriman is a fascinating subject all on her own! 

Overall 

While I can’t claim to be a fan of Margaret Sullavan as an actress, nor did I ever follow Brooke Hayward’s acting career, I will admit to liking Haywire.  It’s a fascinating read on so many levels.  It’s entertaining for people who enjoy reading about classic film stars.  It’s also great for people who like to read about family systems.  And now I’d like to re-watch the film that prompted me to read this book.

An ad for the made for TV movie, which was based on the book. I remember watching this film when it aired.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon.com on sales made through my site.

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