movies, music, nostalgia, YouTube

A movie that still haunts me after 44 years…

It’s Friday, and I’m sitting here listening to Anne Murray, of all people. As a child of the 70s, I can’t help but have some guilty pleasures. Anne Murray had a lot of hits in the 70s, so her music is a big part of my personal soundtrack. Listening to her sing takes me to a comforting place.

What a Wonderful World (14 Inspirational Classics), the album I’m listening to right now, is one of Anne’s more recent ones. Or, it’s relatively recent, anyway, having been released in 1999. When you consider that Anne Murray has been around since before I was born, it’s kind of recent. It consists of fourteen cover songs, all of which are either pop songs made famous in a previous era by other artists, or old fashioned hymns. It’s an album my father would have enjoyed. My mom would probably like it, too, although her tastes in music were decidedly peppier than his were.

I think I like Anne’s 70s hits better than this album, although her versions of these songs are certainly pleasant enough. It sounds like she enjoyed making this record, even if the songs lack the emotional punch of her earlier stuff. It’s not a bad thing to wake up to, I guess.

I think I bought this album because I heard Anne singing with her daughter, Dawn Langstroth, on another album, and I liked Dawn’s voice a whole lot. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Dawn has a really beautiful voice that compliments her mother’s voice very nicely. I like to support artists when I like what they do– especially if they aren’t super famous. Dawn Langstroth has a couple of albums with music that isn’t like her mom’s, but is equally appealing (I have eclectic tastes).

At least I’m not listening to anything with profanity in it. God knows, I’ve been known to do that, too. I usually do that when I need a laugh.

Bill is in Bavaria again, so I’m on my own for the next week, trying to stay out of trouble. When Bill goes away, I try to occupy myself with “wholesome” activities and maintain sobriety. I don’t always succeed in not drinking beer when he’s gone, as it helps me pass the time. However, I do make an effort, because it’s good for me, and because there may be a need for me to drive somewhere. This was more of a concern when Arran was still with us, but suffering from cancer. Now that he’s gone, it’s less of an issue. But we do still have Noyzi, and he could get into trouble.

Also, I like to reassure myself that drinking is always a choice. For the most part, I don’t really miss drinking when I abstain from it, especially if I am engaged in something. I don’t necessarily want to walk all the way to the basement for a beer. πŸ˜‰

Last night, I decided I wanted to watch an old made for TV movie from 1979. I remember watching this movie on CBS when I was about 6 or 7 years old. The film, titled And Your Name is Jonah, was about a deaf child who was misdiagnosed as “retarded” (the term used in the movie– today, we would use a more politically correct term). It starred Sally Struthers, James Woods, Jeremy Licht, and introduced nine year old Jeffrey Bravin, who is deaf in “real life”.

The film is pretty dated, since it was made in 1979. Watching it last night reminded me of how old I am, especially as I heard the actors speaking of “retardation” (which was a valid diagnostic term when I was a child), watched Jonah riding on his mother’s lap in the front seat of the car (with no one wearing seatbelts, no less), and saw Jonah, at nine years old, running around New York City alone.

It’s hard to believe that was how things kind of were at that time. I can remember being allowed to go places alone from a very young age, riding in the car unrestrained (even in the front seat), and hearing all manner of words now deemed egregiously offensive being thrown around on television and in “polite” conversation. You wouldn’t hear the word “shit” on primetime television, but the r bomb and n bomb were dropped all over the place. And yet, there were some really intelligent and thought provoking movies and TV shows made in those days. Some “Movies of the Week”, as And Your Name is Jonah was, were genuinely excellent.

I was a bit traumatized by And Your Name is Jonah back in 1979. If you’ve seen this movie, you might know which scene was especially haunting to a small child. One thing that comes across in this movie is that Jonah, who was “institutionalized” for three years with children who were intellectually disabled, is terrified of the new world outside of the hospital where he’d been living.

Jonah does not have an intellectual disability, but he is profoundly deaf, and he’s never been taught to communicate. He wears uncomfortable hearing aids that don’t really help him hear better. The film presents Jonah’s perspective– first not being able to hear at all, and then only hearing unpleasant and unintelligible noise when he wears hearing aids. So, even though his cognitive function is normal, he is constantly frustrated, trying to communicate and understand what’s happening. Most of the time, he seems very stressed as he tries to have his needs met, and things like his little brother’s Spiderman doll, scare him. However, there are some bright spots, such as when he meets his mother’s grandpa, a friendly Greek man who loves to dance and is very kind to Jonah.

Jonah meets Grandpa and learns how to dance to vibrations…

Jonah’s father Danny, played by James Woods, has a short temper and little patience for Jonah. He tells his wife, Jenny (Struthers), that he wants to put Jonah back in the hospital. Jenny refuses to consider sending Jonah back to the institution. Danny ends up leaving when he can’t take dealing with Jonah, leaving Jenny to deal with their son alone. He does send her a paltry sum of cash in the mail and a note.

Grandpa runs a vegetable stand. Jonah visits him often with his mother and brother. One day, Jonah is having a ball with Grandpa, and the old man collapses from a heart attack. He dies. Jonah doesn’t understand what has happened to his beloved grandfather. Then there’s a funeral scene, and the family files by the open casket, kissing Grandpa on the forehead. Jonah is the last to see him as the lid is closed forever. Danny shows up after the funeral, hanging around outside of the church to offer his condolences to his wife. Jenny is devastated, trying to talk to him about their son… and Danny, predictably, can’t handle it and leaves again. There’s so much profound loss in Jonah’s life, and he has no way to process it with other people.

So very sad… Grandpa was Jonah’s best friend.

After Jonah’s dad, Danny, leaves, Jonah has even more trouble adjusting to his circumstances. One day, he sneaks out of the house, gets on the bus by himself, and goes to Grandpa’s vegetable stand, which is not open. Confused, Jonah wanders around looking for his Grandpa, then sees a lady who knows him. He panics, and tries to get back on the bus, but he’s too late to catch it. It leaves without him. Now, Jonah is left without transportation, wandering alone in the city.

One of New York City’s finest sees Jonah wandering around alone. Not understanding that Jonah is deaf, the cop assumes the boy is “crazy”. He picks up Jonah and takes him to a hospital. Jonah knows about hospitals, and he freaks out when he goes inside the building. Everyone is dressed in white– and the nurses all wear scary caps, just like they did back in the day. It probably smells medicinal, too, which would likely be pretty powerful for someone who doesn’t hear.

Yikes! Can you blame him for being terrified?

Once again, panic overwhelms Jonah, and he tries to run away. The cop and an intern (in an old fashioned white smock) grab the boy, who winds up in restraints. It’s a very short but extremely powerful scene. As a small child, I remember being scared when I saw it on television. Especially when I saw Jonah’s terrified face at the end of the scene (see the featured photo).

Although this film is about two-thirds emotionally wrenching and sad, it does have a very happy ending when Jonah has a breakthrough. Jenny meets deaf people in speech therapy. They introduce Jenny to more deaf people, all of whom use American Sign Language to communicate. Jenny has been told that signing is bad– Jonah’s been in a school where signing is expressly forbidden. But it turns out that sign language is Jonah’s key to the world. And once he realizes he can sign to be understood, things finally get better.

Jenny’s new deaf friend explains what it’s been like for her in a hearing world.
Jenny confronts Jonah’s clueless teacher…
Jonah catches on…

Billy Seago, the young man who helps get through to Jonah, is just amazing in the breakthrough scene. Look at his facial expressions. They are amazing. I should also give a shout out to the late Fred Karlin, the composer who provided the moving soundtrack for this film. It sets just the right tone… and in fact, the main theme is stuck in my head as I type this.

Jonah has a breakthrough.

This movie can be watched for free on YouTube, but I decided to download it from Apple TV. I figure even though it was a Movie of the Week from 1979, the fact that I still think about it is a sign that it belongs in my library. I was legitimately traumatized by this movie when I saw it aired on CBS in 1979, but today, I just think it’s a really touching and beautifully done film.

Jeff Bravin, who played Jonah, was on 3-2-1 Contact (a children’s science show that aired on PBS back in the early 80s), but other than that, he’s left acting in the past. Although he’s obviously found a different vocation, I have to say that I am very impressed by his acting skills in this movie. His facial expressions are amazing. He was such a cute child, too… I read in an interview he did that the “restraint scene” was a point of pride for him, as he actually broke some of the straps!

Jeff Bravin is now highly educated and works as a school administrator in deaf education. I read that he never really learned how to speak clearly, because he is so profoundly deaf. Both of his parents and all four of his grandparents were deaf, as is his wife. He has three hearing daughters and grandchildren now, but clearly there are both genetic and cultural components to Bravin’s experience as a deaf person. If you search for him, Bravin is easily found on YouTube– bright, confident, and signing away very fluently.

In a weird way… this movie reminds me a bit of how it was when we brought Noyzi home. Granted, Noyzi is a dog, but he was absolutely terrified for a good long while, especially of Bill. He’s morphed into a wonderful dog, but it’s taken time, love, patience, and understanding. And there have been a few times when Noyzi’s eyes have looked a bit like Jonah’s in the hospital restraint scene. He still reacts automatically to a lot of stimuli, like sudden noises or movements. However, overall, he has adapted very well… and we continue to see progress with him, as he is introduced to new experiences. It’s very rewarding to watch him evolve into the sweet, gentle, loving giant he is…

Which reminds me, it’s time to get dressed and take him for a walk, now that we finally have good weather. I hope this post has entertained and informed… and I hope if I’ve piqued your interest in this movie, you might seek it out on YouTube or even on Apple TV, if you’re so inclined. I’m glad I watched it again, even though it’s very dated, not very politically correct, and reminds me of just how old I am. πŸ˜‰ I think it’s very well done, even in 2023.

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bad TV, true crime

Watered down Lifetime movies that put girls in confinement…

As I have repeatedly and pitifully mentioned this week, Bill has been away on a business trip. And, as I often do when he goes away on business trips, I’ve been watching a lot of made for TV movies, as well as a couple of 80s era classics. Lifetime made for TV movies are usually pretty cringeworthy, although sometimes they turn into “guilty pleasures.” I typically watch the movies they make about true crime cases, especially if I’ve already read about a case. I am a bit of a true crime buff, as some regular readers might already know. I probably ought to stick to writing about books and movies, though, because when I write about true crime cases in the news, I sometimes get angry reactions from family members. It’s never my intention to cause pain to anyone when I write about true crime. I just find the criminal mind and police work kind of fascinating.

Anyway, more than once, I’ve written about Lifetime movies and how sometimes, they’re pretty terrible. Sometimes, I think their treatment of true crime stories is downright disrespectful, such as it was with Secrets of a Gold Digger Killer, which was about Celeste Beard Johnson, who married a wealthy older man and murder him for his money. I also thought Lifetime’s movie, Girl in the Basement, which starred Judd Nelson, and was based on the horrific 2008 Josef Fritzl case out of Austria, was also pretty badly done. This week, I’ve watched three other Lifetime movies that weren’t too terrible. They weren’t great– but they didn’t make me angry, and I never cringed while watching them. However, I did notice that the three made for TV movies had something in common with the aforementioned Girl in the Basement

Girl in the Box

Girl in the Bunker

Girl in the Shed

Do you see the same trend I do? Granted, all of these movies are based on true stories about yucky men who abduct young women or girls and put them in different forms of confinement. But, when I went on Lifetime’s “channel” on Apple TV, I noticed this list of movies with similar titles.

To clarify, I don’t typically go on Lifetime’s Apple TV channel looking for entertainment anymore. When I was younger, Lifetime used to be more my speed. They showed television that was supposed to be “for women”, which includes awesome classic sitcoms like The Golden Girls, health related programming, or movies that were made by the big three networks of yore. I’ve noticed that more recently, Lifetime has gotten into the business of making movies. Most of them are very slick and kind of campy, filmed in Canada, and often boast talent that was on the “big screen” a few decades ago. Again, I usually watch the ones about true crime, so I honestly don’t know what other subjects Lifetime covers. I’m sure someone can tell me.

In any case, this week I watched Girl in the Box, Girl in the Bunker, and Girl in the Shed. I’ve already shared my thoughts on Girl in the Box, which was what started this week’s Lifetime movie trend for me. It was Sunday afternoon; Bill had just left for Bavaria. For some reason, I thought of the 70s and 80s era true crime case involving Colleen Stan— “the girl in the box”. I went looking to see if there was some fresh programming about that case, and discovered Lifetime’s 2016 movie that was based on the case. Because I had nothing better to do, I decided to download it and watch it. Then I noticed the other two movies with similar titles, and downloaded those, too.

A couple of days ago, I watched the 2022 movie, Girl in the Shed: The Kidnapping of Abby Hernandez. Prior to watching Lifetime’s movie, I had not heard of this case out of Conway, New Hampshire, which began on October 9, 2013. Fourteen year old Abby Hernandez was just days away from her fifteenth birthday when she was kidnapped by a creepy psychopath named Nathaniel Kibby. Just like Colleen Stan before her, Hernandez was hitchhiking, something she apparently did frequently. Kibby picked her up. He was seemingly friendly and trustworthy until he stopped the car, handcuffed her, and blindfolded her. He took her to his home and, for about nine and a half months, kept her imprisoned in a storage container/shed.

Girl in the Shed by Lifetime.

In Lifetime’s treatment of this case, Kibby is played by Ben Savage– brother of Fred Savage, who is very familiar to me as a child of the 80s, thanks to his starring role on The Wonder Years. Ben was on the show Boy Meets World, which I never saw, because it was popular at a time in my life when I was too busy for TV. Abby is played by Lindsay Navarro, who looks quite a bit older than fourteen. I’m sure that’s by design, of course. Not only do younger actors have more restrictions on how much they can work, but I’m sure the subject matter of the film may have prevented using younger, more believable actors.

In the Lifetime movie, we see still baby faced Ben Savage as Kibby, vacillating between a conspiracy theory obsessed weirdo to someone with a conscience. He sees giving Abby a “storage shed” to live in as a kindness. He straps a shock collar around her neck to stop her from screaming, but also to prevent her from having to wear a gag. He uses the threat of a taser to keep her under control. He wears a totally creepy looking face mask to prevent Abby from seeing his face, assuring her that someday he’ll let her go. Abby somehow realizes that to survive, she must befriend her captor, which is what she does.

Meanwhile, her mother, Zenya (Erica Durance) is depicted as the only one who never gives up on finding Abby. I’ve noticed that in Lifetime movies, the police are usually depicted as jaded, skeptical, and uncaring. When Zenya calls to report her daughter missing, the cops assume she’s run away. When Abby is forced to write a letter home, and news of it gets leaked to the press, the public turns on Zenya. She gets hateful phone calls and nasty letters in the mail (I don’t understand this practice at all, but people really do this…).

When Kibby loses his job, he gets into counterfeiting money. This is ultimately what leads him to release Abby, as he’s been to prison before, and doesn’t want to go back there. A woman calls him on the phone and threatens to turn him in for paying her with counterfeit cash. It seems kind of crazy to me, but I guess it really happened. Kibby drops Abby off near where he had picked her up months earlier, and she’s left to walk home. There’s no information about Kibby’s prosecution, which took place in 2016 and ultimately led to a federal sentence of 45-90 years in prison.

If I were to go only on the Lifetime movie, Abby and Kibby were practically buddies. There’s no mention or depiction of the horrors of what actually went on in this case. Granted, again, it might be because the case involves a then fourteen/fifteen year old child. But the Lifetime movie waters down the story so much that it seems like Kibby was just lonely and looking for a female friend. The reality is, Kibby sexualy assaulted Abby on a daily basis. And no, that’s not something I necessarily would have wanted to see, but not including that part of the story really dilutes it and undermines just how truly awful Abby’s ordeal really was. Also, the shock collar thing… that was a new one for me, but the way Savage plays it, it’s like Kibby was trying to be “nice”. There’s nothing nice about taking away someone’s voice. But at least he didn’t threaten to cut her vocal cords, like Cameron Hooker did to Colleen Stan.

Reviewers on IMDB had similar impressions that I had. One reviewer even went to school with Abby and was disgusted by how this story was portrayed. I kind of wonder why Lifetime bothered with this… since the actual ordeal isn’t accurately presented at all. I get not wanting to depict CSAM, but this is so whitewashed that it’s kind of laughable. It definitely could have been better. At least it wasn’t horribly offensive, though. Ben Savage isn’t a scary or convincing predator, so I didn’t have any nightmares. His brother Fred, on the other hand, has portrayed creeps convincingly… both on screen, and apparently in real life.

I thought Girl in the Bunker was somewhat better, although it was still pretty watered down from the truth. This 2018 Lifetime made for TV movie is based on the real life case of fourteen year old Elizabeth Shoaf of Lugoff, South Carolina, who was abducted by the late Vinson Filyaw on September 6, 2006. Filyaw, who died in prison of natural causes last year, had been a construction worker, but posed as a police officer to gain Shoaf’s trust. He placed her in handcuffs and walked her around the woods, disorienting her until he finally put her in a 8×8 foot underground bunker, where he had all the “creature comforts” of home.

Girl in the Bunker by Lifetime.

According to the Shoaf was on her way home from school when her boyfriend gave her some marijuana to keep. The boyfriend was apparently a fan of weed and didn’t want to get busted by his parents. Shoaf had the weed on her when she ran into Filyaw.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s family was wondering what happened to her. I hadn’t realized it at first, but Elizabeth’s mom was played by Moira Kelly. I just happened to watch Kelly’s film, The Cutting Edge (1992) the other day. I almost didn’t recognize her in Girl in the Bunker. I had been wondering what happened to her. An even bigger surprise was who they got to play Vinson Filyaw. I’m sure most of you reading this have heard of a 1982 film called E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. I didn’t actually see that film for the first time until 2002. However, I was ten years old when it was released, and it was HUGE. Well, the guy who played Filyaw was none other than Henry Thomas, who famously played Elliott in the movie, E.T. He was more convincing as a villain.

I also thought, Julia LaLonde, the girl who played Elizabeth, was a very good actress and looked like she was about the right age. I could believe she was fourteen years old… or at least somewhat near that age.

Again, there’s no mention of the horrors of what actually happened to the real Elizabeth Shoaf, who was stripped naked, bound in chains, and repeatedly assaulted. And again, I wouldn’t expect a graphic depiction of that on television. But, if I was going to go on what was in the Lifetime movie, I’d come away with the idea that ol’ Vinson was just looking for a friend to ease his loneliness. It looks like most of the reviewers on IMDB liked it, as most of the comments about it are pretty positive.

I have noticed that censorship has changed a lot over the years. It used to be that the censors were a lot more concerned about “bad words”. You’d never hear someone on primetime TV say the word “shit”, for instance, even if you did hear them drop the n-bomb or homosexual slurs. It seems like violence, even if it was sexual in nature, was less taboo. Now, the language is less restricted, at least as far as words like “shit” are concerned, but they don’t want to depict true crime in a way that remotely approaches the horrors of what actually happened, particularly if the story involves minors. It seems to me that if being accurate is so problematic for legal reasons, maybe the genre shouldn’t be tackled by filmmakers. But at least in these two cases, the victims survived.

I’m reminded of an old plotline on The Brady Bunch. Bobby Brady is driving his family nuts because he’s obsessed with Jesse James, who was a cold-blooded killer. Bobby sees him as a hero. Carol and Mike Brady try to teach Bobby a lesson by letting him watch an old movie about Jesse James, but all of the parts that show him as a bad guy are edited out of the movie. Their point is lost, and Bobby is even more convinced that Jesse James is a great guy. To be fair, I don’t think Lifetime goes quite that far. I mean, even though Ben Savage is unconvincing as a menacing creep, we don’t get the idea that his character is a hero. And Henry Thomas is somewhat convincing as a criminal, even though he’s not shown actually doing what his character did in real life. But the point is, if Lifetime is going to make movies about horrifying crimes, they probably ought to do more to actually depict the crimes as horrifying… and make the villains less likable.

Anyway… I’ve probably written more about this subject than it deserves. The dogs didn’t get a walk yesterday due to bad weather and my interminable wait for packages to arrive. So, I probably better sign off and walk them, do my Thursday chores, and get on with my last day of loneliness. Maybe today, I’ll watch an old, campy, guilty pleasure favorite, like Xanadu or Flash Gordon. There are only so many Lifetime movies a person can take in a week. πŸ˜‰

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movies, true crime, TV

Another gloomy Sunday, another Lifetime movie…

Here’s a quick post for our first snow day of December 2022. We woke up to a dusting, and then later, it snowed a little more. A lot of it has melted now, and we’re left with a damp, gloomy Sunday. It’s gloomy because of the weather, but also because Mr. Bill had to go to Bavaria for another weeklong business trip. He’ll be gone until Friday. I hate it when he’s gone, although it is a good opportunity to get things done, like recording songs for my YouTube channel and reading books. I also tend to drink less when he’s not home.

Yesterday, I got a bit ambitious and recorded two new songs for my channel. One was a well-known Christmas song that a lot of people love. I recorded it in honor of my former shrink, who posted that he loves the song. I also know he’s a James Taylor fan, so that was the version I did, albeit in a different key. It took a surprisingly long time. The other song I did was “The Last Unicorn”, which was a favorite movie of mine when I was a kid. I do love the film, but I also love the soundtrack, which was mostly done by America, with songs written by the great Jimmy Webb. Bill was actually home when I recorded them, which is a rare thing. I usually don’t like to do my musical stuff when he’s home. I get distracted and self conscious, even though he’s my biggest “fan”.

Earlier today, I watched yet another Lifetime movie. It actually wasn’t too bad, especially for Lifetime. The subject matter was kind of disturbing and distressing. The 2016 movie was titled Girl in the Box. It was based on a book called Perfect Victim, which I read when I was in high school. Perfect Victim was about Colleen Stan, a woman who was abducted in California back in May 1977 by Cameron and Janice Hooker. Colleen had been hitchhiking, which was a pretty common thing to do back in those days. She was trying to get from her home state of Oregon to California, hoping to surprise a friend. At the time, she was just 20 years old.

Cameroon Hooker was obsessed with BDSM and wanted her to be his sex slave, so after brutalizing Colleen with incredibly sadistic torture, Hooker convinced her that he was affiliated with a group called The Company, which had eyes everywhere and would treat Colleen much worse if they caught her trying to escape. He forced her to sign a “slave contract” and demanded that she call him “master”. He, in turn, called her K, and made her wear a collar.

Colleen spent about seven years as Hooker’s slave. He kept her in a box under his bed and made her wear a horrific head box that shut out all light and noise and almost suffocated her. He hung her by her wrists from the rafters in his house, and would whip her if she screamed. He also threatened to cut her vocal cords. Cameron and his wife, Janice, had tried to enslave another woman named Marliz, but she screamed so much that Cameron murdered her. They buried her, and her body was never found.

Naturally, because it was a Lifetime movie, the film was fairly watered down compared to the book. However, they did get a lot of things right about the case. I thought the film was well cast, and the actors did a good job in their roles. I definitely didn’t cringe when I watched it, like I have when I’ve seen other Lifetime movies. There were some rather disturbing parts to the film, but they didn’t go anywhere as close to graphically describing the actual horrors Colleen Stan endured as the book did.

A trailer for Girl in the Box.

I remember reading Perfect Victim because of my high school psychology class. We all had to read a non-fiction book about an actual psychology case and talk about it. Someone in the class chose Perfect Victim and piqued my interest. I even remember the name of the girl who read it. Thank God Cameron Hooker is still in prison. He was up for parole in 2014, but he was denied and told he can’t try again until 2029. I hope he dies in prison. He’s the type of person who should never be free. His wife, Janice, testified against him, and got immunity. I feel sorry for their children, having a father who is such a sadistic monster.

If this synopsis interests you, I would recommend reading Perfect Victim. Just bear in mind that it’s a pretty harrowing and disturbing story. The Lifetime movie isn’t too bad, although one should engage expectation management. Lifetime movies are not known for being particularly highbrow.

The book I chose for that particular assignment was Starving for Attention, by Cherry Boone O’Neill, Pat Boone’s eldest daughter, who suffered from anorexia nervosa in the 1970s. That was a long time ago, but then, I was a member of the class of 1990. So it’s been awhile since I was last a high school student. In those days, the 70s weren’t so long ago. πŸ˜‰

I’m still working on reading a novel. I’d really like to finish it, because I have a few thoughts I’d like to share about it. I don’t usually read novels, but I chose to read this one, because it was written by James Taylor’s second wife, Kathryn Walker. I’ve been wanting to read it for ages. I’m finding it a rather insightful read.

Anyway… I’ve spent the day watching cop videos and washing Noyzi’s hairy bedding. I’ve got a chicken in the oven, which I’ll pick at all week and get sick of. I really hate it when Bill goes out of town. I’m also having some issues with my stomach that are kind of worrying me a little bit. I’m sure Arran will get me up a couple of times during the night, because he’ll need to pee. But at least this week, he doesn’t have to go to the vet for any chemo treatments. We’re also going to get a new dishwasher, since the old one gave out on us. I expect I’ll spend the week continuing to prepare for Christmas, such as it is.

Hope you’ve had a nice, peaceful Sunday.

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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 especially sad about it, though, is that Lifetime’s treatment of this story 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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movies, reviews

Yesterday, I watched Kate’s Secret; it almost made me puke.

I could totally write about all of the crazy stuff in the news about Donald Trump today… but I don’t feel like writing about the turd. I also don’t feel like writing about Anne Heche, who I have heard has passed away after her car accident last week. The last news I heard about Heche is that she was on life support, so that any viable organs can be harvested and donated. However, I also heard that there was cocaine in her system when she crashed, so I don’t know…

Anyway, I’ve decided not to write much about those topics this morning, because frankly I don’t feel like it. It would require more research than I feel like doing. If you read my travel blog post today, you know that I partied too hard at the wine fest last night. So, in the interest of what I was doing earlier this morning, I’m going to write today’s post about a 1986 made for TV movie called Kate’s Secret. This movie aired in November of ’86, when I was fourteen years old and kind of obsessed with eating disorders. At that time in my life, I engaged in disordered eating myself, although my behavior was never bulimic (binging masses of food and purging/vomiting).

Meredith Baxter talks about making “Kate’s Secret” and “The Betty Broderick Story”, another hot topic on this blog. Meredith says that people still come up to her and ask her about this movie. The interview is much more recent than the movie is.

Kate’s Secret is mostly about bulimia, and stars Meredith Baxter, who was then going by Meredith Baxter Birney and starring on Family Ties, which was a hugely popular hit sitcom. Baxter was, at that time, married to her second ex husband, the recently late David Birney, a fellow actor who starred with her on the 70s era show, Bridget Loves Bernie. Baxter is now married to Nancy Locke, having come out as a lesbian about ten years ago.

An upload of the whole movie.

Because I was so interested in eating disorders when I was a teenager, and I was a fan of Family Ties, I remember being very eager to watch this movie when it originally aired. Having watched it again yesterday, I kind of have mixed views. It’s pretty dated in a lot of ways. I’ll get into that in a minute, though. First, an obligatory rundown of the plot.

Kate Stark (Baxter) is a beautiful thirty-something California wife to a superstar lawyer who is busting his ass to make partner at his law firm. Kate’s husband, Jack (Ben Masters) works very long hours with a beautiful female lawyer named Monica Fields (Leslie Bevis). Kate tries to trust him, but her overbearing mother, Faith (Georgann Johnson), keeps nagging her about the threat Monica poses to Kate’s marriage. This constant riding by her mother about how she should look, and how she should be worried about Monica, makes Kate nervous and insecure. However, it’s clear that Jack loves Kate, and is disappointed at the beginning of the film, when she denies him sex so she can go running. Later, Monica hits on Jack, and he rebuffs her. So, while Faith’s instincts about Monica being a man stealing ‘ho are correct, her instincts about Jack being the cheating kind aren’t.

A short clip showing Kate’s secretive and damaging eating disordered behaviors…

The couple has a daughter, Becky, played by Summer Phoenix, who was about 8 years old at the time. Kate doesn’t let Becky eat sugar, and forces her to drink watered down orange juice. Becky is a Brownie, though, and her mom is very involved in the troop. She’s excited, because she’s about to become a Junior Girl Scout. At one point, they show Summer in a 1986 era Brownie uniform, which gave me a flashback. I, too, was briefly a Brownie in the late 70s, and I wore the 70s version of the uniform, which I hated. It was so itchy! These days, they don’t make girls wear those uniforms anymore. That’s a good thing, because they were very “extra”.

My uniform was just like this one. I was in Troop 819.
Becky’s uniform is a little different than mine was, but it appears to be accurate to what girls wore in the 80s. I hated wearing that shit to school.

Kate somehow manages to keep her bulimia a secret. She’s shown stealing food at the grocery store, buying huge fast food feasts in her car, using the excuse that she’s “surprising her daughter with a treat”, and gorging on party leftovers. Then, one day, while doing aerobics with her friend, Gail (Shari Belafonte, who was then styled as Shari Belafonte-Harper), she passes out. This causes her to miss Becky’s promotion ceremony, as well as missing getting to her husband’s law office in time to pick him up for the ceremony. She calls Jack from Gail’s health club, and he bitches her out for trying to squeeze in aerobics before their daughter’s ceremony, which she had nagged him to attend.

After Kate recovers from fainting, she goes to Becky’s school to pick her up. The child is understandably upset and sulks as she sits in the front seat of the car. Eight year olds in the front seat! Another dated aspect of this film. Kate tries to explain herself to Becky, but then passes out again and has an accident. She moans “Becky…” as she crashes the car, her face planted in the steering wheel, which had no air bag. Curiously, Kate’s face isn’t bruised or banged up after the crash.

Poor Becky is very upset and unable to call for help, since there were no cell phones. She cries for Kate to wake up, and all we see is Kate’s face planted in the steering wheel as the horn blows. Becky frantically tries to rouse her mother.

“Mommy, wake up!”

After the horn scene, we see Kate and Becky at a hospital, where the nurses all wear white dresses and have nursing caps. It’s hard to believe that they still dressed that way, even in the mid 1980s. It makes me feel so OLD. This is where Kate gets sternly chewed out by the emergency room doctor, who is astute enough to see that his patient has teeth marks on her fingers, swollen jaws, and bleeding gums. Seriously? He had time to do all of that evaluation while Kate was unconscious? She’s had lab work done and cardiac tests, and he’s had time to call Dr. Resnick, a psychiatrist played by the late Edward Asner. Resnick shows up just at the right time to confront Kate and tell her she needs to be locked up in a treatment center. She starts crying, moaning that they’re going to “ruin her life”. And of course, Jack doesn’t know what bulimia is, so Dr. Resnick explains.

Then Jack finds out the ugly truth… This scene really blows me away. This is all being discussed in the hall, and they act like she’s going to be compelled to go into the hospital. No HIPAA in 1986, of course, but I don’t think they’d be having this scene in a hallway, even in 1986. It makes for good 80s era TV, but it’s not really rooted in reality, even back in those days. Poor Kate gets confronted and dressed down, and Meredith really pours on the melodrama with lots of fake crying and moaning.

Jack is all pissed off, but agrees to let the good psychiatrist haul his wife off to the psych ward. Kate isn’t given a choice in the matter; it’s all settled by the men. Next we see Kate in the psych hospital, where a doctor is explaining everything. As she’s checking in Kate, she tells her about her roommate, a bulimic model named Patch (Tracy Nelson). Again, no HIPAA back then, so it’s okay to tell Kate about another patient’s medical problems. The doctor tells Kate that the bathroom door is locked, but she’ll open it whenever she needs it.

Then we’re introduced to a crew of other women with eating disorders, to include Dayna, played by Mackenzie Phillips. Mackenzie had plenty of her own real life psych and drug dramas to add to this role. The women give Kate the scoop on what is expected, then we see her bonding with Patch, who like Kate, has a troubled relationship with her mother. The group therapy session scenes are kind of cliched, as one of the women confronts Kate for not admitting her problems. The women are taken on a field trip to a local grocery store, where they are taught to shop for food.

And then Kate asks Dr. Resnick if she can have a “pass” to attend a party for her husband. Dr. Resnick says no, so Kate sneaks out, wearing one of Patch’s beautiful dresses. I’m surprised the dress wasn’t under lock and key, and I’m also surprised that Kate can fit into it, as Patch is supposed to be a model, and Kate is an average sized woman at about 120 pounds (per the obligatory scale scene). She’s talking about how she can’t fit into a size four dress at the beginning of the film. I would assume Patch would wear smaller clothes. Patch helps Kate sneak out of the hospital to go to the party, a decision that will cost both of them dearly (duh, duh, duuuuh!).

When Kate wakes up from surgery, she finds out that Patch overdosed after having to deal with her awful mother. Patch took all of the diuretics she stole and had a heart attack. Kate proceeds to have a huge meltdown and confronts Dr. Resnick, babbling about how no one cares about her unless she’s “good”. Then she has a breakthrough, wailing to the doctor that she’s terrified that her husband will leave her, because her father abandoned her. And her mother had blamed her for her father’s absence. Kate is very distraught to learn about her friend’s death, but Jack declares that he loves Kate and will never leave her. This seems to be when she decides to get well. Again… kind of unrealistic, especially when she says she’s been hospitalized for six weeks. She must have had some great insurance, but I guess her lawyer husband could afford the bills. The movie ends as Kate is seeing her meddlesome mother off at the airport… pre 9/11, so she was allowed to be at the gate as Mom leaves.

I love a good melodrama, and Kate’s Secret has a lot of it. I used to love movies of the week for that reason. In some ways, this movie is not terribly realistic and you have to suspend belief. However, for its time, it’s pretty well written and, of course, in those days, there weren’t any movies about bulimia. Anorexia nervosa was probably considered a more dramatic malady, and probably more compelling for viewers, since anorexics don’t tend to binge and purge (although sometimes they can). Watching someone vomit isn’t as visually appealing for most viewers as watching someone restrict food. I really like Tracy Nelson in this movie, too. I wish they’d made her Kate instead of Meredith. But I guess she was too young for the role, as she was only 23 at the time this was made.

Summer Phoenix, who played Becky, is the sister of the late River Phoenix and, of course, Joaquin (also known as Leaf) Phoenix. Their family is famous for its acting and musical talents, as well as being former adherents to the Children of God religious cult. You can search this blog for more information about the Children of God. The family left the cult in 1977, the year before Summer, who is the youngest child in the family, was born. Summer grew up to marry Casey Affleck, Ben’s brother, and had two children with him before they divorced in 2017.

I suspect a lot of people will read this post, because I tend to get a lot of hits on posts I write about eating disorders. But now it’s time to wrap it up and take an antacid… So I hope you enjoyed my recap/review/relook at Kate’s Secret. And please remember, kids, not to try this at home. Bulimia, that is…

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