Netflix, true crime, TV

Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story…

This week, I binge watched Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story. This is the second season of the Netflix series, which I had never heard of until I noticed so many people hitting my reposted review of Nanette Elkins’ book about Kim Broderick. Netflix decided to turn Betty and Dan Broderick’s sordid story into an eight part series. Amanda Peet stars as the older version of Betty, while Christian Slater impressively portrays Dan Broderick.

A 1992 era Oprah Winfrey interview about Betty Broderick’s children.

I found the show pretty compelling, and weirdly comical at some points. The fact that Betty and Dan’s story has turned into entertainment should probably disturb me. I have to admit that Betty Broderick is a fascinating character, though. Lots of people have held her up as a heroine to divorced women who get “shafted” when their powerful husbands dump them for someone younger. In Dan Broderick’s case, it was Linda Kolkena, who had been Dan’s pretty secretary. In Dirty John, she’s played by Rachel Keller. Funnily enough, Rachel Keller wasn’t even born when this crime happened, back in 1989.

I’m not sure why this story out of so many was chosen to be highlighted on Dirty John, but people are obviously intrigued by it. Based on what I’ve read about the Brodericks, both Dan and Betty seemed to be self-absorbed and unkind to each other. Here was Dan Broderick, a brilliant doctor turned lawyer, who made lots of money after his first wife worked to put him through school. And Betty was a great housewife and mom who went nuts when Dan decided he loved someone else. And here was Linda, a so-called “homewrecker”, carrying on with an obviously married man.

On one hand, I can see why Betty Broderick went a bit crazy. She put everything into her marriage and her image… and it seemed like it was all suddenly taken from her. On the other hand, there is absolutely no justification for her decision to kill her ex husband and his second wife, even though it does seem like he abused his powers as an attorney. Or, at least that was how it was portrayed on the show. But let’s think about this. Betty Broderick did some legitimately crazy things. She harassed her ex husband and his wife. She drove her car into his house, ruined his clothes, and mashed Boston Cream Pie all over the bed.

America’s “messiest” divorce.

My husband was married to a woman who never went as far as Betty Broderick did, in terms of being destructive to objects. However, she did her very best to ruin his relationships with other people, and she told outrageous lies about him, and me– a woman she’s never even met in person. So, when Rachel Keller as Linda Kolkena says, “What I’ve seen, I don’t like.” as Betty’s friend tries to get her to give up Betty’s wedding china, I can definitely relate. Being a woman in that position is infuriating and nerve wracking. Granted, Linda had an affair with Dan, while I didn’t start dating Bill until a year after he was divorced, but I still can’t say I condone the way Betty behaved. It was crazy! Even her children thought so, which you can hear in Oprah’s interview above. And no matter what, she had no right to commit murder.

But… as I watched the Netflix series and saw the courtroom antics and the heavy fines Dan tried to levy on his ex wife, I can also see how frustrated and angry she became. It might have seemed like there wasn’t another choice. I know from personal experience that mental illness can really screw up your thinking. I don’t think Betty would have committed murder if she wasn’t legitimately sick. I don’t know what she’s like today, having been locked up for so many years. It’s also hard for me to tell if she was always a little bit disordered or this was something that came on suddenly, in the wake of Dan’s betrayal. The movies and books make it seem like it was kind of a sudden thing, but I have a hard time believing that this kind of behavior came out of nowhere. Only the people who know Betty well can say for sure, though.

Listening to Betty’s children on Oprah’s show reminds me of Bill’s conversations with his daughter. There was a time when she was the most estranged of the three kids Bill claimed as his– as Ex’s eldest son was actually her first husband’s child. But now, she is the only one who talks to Bill, and the more they speak openly and honestly, the clearer the picture becomes on how everyone is treated in Ex’s family. If you see what she puts online, it looks like she’s this very positive, affirming person. But if you know her more intimately, the truth emerges. I suspect that a similar dynamic was present in Betty’s family. Especially when I read and hear about some of the really over the top things she did, like leave her children at Dan’s house in a rage.

Trailer for Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story…

As everybody knows, people like to armchair quarterback things. Lots of people take sides of an issue in the media based on their own experiences. I’m probably more sympathetic to Dan and Linda because they turned out to be murder victims and I am married to a man who was extremely alienated from his children after a divorce. Of course, in Bill’s situation, the divorce was initiated by his ex wife. And it turned out she hadn’t actually wanted to divorce; it was just a ploy to gain more control and humiliate Bill. She never expected that he would agree to splitting up and decided to punish him (and a lot of other innocent people) for it.

In Betty’s case, it was Dan who decided to divorce, and after he’d had an affair. I know I would be hurt and angry if Bill ever did that to me. It’s very disrespectful, especially given that Betty’s help was a large part of why Dan eventually became so successful. I don’t think Dan Broderick was a saint at all. He definitely did a lot of “dickish” things. But he didn’t deserve to be murdered, and neither did his wife, who had never made any vows to Betty. I think the worst thing Linda did was not insist on waiting until Dan was divorced until she had a relationship with him. Of course, if she had done that, she might never have married him, since Betty was very much an obstructionist when it came to the break up. And when you’re in love, sometimes you don’t make the best decisions. I suspect that if Linda hadn’t been murdered, she would have wound up divorced from Dan, too. It’s been my observation that a lot of people who have affairs repeat them in subsequent marriages. Dan seemed to be very concerned about his image and appeared narcissistic to me. He probably would have wanted a younger woman as Linda aged.

Meredith Baxter on playing Betty Broderick.

Anyway… I feel a little bad having enjoyed Dirty John: The Betty Broderick Story. Two people died for that story. Maybe we shouldn’t turn such tales into entertainment for the masses, complete with songs by Cyndi Lauper, Laura Branigan, and Howard Jones. I did really like the soundtrack and even downloaded a couple of Lauper’s albums. I think Amanda Peet did a good job playing Betty. She was more sympathetic than Meredith Baxter was thirty years ago, when she played Betty in the two made for TV movies about her. I also really enjoyed watching Christian Slater. It’s hard to believe he’s the same guy who played Binx in the 1985 film, The Legend of Billie Jean (a truly ridiculous but entertaining movie). But then, it’s also hard to believe that Bradley Whitford, who plays Commander Lawrence in The Handmaid’s Tale, also famously played Elisabeth Shue’s jerky boyfriend in the 1987 film, Adventures in Babysitting. It’s always nice to see actors evolve over the years!

I guess now that I’ve seen the second season of Dirty John, I’ll go ahead and watch the first. In just five days, I’ll be all set to emerge from the COVID-19 quarantine cocoon. I hope it doesn’t blow my mind.

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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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book reviews, celebrities, homosexuality

Repost: A review of Meredith Baxter’s Untied

I originally wrote this review for Epinions.com in March 2011. I am reposting it here, as/is.

As a child of the 1980s, I would have had to have been living under a rock not to know who Meredith Baxter is. The beautiful blonde actress had made her mark back in the 70s with television shows like Bridget Loves Bernieand Family, but I knew her as Elyse Keaton, feminist matriarch of the Keaton family on NBC’s hit sit-com, Family Ties. In those days, she was known as Meredith Baxter-Birney, having married her Bridget Loves Bernieco-star, David Birney. Baxter and Birney later divorced; recently, Baxter made headlines by coming out as a lesbian. I learned about all of this and more by reading Baxter’s brand new memoir, Untied: A Memory of Family, Fame, and Floundering (2011). I purchased this book for my Kindle last week and found it a quick and interesting read. 

Meredith Baxter’s beginnings

After a brief introduction, explaining how she came out as a lesbian, Baxter begins describing her childhood. Meredith Baxter’s mother was an actress named Nancy Ann Whitney, who later came up with the stage name Whitney Blake. From a very early age, Baxter was required to call her mother Whitney, because Whitney didn’t want people thinking she was a mother. Baxter’s father, Tom Baxter, was a sound engineer specializing in live television and radio. Though her parents were married for ten years and had three children, their union ended when Baxter was just five years old. After the divorce, Tom Baxter remained a very small part of his children’s lives. Meanwhile, Whitney remarried twice.  

Baxter grew up in southern California on the fringes of show business. Her first stepfather, Jack Fields, was an agent who helped Whitney Blake get parts that later blossomed into a successful career on television. Baxter describes Fields as cruel, manipulative, and strict, but it was Fields who helped Baxter with her own foray into show business when she was a child.  

A complicated life

Though Meredith Baxter grew up to be a beautiful young woman, she comes across as a bit mixed up. In confessional prose, she admits to dabbling in drugs and alcohol, half-heartedly attempting suicide, and getting married for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, she was both lucky and talented and eventually started working as an actress. She had two children with her first husband, Robert Bush, and three with her second husband, David Birney.

Bitterness toward Birney

Meredith Baxter has a lot to say about her second marriage to David Birney. Baxter was married to Birney for about 16 years. Their union lasted three times longer than her marriages to Robert Bush and Michael Blodgett. However, the added length of the marriage seems to have tripled Baxter’s pain. She makes some very unflattering comments about David Birney and basically describes him as an abusive narcissist.  

A book about Meredith Baxter, not Family Ties… 

Though Meredith Baxter does dish quite a bit about being on Bridget Loves BernieFamily, and Family Ties, as well as a few of her better known made for television movies, I want to make it clear that this book is really about her life. And she has led a very complicated but interesting life, fraught with struggles, including alcoholism, breast cancer, and coming to terms with her homosexuality. But while there were times I kind of cringed while reading this book, I do think that ultimately, Baxter has put out a very positive memoir.  

Toward the end of the book, Baxter writes about what it was like to meet and fall in love with her current partner, Nancy Locke. Though she is “out of the closet”, I still get the feeling that being out is kind of hard for her. She very candidly explains how difficult it was for her to admit and accept her feelings for women. She also explains how hard it was for her to come out to people she loves… and how their reactions to her big news were surprisingly low key.  Untied also includes plenty of pictures.

Overall

I enjoyed reading this book, mainly because I’m a child of the 80s and I love biographies. I think Meredith Baxter did a fairly good job writing her life story. She really comes across as extremely human and somewhat down-to-earth. I do think she’s still in some real pain over her relationship with David Birney, but she seems to have learned from the relationship as well. I think Untied is worthy reading for those who are interested in Baxter’s life story.

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good tv, nostalgia, YouTube

The “Family” rabbit hole…

Thought I’d take a break from bitching about Donald Trump today… I made a discovery yesterday that I should have made about forty years ago. It was raining most of the day, so I decided to watch some YouTube on my TV. Someone uploaded a bunch of episodes of the 70s era drama, Family.

I had heard of Family before yesterday, but never watched it during its initial run from 1976 until 1980. For one thing, we lived in England when it premiered. For another, I was only four years old at the time, and the show usually aired in the 10pm time slot. No way would I have been allowed to stay up for that, even if we’d been in the United States.

I remember people said Family was a very well-written show with progressive story lines. Kristy McNichol played Letitia “Buddy” Lawrence. At the time, she was about eleven years old and very precocious. Actor/composer John Rubinstein composed the theme for Family, which is very serious and not all that catchy. He also played Jeff Maitland, ex husband of the older Lawrence daughter, Nancy (played by Elayne Heilveil for six episodes, then Meredith Baxter).

I ended up binge watching about a half dozen episodes, or so, before Bill was finished with his work day. One of the episodes I saw was the pilot, in which Nancy Maitland comes home to find her husband in bed with another woman. She goes running home to her parents. Her dad, played by the late James Broderick, babies her. Her mom, played by the late Sada Thompson rants about how sometimes women just want “out”.

Family pilot, circa 1976…

Buddy overhears her mother say that when she was pregnant with her, there were times when she wished she could have an abortion. Naturally, that upsets Buddy, who doesn’t stick around long enough to hear her mom say that she was glad to have her now.

Earlier in the episode, Buddy is shown learning to drive a car with her big brother, Willie. She has a close relationship with him, even though he’s several years older. The character is supposed to be 17 years old, but the actor who portrayed him was actually about 27 and looked it!

I got a kick out of the driving lesson scene, though, because the two changed places while they were in the car and neither wore a seatbelt (HORRORS!). Willie tells Buddy to sit on her books, then tells her to put on her “safety belt” (no one ever calls them that anymore). She slips the shoulder belt behind her the way I used to when I rode in the front seat as a kid… no air bags, and no laws requiring kids to sit in the back seat… and, in fact, no seatbelt laws!

As I was watching that scene, I imagined Bill’s reaction to it. He’s older than I am, but he’s definitely a safety geek. I’m sure he’d be horrified!

Anyway, Willie effectively teaches eleven year old Buddy how to drive, so after she hears her mother say that at times when she was pregnant with Buddy, she’d wished to have an abortion, she runs out and takes the car for a spin. Somehow, she ends up at a greenhouse, where she throws rocks from the inside and smashes a bunch of windows in a childish rage!

An old man catches her in the act and calls the police, describing her as an eleven year old child driving a 1974 Maverick. Back in the 70s, my sister used to drive a red Maverick she called Maybell. I’m sure it was a sporty car in those days!

Next thing you know, Buddy is marched into the police station and her dad picks her up and scolds her for driving. Then he takes her home and her mom has to explain her abortion comment.

Later in the series, Nancy gets pregnant and considers having an abortion… this was cutting edge stuff in the 70s. And, as we all know, abortion remains a hot topic 45 years hence!

I also related to Buddy’s angst about what her mom said about abortion. My own mom told me many times that she hadn’t wanted to have me. She never considered having an abortion. They weren’t legal in 1972, anyway. There were many times when I wished she had had one… it would have saved us both a lot of pain. But really, I just wish she had never told me that she was ever sorry to be pregnant with me. That is just not a cool thing to say to your kid, even if you’re happy they’re here now. But it’s especially uncool if your kid is depressed and anxious anyway, as I was when I was growing up. Maybe I could be understanding about that if she’d told me when I was an adult and could comprehend the context better. But, as a kid, it devastated me and fucked me up for years… and I really related to the character Buddy’s emotional outburst at overhearing her mom say that.

Kristy McNichol is an extraordinarily talented actress. She was especially gifted as a child actress. I know she’s retired now, but she really helped make Family an excellent show. As much as I liked Meredith Baxter when I was growing up watching Family Ties, I don’t think she can hold a candle to Kristy’s gift. She’s a natural on screen.

I noticed they used percolators on that show. No one percolates coffee anymore. My mom used to have a percolator like this one. She and my dad drank nasty ground coffee from a can… Maxwell House or Folger’s. And they sweetened it with Sweet-10 (liquid saccharine) and instead of using milk or half and half, they used non-dairy powdered creamer like Cremora. Yuck!

I’ll probably keep watching Family. I get a kick out of the many guest actors from my childhood who show up. A lot of them are now dead or senior citizens, which only serves to remind me of how old I am now. But the 1970s don’t seem like they were that long ago… and frankly, they’re a nice escape from 2020, which is definitely a crazy year. Aside from the nostalgia factor, I really think it’s a great show that has aged remarkably well. I’m grateful that someone posted them on YouTube.

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