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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celebrities, memories, mental health, psychology

Been watching Prince Harry’s mental health documentary series with Oprah Winfrey…

Lately, Prince Harry has been in the news a lot. He’s coming out about his issues with mental health struggles, having grown up in the British Royal Family. He and Oprah Winfrey have produced a new series for Apple TV+ called The Me You Can’t See.

Historically, I’ve never been that much of an Oprah fan. It’s not because I don’t like her work. It’s more that I was never exposed to it when she was up and coming. In the 1980s, when she had a daytime talk show, I was busy with my horse. I didn’t really watch day TV until I got a lot older. By then, she had her own network (The Oprah Winfrey Network OWN), which I never really watched… I guess there were just too many channels to choose from. I’ve always been partial to reruns, anyway.

This show really speaks to me.

Anyway, I have noticed a lot of buzz about this latest show, which airs exclusively on Apple TV+. I started watching it a couple of days ago. I must admit, it’s pretty compelling. The series isn’t just about Prince Harry and his struggles. It’s also about other people– celebrities and non celebrities– who have struggled with mental health issues like depression and anxiety. I have had my own travails with depression and anxiety. That doesn’t make me “special”.

The Me You Don’t See really drives home the reality that depression and anxiety are extremely common conditions that affect so many people. And yet, being depressed and anxious can make a person feel very alone. When those feelings are especially profound, some people may start thinking of suicide, or they may start doing things to self-medicate. Harry has mentioned that he tried to erase his thoughts of his mother’s, Princess Diana’s, horrible death by drinking alcohol. He was also willing to experiment with drugs, all in a bid to blot out the pain of losing his mom.

I’ve seen a lot of derisive and, frankly, kind of mean spirited comments about Harry’s decision to speak about these issues. I want to go on record to say that I think Harry has as much right to be heard as anyone does. I know he was born wealthy and has had privileges that the vast majority of people will never be able to fathom. But with that fame came difficulties that regular people don’t have to face.

The whole world watched as Harry and his brother, William, mourned their mother, who was the most photographed woman in the world. Princess Diana was iconic. Many people worshiped her from afar. To be honest, I found her fascinating and beautiful, but I never put her on the same pedestal that many of my friends did. She was human and fallible, and she had faults. She also made some huge mistakes. Unfortunately, her worst mistakes were made on the day she died, when she rode in a car with a driver who was very drunk and failed to wear a seatbelt.

Still, Princess Diana was a remarkable person… and when she died, she had been in a relationship with someone who wasn’t white and European– Dodi Fayed. Harry mentioned that he has that in common with his mom. Meghan Markle is biracial. He has very real fears that he could lose her the way he lost his mother, either to being hunted down by the paparazzi as Diana was, or to suicide, as Meghan reportedly suffered so much in Britain that she considered taking her own life. Harry also said that his father once told him that he had suffered growing up, and that Harry would also suffer. Harry quite correctly commented that parents shouldn’t try to visit pain on their children, just because they went through pain when they were growing up.

I think a lot of people look at Harry and Meghan and have very little sympathy for them. They’re relatively young, beautiful, and wealthy, and they don’t have the problems that more ordinary people have. However, they are still human beings, and I don’t think it’s right to discount their problems just because we can’t relate to them. In fact, of all of the British Royals, I’ve always thought of Harry as one of the most relatable. To me, he seems like the kind of person who would want to be like everyone else.

I’m about halfway through the series, I think… and I’ve enjoyed the way it presents the global issues surrounding mental health. Oprah Winfrey also talks about what it was like for her, growing up extremely poor and discriminated against in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. Oprah is famous and wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams, and she’s managed to achieve that success in spite of being a Black woman. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t struggled or suffered… and like me, she is a human being.

I respect Harry for striking out on his own. I think that took a lot of courage. I’m glad he’s sharing his story about his mental health struggles, too. Maybe by sharing his story, he will help some people find their own way out of their mental health issues. I know he’s rich and famous, but he didn’t choose to be born royal, and he had nothing to do with the fact that he lost his mother at such a young age and never got any help dealing with that pain.

Trauma affects everyone.

Other people who have been on The Me You Don’t See include Glenn Close, Zachary “Zak” Williams (Robin’s son), and Lady Gaga (Stefani Germanotta). Both Lady Gaga and Glenn Close– famous women– have had some significant challenges that they’ve had to overcome. I appreciate hearing their stories, which really drive home the realization that everyone has a struggle to deal with and a load to carry. I am also glad Zak Williams spoke. He and I have something in common; we both had dads who had Lewy Body Dementia. While I know that not everyone thinks Harry has a right to complain about anything, I, for one, am glad he’s sharing his story.

Frankly, I’ve just about had it with people who have no empathy for others. I think those who don’t care about the royals should just keep scrolling and keep their cruel comments to themselves. Some of us are interested in hearing Harry’s story, as well as the stories of others who are being profiled on The Me You Can’t See. I think I’ll watch more of the series right now.

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