It seems like the gap between sensational events and their dramatizations is getting shorter and shorter. If you missed the strange and tragic 2015 case of Gypsy Rose and her mother Dee Dee Blanchard, you can read about it in detail here. It’s a story of an untreated mental illness called Munchausen by Proxy, which leads caregivers to prolong illnesses or even make those in their care sick so that they can receive attention, money, or gifts. It’s a story of young and obsessive love, of parental abuse, of BDSM and of murder. The strange case will be the topic of the new anthology series called The Act that will cover a different ripped-from-the-headlines true crime story each season.
Joey King, who has recently cut her hair short to portray Gypsy Rose, is known for her role in the Netflix bubble gum teen rom com The Kissing Booth. But for this Hulu new project she will be taking on a MUCH more serious role. Her mother will be played by Oscar-winning actress Patricia Arquette.
The short version goes like this: Gypsy Rose was a beloved figure of her community in the Ozarks, and her mother, Dee Dee, was seen as her jolly, dedicated mother. Both dressed in childlike clothing, soft pastels with large glasses, a bow on Gypsy’s bald head. As far as her town knew, Gypsy was sick. Very, very sick. And not just with the cancer that had taken her hair, but with a mystifying list of other serious ailments: serious chromosomal defects, leukemia, muscular dystrophy, epilepsy, severe asthma, sleep apnea, eye and ear problems. She received numerous operations and was on a large regiment of medications. Dee Dee often told people that her daughter had the mental capacity of a seven-year-old. She was constantly surrounded by feeding tubes and oxygen tanks, and usually rode in a wheelchair. Through stories done by the local news and through partnering with charities, the two received money, housing, media attention, and charity trips to Disney World.
But Gypsy wasn’t really sick. In fact, there was nothing wrong with her at all; it was her mother that was sick. Because she had been teaching Gypsy that she was sick her whole life, things were very confusing for the 23-year-old who had been told by her mother that she was just 18. She knew that she could walk, and that she could eat without the tubes, but didn’t fully understand all that she had been lied to about. As she began figuring it out, she felt the prison of her mother’s care grow tighter. She expressed interest in dating and began using the internet in secret, looking for the normal things, friends and romance, and her world started to open up. She met a young man named Nick Godejohn. This relationship would change everything for Gypsy.
Together, Gypsy and Nick made a plan to kill Dee Dee. Gypsy had all but figured out what was really going on, and how much damage had been done to her. She also knew her mother would never let her date Nick, would never let her grow up into someone who didn’t need her constant care. Nick Godejohn had a serious dark side, and together the young couple began sending suggestive photos back and forth, some of a violent nature, with Gypsy wearing a red wig and licking the edge of a knife. The plan was made and Nick broke into the house and stabbed Gypsy’s mother to death while Gypsy covered her ears and cried in another room. They skipped town and got a motel room and were picked up by the police soon after.
Gypsy Rose pled guilty, though some believed that to be a mistake, believing that the judge would have had mercy on the severely abused young woman. Gypsy will be eligible for parole when she turns 32, and Nick Godejohn is still awaiting his trial for murder.
We’re in the late 20-teens, and these days we don’t even wait until the trial of the accused has even begun before putting it on the large and small screens. HBO put out a documentary about the case in 2016, and since her trial, Gypsy has appeared on Dr. Phil. Reception to her story has definitely been on the softer side, aided by early reporting on the case by Buzzfeed’s Michelle Dean and Erin Lee Carr’s documentary, and I expect that this drama will show her again in a sympathetic light.
Because if you watch interviews with her, she certainly is a sympathetic figure. She is much more well-spoken, much more of an adult, than when her mother was alive. She is smart, bright, and genuinely remorseful for what she did, but also very in touch with what her mother did to her. She is doing well in prison, feeling freer than she did under her mother’s care.
Michelle Dean will making the transition from journalist to screenwriter along side one of my favorite horror writers, Channel Zero’s Nick Antosca. With these two fantastic writers at the wheel, this series is likely to do the story justice, without forgetting that this tragedy only took place three short years ago.
The Act premieres March 20th.