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Julia Roberts will star as Martha Mitchell, the Pine Bluff native who was married to John Mitchell, attorney general under President Richard Nixon, in a forthcoming Starz adaptation of Slate’s “Slow Burn” podcast, Vulture reports. The TV show is called “Gaslight.” Sean Penn will star as John Mitchell.

The first episode of “Slow Burn” is devoted to Martha Mitchell. It’s highly recommended. Not being alive during Watergate or studying the history, I knew nothing of her story.


Here’s an excerpt:

Martha Mitchell, in the early 1970s, was a bona fide celebrity. She was glamorous and outspoken—a high-energy Southern belle from Arkansas. She was in her 50s but she was girlish. She wore long, dangly earrings and kept her bright blond hair in a beehive. She had a reputation for loving fun, for drinking a little too much, and also talking a little too much.

Martha was not a typical Cabinet wife. In 1970, the New York Times called her “the most talked about, talkative woman in Washington.” She appeared on TV a lot, and in those appearances she came off as zany and friendly, even though she was always going on about how much she hated liberals. She was funny about it, though, sort of like a ferociously anti-communist Lucille Ball. J. Edgar Hoover, the notorious FBI director, once said, “She is one of the most lovable girls I have ever met. She says what she thinks and lets the chips fall where they may.”

She’s most remembered for alleging, shortly after the Watergate break-in, that she’d been the victim of kidnapping and abuse at the hands of Nixon-connected political operatives. Her claims were relegated to life style sections of newspapers and she wasn’t widely believed — until more details of the scandal emerged. Psychologists now use “The Martha Mitchell Effect” to describe someone who is diagnosed as paranoid or delusional for saying things that sound nutty but are later revealed to be true.