The actress plays outspoken socialite Martha Mitchell, who first linked President Richard Nixon to a burglary that led to his downfall.
Image: © 2021 Starz Entertainment)
Hair slicked back, fur coat on and diamond earrings in… Julia Roberts shows how a pretty woman can change the course of US political history.
The actress plays outspoken socialite Martha Mitchell, a key figure in the Watergate scandal.
She was the first to link controversial President Richard Nixon to a burglary that led to his downfall.
Nixon himself blamed her for his resignation, saying, “If it weren’t for Martha, there wouldn’t have been Watergate.”
Martha, the wife of Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, was from Arkansas and was dubbed the mouth of the South for spreading political gossip.
She was a regular on TV talk shows. But Watergate was a grim affair, and after she spoke up, she was kidnapped, taunted, and dismissed as insane.
It all started in 1972 with a break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington.
Documents were stolen and phones tapped.
Five burglars were arrested and connected to the Presidential Re-election Committee – known as CREEP and headed by John Mitchell.
Nixon’s camp declined any involvement, and Mitchell did his best to keep Martha quiet.
Tonight, her role in the affair is the focus of the new TV series Gaslit on the Starz streaming service.
Sean Penn plays Juliet’s on-screen husband and former Downton Abbey favorite Dan Stevens also stars.
Julia, 54 – who rose to fame in 1990’s Pretty Woman – jumped at the chance to play Martha in her first major role in four years.
She explained: “What was fascinating about her was that she was so outrageous given her position.
“She was supposed to be glamorous and quiet, but she was glamorous and loud.
“She was a pioneer for women speaking their minds. She would have been very popular today!”
Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images)
Gaslit reveals the twists and turns of the Watergate subplot, which involves the kidnapping of Martha.
According to her biography, Martha would overhear Johns calls, overhear his work meetings, and read his private papers.
She sensed that Nixon and his staff were up to all sorts of tricks to secure re-election. And she was shocked when one of the intruders turned out to be CREEP’s security director James McCord, a former CIA officer and Martha’s former security guard.
She was at a hotel in California when she called a reporter friend and said she would leave her husband if he didn’t get out of the “dirty business” of politics.
The reporter heard Martha yell, “Just get out – get out!” Then the line went dead.
She had been assaulted by a former FBI agent, acting on John Mitchell’s orders to keep her away from the media.
The reporter called back, but was told by the operator that Martha was “unwell and unable to speak.”
© 2021 Starz Entertainment)
In reality, she was violently drugged, held down by five men and injected with a sedative, beaten and held captive in that hotel room for days. When she came out, no one believed her, and Nixon’s cronies fired her. She said at the time: “I’m black and blue. They don’t want me to talk.”
Kate Clarke Lemay, a historian at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, explained: “She was abducted, sedated and drugged. People denied that this happened to her.
“To put it this way today, they gassed her, they called her crazy, they used that ancient term for women as hysterical. She was the whistleblower and we respect her today.”
Garrett Graff, author of the recent book Watergate: A New History, added: “Polite Washington shrugged and saw in her a character worthy of ridicule, not sympathy.
“She was not taken seriously in her allegations about her own treatment, nor in her warnings about the behavior of the Nixon administration and the Nixon campaign in particular. Martha Mitchell is one of the most important figures of the Watergate age and has been largely forgotten for the past 50 years.
“But during the Nixon administration, she was the second most requested figure for Republican events, after the president himself, and was this larger-than-life, colorful, outspoken woman in Washington at a time when most cabinet women were seen and not heard.”
Martha was a fixture on Washington’s social scene, with a penchant for whiskey, smoking, clothes shopping – and late-night calls to reporters.
Dubbed “the most talked-about, talkative woman in Washington,” she has voiced her views on everything from the Vietnam War to racism, desegregation, Democrats and the Supreme Court.
And even after the kidnapping and discrediting by Nixon’s team, she valiantly continued to speak to the press, calling for the president’s resignation and complaining of “outrageous and dirty campaign tricks.”
In the end, truth prevailed.
The burglars were brought to justice, and the Senate Watergate Committee later learned that Nixon had approved plans to cover up administration involvement in the burglary — and that there was a voice-activated recording system in the Oval Office. When the impeachment process began, he resigned on August 9, 1974 as the only US President.
Reports also showed how CREEP was involved in money laundering and illegal slush funds.
John Mitchell, who left Martha in 1973, resigned shortly after the Watergate burglary and was sentenced to 19 months in prison for his involvement.
Martha died of cancer in 1976 at the age of 57. She was a speaker to the end – and 46 years later she is being talked about again.
https://www.mirror.co.uk/3am/celebrity-news/julia-roberts-lifts-lid-watergate-26780437 Julia Roberts reveals the whistleblower of the Watergate scandal in a new TV show