‘Gaslit’: Is Julia Roberts’ New Political Drama Based on a True Story?

Richard Nixon’s presidency has provided plenty of material for Hollywood since it occurred in the 1970s. From All the President’s Men to Forrest Gump, the often-demonized former President’s time in the Oval Office has been touched on time and time again. Now, Starz’s new series Gaslit offers up a different point of view of the events. This time the story’s told by other people involved with Nixon during the Watergate scandal.

'Gaslit' stars Julia Roberts as Martha Mitchell, the first whistleblower in the Watergate scandal.
Sean Penn and Julia Roberts as John and Martha Mitchell | Starz

‘Gaslit’ focuses on Martha Mitchell, wife of Nixon’s Attorney General

Based on a true story, the Starz series Gaslit features Julia Roberts in the role of Arkansian socialite Martha Mitchell. Mitchell became well known for her outspoken demeanor. Known as the “Mouth of the South,” Mitchell made gossip a sport. Plus, she often used subtle tricks to release information to journalists about prominent political figures. 

Mitchell became the first whistleblower in the Watergate scandal. However, many people in the Nixon administration worked to discredit her claims. When news of the scandal broke, Mitchell and her husband were in California. In an attempt to keep Mitchell quiet, John hired a former FBI agent, Steve King, to keep Mitchell away from telephones and newspapers.

At one point, King allegedly ripped the phone out of the wall as Mitchell tried to call her friend, Helen Thomas, who worked as a reporter for United Press International. After the incident, Mitchell said King kicked her and tied her to the bed. She also said a psychiatrist forcibly tranquilized her.  

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Martha Mitchell was primarily discredited and forced from the public eye

The press didn’t take Mitchell’s accusations seriously, despite her saying the Watergate scandal went all the way to the Oval Office. Most of the time, when the press covered Mitchell’s story at all, it was reported from a celebrity gossip angle. Accounts from Nixon’s aides often implied Mitchell was an alcoholic and seeking attention. Deep Throat entirely overshadows her part as a whistleblower in Watergate.

Estranged from her daughter and divorced from her husband, Mitchell died “destitute and alone,” according to the Eugene Register-Guard. Neither her ex-husband nor her 14-year-old daughter Marty was by her side when she died. 

Starz series ‘Gaslit’ premieres on April 24, 2022

The Starz original series Gaslit is based on the Slow Burn Podcast.

The synopsis for Gaslit describes the limited series as “a modern take on the Watergate scandal through the long-neglected lens of the lesser-known but no-less-key players involved in the downfall of America’s 37th president – from Nixon’s bumbling, opportunistic subordinates, to the deranged zealots aiding and abetting their crimes, to the tragic whistleblowers who would eventually bring the whole rotten enterprise crashing to the ground. Martha enjoys 76% name recognition in American households, second only to Richard Nixon himself, when the Watergate break-in happens.”

The synopsis continues to add, “From there, her story takes a turn, and the choices she makes in its wake will come to put her reputation on the line and her marriage under threat. Martha’s husband John Mitchell is one of Nixon’s most trusted advisors. Temperamental, foul-mouthed, and ruthless, he is also hopelessly in love with his famously outspoken wife. After Watergate, Mitchell realizes that Martha knows the secret behind the break-in and suspects she may be willing to tell her side of the story to the press, forcing him to choose between Martha and the President and throwing their personal life into chaos as his professional life unravels.”

The series also features Sean Penn in the role of John Mitchell, Shea Wigham as G. Gordon Litty, Dan Stevens as John Dean, and Betty Gilpin as Maureen “Mo” Kane Dean. Gaslit premieres exclusively on Starz on April 24, 2022, and will run for eight episodes total. 

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