|The Karen Carpenter Story|
|Written by||Barry Morrow|
|Directed by||Joseph Sargent|
Peter Michael Goetz
|Theme music composer||Richard Carpenter|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Executive producer||Robert A. Papazian|
Susan J. Spohr (assistant producer)
|Production location||Los Angeles|
|Cinematography||Kees Van Oostrum|
|Editor||George Jay Nicholson|
|Running time||92 minutes|
|Production company||Weintraub Entertainment Group (Warner Bros.)|
|Original release||January 1, 1989|
The Karen Carpenter Story is an American made-for-television biographical film about singer Karen Carpenter and the brother-and-sister pop music duo of which she was a part, The Carpenters. The film aired on CBS on January 1, 1989. Directed by Joseph Sargent, it starred Cynthia Gibb as Karen Carpenter, and Mitchell Anderson as her brother, Richard Carpenter, who served as a producer for the film as well as of the musical score.
The movie begins with the collapse of Karen Carpenter in the closet of her parents' home in Downey, California, on February 4, 1983. She is rushed to the hospital by paramedics, and as the EMT is placing an oxygen mask over her face, "Rainy Days and Mondays", recorded by the Carpenters on their self-titled album, is playing. The scene shifts to teenaged Karen singing "The End of the World" as she roller skates on the day the family moved into their home in Downey (they had previously resided in New Haven, Connecticut). Then the film cuts to the teenaged Karen skating in slow motion looking down on herself as the 32 year old Karen is dying at the hospital. The film then shows the highs and lows of Carpenter's life from the 1960s to 1983. One of the scenes, which showed Carpenter fainting onstage while she was singing the song "Top of the World", was fictionalized. Also fictionalized is when Richard Carpenter falls down a flight of stairs, due to his abuse of Quaaludes. The film improbably attempts to end on a happy note, with Karen smiling after her mother says "I love you." The details about her subsequent death are superimposed on the screen before the closing credits.
The idea for a movie based on Karen Carpenter's life had been floating around after her sudden death from emetine cardiotoxicity due to anorexia nervosa in February 1983. However, it was impossible to find someone to write the script for it. Once it had been approved by the studio and Richard Carpenter, there were daily script "rewrites or entire scenes were removed" according to co-stars Cynthia Gibb and Mitchell Anderson, in an attempt to soften the image of Agnes Carpenter by her son in real life. The final movie, in Gibb's opinion, gives a "white-washed" account of Carpenter's life. Gibb also said that a lot of the information in it was "watered down or removed altogether" at the request of Richard.
Richard Carpenter also requested that Gibb wear Karen Carpenter's original clothing, which he supplied, and that she lose the required weight in order to fit into these clothes. Gibb stated:
Gibb also stated that "there was no time to research and I had my drum lessons during my lunch hour". Even though she had starred for two years in Fame, she said it was still insisted upon her to take voice lessons to do the lip synching.
Crew members later talked about their experience dealing with Richard Carpenter during shooting:
The movie was very popular in the ratings; it was the highest-rated two-hour TV movie of the year and the third highest rated such program on any network during the 1980s. It has never had an official United States DVD or VHS release, but was issued on laserdisc in Japan.
At the time, Richard Carpenter described his feelings towards the film:
"Oh, certain things were overblown. Not that I'm trying to take anything away from the importance of the event: Karen's battle with anorexia, mine with sleeping pills but it was still a little melodramatic. Like, neither of us - for anyone that watched this movie - literally collapsed. In fact, when I saw that, I told them while it was being made: "Look, neither of us fell down here. Karen didn't onstage and I didn't go down a flight of stairs..." But we're dealing with a TV movie so you have to take it with a grain of salt. And each little thing was not exactly the way it happened, that's all. But it's still a fairly accurate log of twenty years of our lives."
In 1988, Carpenter stated, that
"I was in two minds about the film from the start but I knew that if it had to be made, I had to be involved. I accept that parts of the lives of all celebrities are matters of public record but for somebody else to have done this without the family's blessing, well, it just wouldn't have been as well told."
In 2004, he was much harsher about the project, calling it "90 minutes of creative license that give biopics in general a dubious tone." He also stated at the time that he considered being involved in the film one of his biggest mistakes.