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Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (1988) Poster

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Narrator: There is a discouragingly high failure rate in the treatment of anorexia. The refusal to eat is so annoying to doctors and family that intervention seems to focus entirely on trying to make the sufferer eat. When the anorectic is unable to comply with the dietary plan, she is often force fed. In these cases, the patient is considered officially recovered when the normal weight is reached and appropriate sex role functioning achieved. Ultimately treatments which assert absolute control over the patient's life only contribute to anorectic behavior, which is often the result of highly controlled, familial environments.

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Richard: Karen, why are you doing this?

Karen: I was constipated.

Richard: Oh, you liar!

Karen: Don't tell mom and dad, Richard.

Richard: Why shouldn't I? Why shouldn't I tell them? You are ruining my life!

Karen: If you do, I'll tell them about you and your "private" life.

Richard: You say one word to them, one fucking word...

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Richard: Karen, wake up. Come on, we've got fifteen minutes.

[discovers laxatives by Karen's bed]

Richard: What are you doing with these?

Karen: Oh, I'm so sleepy.

Richard: How many laxatives did you take?

Karen: I hardly remember.

Richard: What are you trying to do? Ruin both our careers? Now, get up. Drink some coffee. Now, come on! We've got fifteen minutes! Redo your makeup! You're a mess!

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Narrator: What happened? Why at the age of 32 was this smooth voiced girl from Downey, California, who led a raucous nation smoothly into the 70s, found dead in her parents' home? Let's go back, back to Southern California where Karen and Richard grew up. Back to the home in Downey where their parents still live today.

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Narrator: The year is 1970, and suddenly the nation finds itself asking the question: what if instead of the riots and assassinations, the protests and the drugs, instead of the angry words and hard rock sounds, we were to hear something soft and smooth, and see something of wholesomeness and easy handed faith? This was the year that put the song onto the charts that made the Carpenters a household word.

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Narrator: The affliction which eventually destroyed Karen Carpenter is one that plagues many, many young women like her. The name of this private obsession, anorexia nervosa.

Woman #1: What IS anorexia nervosa?

Narrator: Anorexia nervosa is a condition of self starvation, which affects mostly women in their adolescence or young adulthood. Sufferers desperately want to be thin, and often transform their bodies to such an extent that menstruation ceases, and they revert to a pre-pubescent stage.

Woman #2: Do anorexics ever get hungry?

Narrator: The term anorexia means lack of appetite, yet those who suffer from it are obsessed with food and its preparation, while they deny their own hunger and their body's need for nutrients.

Woman #3: Do they really think they look attractive like that?

Narrator: Anorectics often have a distorted perception of their actual body size. Although experts still cannot account for this basic misrecognition, they do point out that the rigorous self discipline imposed by the anorectic is often the cause of an extreme exhilaration or high which accompanies and rewards her denial of food.

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Title card: Despite her busy schedule, Karen made many friends in the industry, such as Dionne Warwick, Olivia Newton-John, and Marlo Thomas. By 1975, however, it became clear that it was the inner relationship with herself that dominated Karen's life: her obsession with food and her refusal to eat.

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Title Card: The self-imposed regime of the anorexic reveals a complex internal apparatus of resistance and control. Her intensive need for self-discipline consumes and replaces all her other needs and desires. Anorexia can thus be seen as an addiction and abuse of self control, a fascism over the body in which the sufferer plays the parts of both dictator and the emaciated victim who she so often resembles. In a culture that continues to control women through the commoditization of their bodies, the anorexic body excludes itself, rejecting the doctrines of femininity, driven by a vision of complete mastery and control.

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Narrator: Following World War II, and the end of rationing in the early 50s, America was reacquainted with food as plentiful and cheap. There were vast changes in food delivery, availability and storage. Refrigerators, already a part of the American kitchen, became common place and thus eliminated the need for daily shopping. The growth of supermarkets with their rows and rows of dairy products, canned goods, meats, condiments, bakery goods, vegetables, fruits and staples, brought a large display of food into everybody's range. Few could leave the supermarket without more than they intended, and the kitchen, often the center of the home, contained an ever expanding variety of foods. Home life in America, connoted the cozy kitchen, food preparation, and meal time.

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Karen: Where am I?

Mother: You're in the hospital, Dear.

Richard: You collapsed on stage.

Dad: From exhaustion and malnutrition.

Mother: You'll be here five more days.

Dad: Then home for plenty of rest.

Richard: You're going to be under Mom's constant care.

Mother: I'll cook for you.

Richard: She's gonna fatten you up. NO-MORE-DIETING.

Dad: No more laxatives.

Mother: And we'll ALL be together again.

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Karen: How's your meat?

Richard: Fine. How's your salad?

Karen: Horrible. I can't eat it.

Richard: Send it back.

Karen: I'm not even hungry. So sick of road food.

Richard: Just 2 more months to go, then we'll be

Karen: I know, we'll be home, for 2 weeks. It's just wearing on me.

Richard: Well you don't take care of yourself, Karen. You don't eat. I really think this diet of yours is the problem. I mean Karen, you look really thin.

Karen: I like the way I look.

Richard: Karen, you starve yourself, all you ever eat is salad and iced tea.

Karen: I really don't know why you're making a big deal out of this.

Richard: [pushes his plate over] Here, eat this, I just want to SEE you take a bite, come on, Karen.

Karen: I don't want to, stop it!

Richard: Why? Why can't you take just ONE bite?

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Richard: We are still catching up from the setback you had 6 years ago! Karen, people are talking about you, your fans are worried, I can hear them gasping when we walk on stage! Now what the hell are we supposed to do about that?

Karen: Richard! I know, I know I'm sick. I know something's wrong, I need help.

Richard: What do you mean sick? Mentally?

Karen: Richard, have you ever heard the word anorexia?

Richard: Of course, I've heard people call you that.

Karen: Richard, I am that. And I guess I'm just beginning to realize that it isn't something good.

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Mother: Did you notice the way she cleaned her plate?

Karen: Mother, didn't you know there are children starving in Africa?

[laughs]

Richard: But it's true, she's even back to her old favorites now: chili and tacos.

Karen: And that 3-course meal at St. Germain's, after the Grammy reunion.

Richard: You haven't lost a pound.

Karen: Or gained.

Mother: A hundred and eight!

MotherKarenRichard: [clink glasses] 1-0-8!

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Title Card: As we investigate the story of Karen Carpenter's life and death we are presented with an extremely graphic picture of the internal experience of contemporary femininity. We will see how Karen's visibility as a popular singer only intensified certain difficulties many women experience in relation to their bodies.

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Mother: I will not ALLOW Karen to move to some apartment an hour away from here after what just happened to her. Why can't she find a nice place in Downey? Why does she have to be out in the middle of...

Karen: Because SHE doesn't WANT to live in Downey, ALRIGHT?

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Mr. A&M: Who else has heard this tape?

Richard: RCA, Columbia, uh Dekka.

Mr. A&M: And they all turned you down?

Karen: They said it wouldn't sell.

Richard: That hard rock's in.

Karen: And wholesome's out.

Mr. A&M: What's your name?

Karen: Me? Karen.

Mr. A&M: Karen, I like your voice. Tell you the truth, I think you kids have really got something here. Karen and Richard Carpenter, just a couple of kids next door. Now listen to me, you kids are young, fresh, and it'll just be up to me to make young and fresh a happening thing. I know it's a rough road out there and the stakes are high, don't you worry, we're a real family here at A&M, we'll take real good care of you, all you have to do is put yourself in my hands.

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Mother: [taking Karen's measurements] Waist, 28, thighs, 20.

Karen: Why do you need thighs?

Mother: For the pants suit, the hip hugger.

Karen: I thought we decided against the hip hugger.

Mother: The pants suit's adorable, you can't just wear long dresses, Karen, I don't care what you read about the midi or the maxi.

Karen: I will NOT wear the hip hugger thing, Mother, it makes me look really fat.

Mother: [laughs] Fat! I swear, ever since that stupid columnist called you, hardy or something.

Karen: They called me chubby.

Mother: Whatever, chubby, you have just been so fanatical about your weight. I mean that thing really went to your head.

Karen: Oh it did not, I just want to start watching what I eat.

Mother: Karen, you lost plenty of weight on the Stillman diet and you look just fine now, alright? Now that's all I want to hear on the subject, you just concentrate on your career.

Karen: That's what I AM doing, but you've got to look good in my career.

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