History of the World According to the Movies: Part 88 – 1980s America


Though I have criticized Oliver Stone on JFK, I have to admit that his 1987 Wall Street does ring true of the climate of the 1980s. Starring Michael Douglas, Daryl Hannah along with Charlie and Martin Sheen, this film sort of defines the atmosphere of corporate greed screwing hardworking Americans through stock speculation and all those fancy Wall Street schemes which ruined so many lives. Still, remember that Gordon Gekko’s actions weren’t considered criminal in 1985 when the film takes place (though they were by 1987) yet, they weren’t exactly moral either. Yet, even that doesn’t stop stockbrokers and white collar criminals from Wall Street claiming Gekko, which makes Michael Douglas cringe.

The 1980s isn’t much of a decade that’s grounded much in movie history, yet, that’s because most of the movies about the 1980s were either made at the time or are nostalgia pieces in themselves. However, for some it was a great time with Wall Street, the end of Communism, pop culture, and early video games and personal computers. Yet, for others it was a terrible time with the decline of industry and manufacturing, AIDS, crack in the inner cities and the war on drugs, the decline of Communism, and the rise of yuppie materialism and income inequality. Still, it was also a decade when you have big frizzy hair like the young rock bands of the era or the prime time soap operas. Yet, perhaps there are plenty of films made at the time your parents would want you to watch.

In 1980s America, it was either the best of times or the worst of times. Or something in between since it was the rise of the rust belt in my neck of the woods where a bunch of people lost their jobs but at least my parents met and got married at this time. Still, you have Ronald Reagan as president who is either the closest thing to Jesus or one of the most overrated US presidents of all time depending on your political point of view (as a liberal history nut, I kind of side with the latter). You have the AIDS crisis, the widening gap between rich and poor, more laissez fair economics which will soon lead the country to a recession in 2008, the futile war on drugs as many people in the inner cities destructively become addicted to it, the rise of white collar crime, and of course, mullets. Yes, it was such an epidemic among the masses in 1980s fashion. Still, while there are movies set in the 1980s, they do contain their share of inaccuracies which I shall list.

Ronald Reagan:

Ronald Reagan supported Apartheid in South Africa. (While The Butler erroneously implies this, he most certainly did not. Yet, the film is right that he threatened to veto Congressional sanctions on apartheid in South Africa, yet Reagan states in his diaries that he did so because he disliked sanctions as a policy, arguing that they hurt ordinary people. Yet, as strongly as he held these views, he held them inconsistently. For instance, he was happy to use sanctions when it came to Iran and Cuba whose citizens undoubtedly suffered as a result like Reagan said in his diaries. Not to mention, the fact that South Africa was the only country in Africa to have a strong anti-communist position was also a factor. Still, I have to give kudos for Lee Daniels for portraying Reagan as the flawed human being he really was instead of his demi-god status as seen by the American right. Also, despite the Right hating her, Jane Fonda is a good choice as Nancy Reagan. But seriously, Alan Rickman as the Gipper? Please.)

Ron Woodroof:

Ron Woodroof rode rodeo, drank beer, partied in his trailer, and had sex with as many women as possible. (Contrary to Dallas Buyers Club Woodroof didn’t rodeo yet he was a fan. Also, he may have had sex with a few fellows, too.)

Ron Woodroof tested positive for HIV in 1985. (Contrary to Dallas Buyers Club, Woodroof wasn’t since there were no reliable blood tests available until late 1986 and the term HIV wasn’t used by the medical establishment at the time. Then people were diagnosed with AIDS based on their white blood cell count and other symptoms.)

Ron Woodroof was a homophobe before being diagnosed with HIV. (Contrary to Dallas Buyers Club, Woodroof’s close friends and associates say that he was never homophobic and perhaps even had relationships with men as well as women {he had an ex-wife and daughter and identified as bisexual}. Still, the views his Matthew McConaughey portrayal holds in the film were widely held by many at the time, especially when AIDS was seen as a gay man’s disease and the fact that AIDS could be contracted through unprotected heterosexual sex wasn’t common knowledge. Still, Woodroof did say that he might’ve contracted it through heterosexual sex with a drug addict.)

Ron Woodroof was a lone libertarian warrior fighting the evil that was big government, refusing to listen to the silly old highly qualified doctors with their fancy ideas of double-blind testing. He was a fighter for freedom and his God-given right to dose AIDS patients with unlicensed Peptide T and Aloe Vera juice. (As a TV writer said about Dallas Buyers Club once active in the buyer club movement himself, “The movie distorts the facts about AZT … to make Woodroof seem heroic for his murderous advice to others not to take it.” Also, AZT is still available and has worked for so many patients at an appropriate dose as far as I know. The reason why it nearly killed Ron Woodroof in the film was because he wasn’t much of a responsible person {which led to his conclusion that AZT was poison and doesn’t work} and the fact that self-treatment is never a good idea, even for doctors. Yet, in the 1980s AIDS wasn’t a well understood disease at the time. Still, what Dallas Buyers Club suggests should never be seen as a template for health policy particularly when it comes to experimental drugs. The FDA’s regulations exist for a reason such as protecting the public against drugs that don’t work, are too toxic, or from companies known for selling such drugs with no evidence of efficacy or safety.)

Ron Woodroof’s physician was a woman. (No, his physician was a man and certainly didn’t look like Jennifer Garner. Her character is fictional.)

Ron Woodroof lost a trial seeking to allow him to distribute Peptide T. (Yes, but he and his buyers clubs were involved in multiple lawsuits yet though he wasn’t allowed to distribute the drug, he was allowed to use it for his own purposes. Also, he sued the FDA for not allowing him in the initial trial of AZT, though to be fair, he would’ve been a poor test subject at the time.)

Chris Gardner:

Chris Gardner was a devoted dad to his son. (Contrary to The Pursuit of Happyness, he wasn’t quite the father Will Smith makes him out to be. For one, he was so focused on the job and earning his first million that he actually didn’t know where the hell his son was for the first four months of the stockbroker training program {the boy was with his mother Jackie}. Oh, and did I say that Chris Jr. was conceived while Gardner was still married to another woman {whom he wouldn’t be divorced from until 1986}? He also sold drugs for a time and even did cocaine with his mistress that included small doses of PCP and marijuana. Then again, doing cocaine won’t disqualify you as a stock broker.)

Chris Gardner got the attention of a Dean Wittier executive by solving a Rubik’s Cube. (Contrary to The Pursuit of Happyness, he actually befriended a stockbroker who helped him. The Rubik’s Cube bit is fiction.)

Chris Gardner was paid nothing during his training with Dean Wittier. (He was being paid $1,000 a month by the company. Also, they didn’t hire just one person from the training program but basically everyone who passed the licensing exam.)

Chris Gardner went broke selling bone density scanner. (Contrary to The Pursuit of Happyness, he didn’t. Also, he sold various medical products as well.)

Chris Gardner was struck by a car while chasing after a stolen bone density scanner. (This didn’t happen.)

Chris Gardner’s wife was named Linda. (Her name was Sherry Dyson and she wasn’t his son’s mother either. Chris Jr.’s mother was Jackie Medina who he had an affair with and moved in with when she became pregnant.)

Chris Gardner’s son was five years old in 1982. (Sorry, but Chris Gardner Jr. is 33 years old and was born in 1981, which would make him a year old who was still in diapers. I don’t see eight-year-old Jaden Smith resorting to that.)

Chris Gardner was arrested just before his big interview due to parking tickets. (Contrary to The Pursuit of Happyness, it seems that he was actually arrested after Jackie accused him of domestic violence. Of course, he denies this to this day.)

Eruption of Mount Saint Helens:

There was a highway near Mount Saint Helens that was named 607. (There wasn’t but there was an access road near Spirit Lake called State Route 504 unlike what the St. Helens film says.)

Vulcanologist David Johnston fell in love with a woman while working at Mount Saint Helens. (Contrary to the film about it, he didn’t but he did fall for a girl before working at Alaska’s Mount Augustine volcano.)

During the eruption of Mount St. Helens, there were pilots in the area running into disoriented birds. (No such incident was reported.)

Vulcanologist David Johnston hiked at the Coldwater Ridge to get his observation post. (Contrary to St. Helens, he didn’t have to do this but he had his truck and camper there. According to Wikipedia, “The way up Coldwater Ridge at the time was a series of switchback logging roads that led to a small clearing, at which his truck and camper were located. Incidentally, the propane tank and remnants of his camper were found three miles away from where his observation site was located, in 1993.” Still, he ended up dying there in the exact same way as in the movie.)

The waivers of liability were mentioned on April 30, 1980 in Cougar, Washington. (Contrary to St. Helens they weren’t until the day before the eruption and only brought up by the state’s governor and state police chief as a means to appease scores of home and property owners in Toutle not Cougar. Also, the film makes no mention of the scores of homeowners being led by a State-Patrol convoy to the mountain after the waivers had been signed.)

Nearby Mount Saint Helens resident Harry R. Truman owned a dog. (He didn’t. Rather he owned 16 cats and raccoons all of whom lived indoors with him. Still, better to depict him in St. Helens as a dog owner rather than as a crazy cat and raccoon guy.)

During the Mount Saint Helens eruption on May 18, 1980, there was a man driving down a dirt road and ran his car into a tree. (This was taken for a story of Seattle’s KOMO TV news photographer, David Crockett but he never hit a tree. Yet, contrary to St. Helens, his path was blocked by rapidly developing mudflows taking out stretches of a logging road he was using as an access route.)

Crime and Law Enforcement:

Carl “Tuffy” DeLuna died of a heart attack when the FBI found mob records in his home. (Contrary to Casino, he was arrested during the raid on his house in 1979 and was later sentenced to prison for skimming Las Vegas casinos and was released in 1998. He died in 2008 and may have seen the movie.)

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal:

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal ran one casino in Las Vegas. (He ran four for the Chicago Mafia such as Stardust, Hacienda, Fremont and Marina.)

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal had security crush a cheater’s hands. (According to him, yes, but not in accordance with the circumstances in Casino. Rather, he had two guys electronically signaling each other who were part of a larger group scamming other casinos for an extended period of time. Such actions were meant as a message to the group to deter others from coming back and doing the same.)

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and his wife Geri had one daughter. (Unlike what’s seen in Casino, they had a daughter named Stephanie and a son named Steven. Geri also had a daughter named Robin Marmor with her high school sweetheart in 1957 and was 11 when her mother met Frank. She’s not in the movie.)

Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal was a loving husband and father who only made his wife wear a beeper after she tried to run off with their daughter. (Unlike his Robert DeNiro expy in Casino, Lefty was a husband from hell who brutally beat his wife, openly cheated and humiliated her by buy other women more expensive gifts than her. Yet, he was enough of a hypocrite to make her carry around a beeper so he knew where she was at all times. Seriously, Martin Scorsese, I think you owe Geri Rosenthal an apology.)

Geri Rosenthal:

Geri McGee Rosenthal was a selfish low life who cheated on her husband and abandoned her daughter. (Her expy in Casino was the wife from hell played by Sharon Stone. Geri was no saint and was a chip hustler but she used the money to help a sick mother, her sister’s family, and her illegitimate daughter {with the real Lester Diamond who was named Marmor}. People in Las Vegas rave about her generosity and how much of a loving mother she was who certainly did not tie her daughter to a bed {this coming from Lefty so it might not be reliable}. Also, her actions toward her husband were more understandable when you realize the kind of person he really was.)

Geri Rosenthal tried to run off with her daughter and ex-boyfriend. (According to Frank Rosenthal, she did but also with their son and his money.)

Ted Bundy:

Ted Bundy’s colon was backed with cotton to avoid soiling during his execution. (Unlike what his 2002 biopic depicts, this was thankfully discontinued in Florida by 1989. Also, the electric chair was operated by a push button not a flip switch.)

Ted Bundy’s executioner was a female corrections officer with long hair. (Contrary to the 2002 film of him, it was a private citizen who paid $150 to do the honor and was present behind a screen obstructed by the view of witnesses.)

Ted Bundy’s last words were, “Tell my family I love them.” (They were “Jim and Fred, I’d like you to give my love to my family and friends.” Still, I’m not sure if he had any love for them since he was probably a clinical sociopath.)

Ted Bundy was only given one application of lethal electric current during his execution. (Florida procedures said that the current was applied three times.)

Aileen Wuornos:

Aileen Wuornos’ girlfriend was a beautiful Catholic schoolgirl named Selby Wall. (Contrary to Monster, she was a hefty butch lesbian pushing 30 named Tyria Moore who was a hotel maid. All that changed due to legal reasons. Also, Wuornos herself wasn’t nearly as ugly as Charlize Theron portrayed her.)

Aileen Wuornos was a victim of circumstance who honestly tried to change her ways but the cruel world pushed her back and wasn’t without compassion. (Contrary to Monster, she wasn’t the loveable serial killer as portrayed by Charlize Theron. In real life, she was a sadistic {and dangerously psychotic} murderer who enjoyed torturing her victims {though she did have a horrendous childhood that left her really messed up to be fair}. Her claims for killing her first victim were in self-defense with no evidence to back them {I mean the guy was found in a wooded area with several bullet wounds in him}. Oh, and she blew her brass ring by beating up her husband. She never showed any remorse for what she did and firmly believed she was ridding the streets of evil men. Not only that, but she was convinced her mind was controlled by radio waves and believed she was going off in a spaceship to join Jesus by the time of her execution.)

Aileen Wuornos committed 7 murders. (Contrary to Monster, she was convicted of six but she claimed to kill seven.)

Aileen Wuornos was the first female serial killer in the US. (By the time Wuornos came around there have been over 80 female serial killers recorded in the US. Yet, her methods were different from what would female serial killers would normally use such as killing strangers outdoors with a gun for personal gratification, instead of killing family and friends indoors via poison or suffocation mostly for financial gain.)

Most of Aileen Wuornos’ victims were attractive men. (All her victims were men over 40.)

Aileen Wuornos’ first victim was a man who brutally raped her. (Contrary to Monster, Wuornos was said to be raped and knocked up as a teenager by a friend of her grandfather’s {and might’ve been sexually assaulted by her grandfather as well. Nevertheless, she gave up the child for adoption, thankfully}, probably had an incestuous relationship with her brother, and her dad was an incarcerated psychopath sex offender who killed himself {she never met him but that would explain a lot and her mother divorced him a few months before Aileen was born for good reason}. Not to mention, she was a prostitute but had committed other crimes {though she certainly didn’t sleep with 250,000 like she claims since that would mean she had to have sex with 35 men every day for 20 years}. Still, whether her first victim raped her or not, he kind of had it coming since he was a convicted rapist.)

Jim Williams:

Jim Williams shot bisexual prostitute Danny Hansford during a Christmas party in 1981. (Contrary to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, he shot the guy in May. Also, his lawyer in the film didn’t represent him in the first trial and came on the case later.)

Jim Williams died of a heart attack after being acquitted at the place Danny Hansford was shot. (He died of pneumonia and heart failure in 1990. Also, he died in the foyer outside the office where Hansford was shot, contrary to legend. Yet, he died 6 months after his acquittal.)


The Miracle on Ice:

Men’s US hockey player William “Buzz” Schneider participated in the “Herbies” drill during the game against Norway. (Contrary to Miracle, he was thrown out for fighting and didn’t dress with the rest of the team after the game.)

Men’s US hockey player Rob McClanahan was in the University of Minnesota’s team when it beat Boston in the 1976 NCAA playoff game. (While it’s mentioned in Miracle, he wasn’t on Minnesota’s team then because he was still in high school.)

The Men’s US Hockey team won two games after they faced Czechoslovakia. (They played two games by this point. Though they won against the Czechs, they tied with the Swedes.)

Men’s US hockey player Kevin Morrow was clean shaven. (He had a beard.)

Men’s US hockey players Mark Pavelich, John Harrington and Buzz Schneider were part of the Smurf line. (It was called the Coneheads line but most people my age wouldn’t get the reference from 1970s SNL. Also, the Smurfs came out in the 1980s.)


David Letterman wore glasses in the early 1980s. (He didn’t.)

Dolly Parton was on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in the early 1980s. (Not until 1986.)

Andy Kaufman:

The Carnegie Hall “milk and cookies” performance was one of Andy Kaufman’s last after being diagnosed with cancer. (It was during his 1979 show, which was 5 years before his death.)

Andy Kaufman’s death might’ve been a hoax. (Contrary to what Man on the Moon says, it very much wasn’t.)

Jerry Lawler’s wife Stacey “Kat” Carter was at Andy Kaufman’s funeral. (Contrary to Man on the Moon, she and her husband haven’t even met each other in 1984, let alone marry because she was 14 years old at the time. This would make her attending Kaufman’s funeral with him highly unlikely.)


During Tina Turner’s debut solo performance at the Ritz in 1983, Ike Turner showed up and tried to silence her with his gun. (Contrary to What’s Love Got to Do with It, this never happened because Tina and Ike never saw each other again since their 1978 divorce. Not only that, but Ike was never seen in the public eye for years from that time. Also, Tina already had a solo career since 1976.)

Robert Palmer’s “Simply Irresistible” was a popular hit in 1987. (It was released in 1988.)


No one knew who Rock Hudson was in 1985. (Most people did since he was active right up until his death.)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day was a popular film in 1987. (It came out in 1991.)


Buyer’s clubs were mostly run by one person. (They were mostly co-operative enterprises run by groups of mostly gay people. Say what you want about Rayon but at least there were a lot more people like him/her than how Ron Woodroof was portrayed in Dallas Buyers Club.)

Buyer’s clubs were the story of the AIDS crisis which were a vehicle for scientific progress. (The buyers clubs were a tangent to activists forcing real scientists to get to work.)

Thanks to a mixture of olive and rapeseed oil, little Lorenzo Odone would be cured of his ALD and live happily ever after. (Contrary to Lorenzo’s Oil, he died of aspiration pneumonia at 30 in 2008 yet he did live about 2 decades longer than originally predicted by doctors. Luckily, his mother didn’t live to see that since she died of lung cancer in 2000. Still, Lorenzo’s oil hasn’t proven its long-term effectiveness in treating ALD at its onset but it’s highly effective if given beforehand. Yet, the real scientist Hugh Moser wasn’t too happy of how the film portrayed him.)

Passports were required to cross the US-Mexican border in 1987. (Not until 2008.)

Rev. Jerry Falwell and Charles Keating knew each other personally. (They never did.)

Challenger exploded in 1985. (Not until 1986. Also, contrary to Wall Street, there’s no such thing as NASA stock.)

The Lady Chablis’ real name was Frank. (It was Benjamin. Still, at least they actually cast a trans woman to play her in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Actually it’s the real Lady Chablis playing herself. Sure she may seem like a walking stereotype but she probably was really like this. Come to think of it, there are a lot of characters in that movie playing themselves.)

After the Jim Williams trial young reporter John Berendt settled down in Savannah with his girlfriend. (Contrary to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, despite covering the Jim Williams’ trials for 8 years since there were four of them {two convictions, one hung jury, and one acquittal}, he probably didn’t move to Savannah to be with his girlfriend. Also, since he was born in 1939, he was in his 40s during the events in the movie and he was going back and forth since he also worked for Esquire at this time. And unlike the John Cusack expy in the movie, he’s gay so he wouldn’t be romantically involved with Alison Eastwood’s character. Also, her character wasn’t involved with her business partner at the piano bar either {who died of AIDS}.)

Larry Flynt’s mother was present at his wife’s funeral. (She died five years before so, no, unlike what’s seen in The People vs. Larry Flynt.)

Eugene Allen decided to retire after realizing at a state dinner that he had been a subservient performer for whites. (Contrary to The Butler, he actually had a good time at the state dinner and expressed great pride in his job as well as kept a scrapbook. The only reason why Eugene Allen decided to retire was because he was simply getting old after working at the White House for 34 years. When he left, President Reagan wrote a tender note and Nancy tightly hugged him. Allen would refer to the White House by writing, “The White House is different because it is the White House. It’s considered the number one house in the world. And just to be around the president and the first lady, every day, it’s different from other people. Even though they are people just like we are.”)

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