Fact-checking “The Act”: Here’s the true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard

Join Entertainment Weekly as we unpack the murder, manipulation, and Munchausen by proxy behind the real-life case that inspired the Hulu miniseries.

<p>Brownie Harris/Hulu; Courtesy of the Blanchard Family</p>

Brownie Harris/Hulu; Courtesy of the Blanchard Family

In recent months, you may have seen the name Gypsy Rose Blanchard popping up in your news feeds. That’s because the now-32-year-old woman, whose unbelievable life story has been adapted into documentaries (Mommy Dead and Dearest) and a prestige TV series (Hulu’s The Act), was released from prison early in December 2023.

For those who don’t already know, Blanchard was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2016 for conspiring to kill her mother, Dee Dee Blanchard. Gypsy’s online boyfriend, Nicholas Godejohn, actually committed the act on June 10, 2015, stabbing Dee Dee 17 times in her bed as she slept. But prosecutors alleged that Gypsy, who ran off with Nick shortly after her mother’s murder, masterminded the scheme.

As the investigation continued, detectives began to uncover a horrific tale of extreme child abuse. For years, Dee Dee convinced Gypsy — who was, in fact, perfectly healthy — that she was sick with multiple debilitating illnesses, gaining sympathy, attention, and monetary compensation for her daughter’s supposed “health problems” along the way. Though certain claims cannot be definitively proven, what’s clear is that Dee Dee’s psychological control over her daughter was oppressive. But one thing is clear: The true story of Gypsy Rose Blanchard is stranger than The Act could ever be.

<p>Brownie Harris/Hulu</p>

Brownie Harris/Hulu

Was Gypsy Rose Blanchard actually sick?

No. Dee Dee Blanchard — played by Patricia Arquette in The Act — began telling people that her daughter was sick when Gypsy was just a baby. Throughout the child’s life, Dee Dee reported that her daughter had (among other things) epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, leukemia, asthma, vision problems, hearing loss, and chromosomal defects. She persuaded doctors to write prescriptions for each of these conditions and used the medications to keep Gypsy sedated and compliant. She had her daughter’s salivary glands removed, shaved her head, kept her in a wheelchair, and claimed that she had a “mental age” of 7. When Gypsy was 8 years old, her mother had a feeding tube inserted into her abdomen, which had to be re-inserted every six months.

In fact, Gypsy is of normal intelligence and can walk. She never had cancer, nor any of the chronic conditions and genetic defects her mother alleged she suffered from. Instead, Dee Dee used manipulation and induced symptoms to convince doctors — and everyone else — that Gypsy was sick. Dee Dee’s actions are consistent with a psychological condition known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, although she was never officially or definitively diagnosed, as she died before the official investigation began.

<p>Courtesy of the Blanchard Family</p>

Courtesy of the Blanchard Family

Was Gypsy Rose really as childlike as she appears in The Act?

Yes. At the time of her arrest, Gypsy was 23 years old. But she believed she was 19 because Dee Dee lied about her real age. She was naive and immature even for a 19-year-old, however, thanks to the extremely isolated and sheltered environment in which she was raised. Dee Dee kept Gypsy in a childlike state, feeding her a media diet of Disney movies (Tangled was her favorite) and dressing her in princess costumes and a blonde curly Cinderella wig.

This helped maintain the illusion that Gypsy was younger than she really was, both mentally and physically. The voice Joey King uses for her performance in The Act is also true to life: As we hear in Mommy Dead and Dearest, before her arrest Gypsy spoke in a squeaky, high-pitched tone that subconsciously reflected how infantilized she was. She still has a high voice, but a much more natural one.

Related: Joey King isn't closing the door on playing Gypsy Rose Blanchard again: 'Never say never'

Did anyone try to intervene on Gypsy Rose’s behalf?

Yes, although the circumstances were different than what we see on The Act. In the Hulu series, Dr. Lakshmi Chandra (Poorna Jagannathan) reports Dee Dee to Child Protective Services after looking into Gypsy’s medical records. In real life, however, CPS was not involved. (Police conducted a wellness check on Gypsy at one point, but that was a separate incident.) No doctor spoke with Gypsy directly about her predicament, as Dr. Chandra does on The Act.

In real life, neurologist Bernardo Flasterstein did document his concerns about the case. After a visit from Dee Dee and Gypsy in 2007, he wrote: “The mother is not a good historian.” (We see the handwritten note, underlined multiple times, in the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest.) Dr. Flasterstein continued investigating, to the point where he suggested the possibility of Munchausen by proxy. He did not formally report Dee Dee to authorities, but simply recorded his suspicions in his physician’s notes. Shortly afterward, Dee Dee withdrew Gypsy from Dr. Flasterstein’s care and sought out new doctors, as she did many times to escape suspicion.

<p>Courtesy of the Blanchard Family</p>

Courtesy of the Blanchard Family

Was Gypsy and Nick’s relationship like it is on the show?

Sort of. The Act sticks to the facts regarding the circumstances of Nick and Gypsy’s relationship. They met on a Christian dating site, keeping their relationship a secret while communicating exclusively online — except for one in-person meeting in 2015. They staged an “accidental” encounter at a movie theater, where Gypsy saw the live-action Cinderella with her mom. The plan was simple: Nick would show up, pretending to be a stranger; he and Gypsy would hit it off and he’d win Mom over. However, the plot backfired since Dee Dee disliked Nick from the jump. Murder, they decided, was “Plan B.”

According to the documentary, the actual movie date occurred almost exactly as it does on the show. (One bizarre detail missing from the episode: Nick dressed up as Prince Charming for the meet-up, matching the princess garb Gypsy sported in The Act and real life.) But Nick did not call Dee Dee to confess afterward, as he does in the fictional retelling; that was added for dramatic emphasis, a way to spur Gypsy and Nick’s murderous plan into action.

However, the Blanchard family disputes the show’s depiction of Nick as a well-meaning kid living with learning disabilities. They say he was more controlling of Gypsy than he is on the show, and that his “multiple personalities” (another true-to-life detail) and kinky online roleplay were more dangerous than they appeared. But the documentary Mommy Dead and Dearest reveals the most disturbing allegations about Nick: His original plan was reportedly to violate Dee Dee’s corpse after killing her. Gypsy says she offered to let him assault her instead.

After the two were arrested, their relationship continued for another year but eventually deteriorated as their separate cases moved forward. Nick was convicted of first-degree murder, while Gypsy pled guilty to second-degree murder. After an on-again/off-again relationship with Ken Urker, Gypsy married Ryan Scott Anderson while serving her prison sentence. They separated shortly after her release.

Related: Gypsy Rose docuseries shows family doubted marriage months before separation: 'You have to make mistakes'

<p>Brownie Harris/Hulu</p>

Brownie Harris/Hulu

Did Dee Dee Blanchard really serve time for writing bad checks?

No. The Act plays up Dee Dee’s history of petty theft for added drama, introducing the idea of her character as an untrustworthy, manipulative person. Gypsy’s stepmother says that Gypsy was never an accomplice in Dee Dee’s shoplifting schemes, at least not knowingly. However, Dee Dee was caught attempting to smuggle items out of a Hobby Lobby in Gypsy’s wheelchair in 2012. The incident was reported in the local news, but there was no mention of Gypsy’s participation — or lack thereof.

One big difference between The Act and real life is that, in the series, Dee Dee is sentenced to six months in jail for felony check fraud shortly after Gypsy’s birth. We see police take Dee Dee out of her family home in handcuffs, leaving baby Gypsy in the care of her grandmother, Emma (Margo Martindale). In fact, there are no publicly available records of Dee Dee ever getting arrested. So where did The Act get the idea? Probably from the true crime documentary version of the story, in which Dee Dee’s family members say she regularly engaged in scams like check fraud, credit card fraud, and petty theft. They also allege that Dee Dee deliberately starved her mother to death — another detail that’s alluded to in The Act.

Read the original article on Entertainment Weekly.