HBO Max’s docuseries The Lady and The Dale tells the story of Liz Carmichael, a trans woman and entrepreneur in the 1970s who claimed to be selling a three wheeled car that got 70 miles to the gallon. She was eventually charged with securities fraud for her scheme. But in laying out the story, the series also shines a light on the background of one of today’s most vocal anti-LGBTQ+ bigots.
While Carmichael was on trial, much of the process was focused on her transness and whether or not it was a sign that she was deceptive and duplicitous. To some, her gender identity was an indictment against her. The docuseries dives into this specifically.
At one point in the third episode of the series, Roger Scott, a field producer with KABC who worked on local news stories about the case, tells a story about hearing from journalist Dick Carlson that Carmichael was playing in a tennis tournament in La Jolla. Drucker recognized the story instantly, and corrected Scott during the interview pointing out that it was in fact Renee Richards.
“How dare you,” Drucker remembers she thought, recounting the moment in an interview with Out. It hit her then that he couldn’t tell the two trans women apart. That’s when she put two and two together. “And then come to find out, it's well-documented that Dick Carlson had also outed Renee Richards. And it was just like nobody to my knowledge has ever put those two things together, Liz's story was so swept under the rug and just erased in history. And Renee Richards became one of the most visible trans people of the 20th century.”
Carlson wrote over 20 stories on Carmichael, and still to this day refers to her with he/him pronouns and speaks of her as if she was a man who disguised herself as a woman to hide from police.
In the documentary he fondly remembers being admonished by the judge in the case to stop misgendering Carmichael, and compares her to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
“It was just one of those moments where you're like, you can't make this shit up,” Drucker says, “And then of course we realized that we had known that Dick was Tucker Carlson's father already, but, it was like the deeper we dug, the more we were like, wow, this is really a personal effort on Dick Carlson’s part.”
These battles with trans women weren’t just fleeting moments in Carlson’s life. In the years he covered Carmichael, he grew afraid of her, and even started carrying a gun because he was afraid she’d try to kill him.
“Liz Carmichael is the trans bogeyman of Tucker Carlson's childhood,” Drucker says. “And just to extrapolate a little bit, Tucker Carlson thinks that his father is heroic. And his heroic father was only afraid of one person, who happened to be trans.”
While Dick Carlson was only a local journalist in Los Angeles, and didn’t work in that profession for his whole life, his son has a much bigger platform from which to spread his transphobia.
“Millions of people watch his show five nights a week, and he's created this anti-trans platform that is now impacting the state legislature,” Drucker explains. “When you follow the line it's staggering, Dick was not committed to the field of journalism, the way that other, more reputable journalists are. But then it just evolved with Tucker Carlson, who has no integrity as a journalist, has no curiosity about anything. He's really just pandering to this common denominator of fear. Fear of change, fear and resistance of cultural change, that's his entire platform.”
The roots of transphobia run deep in this country, and The Lady and The Dale shows how that’s the case even in the most surprising of ways. All four episodes are currently streaming on HBO Max.