Farrah Fawcett in Murder in Texas (1981)
In this 2-part 1981 movie, Farrah Fawcett played Joan Robinson Hill, a Houston socialite believed to have been murdered by her husband, John, a prominent plastic surgeon, played by Sam Elliott.
Andy Griffith played Ash Robinson, Joan’s wealthy father. He was nominated for an Emmy for this performance. Katharine Ross, who later became Sam Elliott’s wife in real life, played Ann Kurth, the woman that John Hill married shortly after Joan Hill’s death.
Two books were written about this sensational scandal: “Blood and Money” by Thomas Thompson, and “Prescription Murder” by Ann Kurth. The teleplay for “Murder in Texas” was based upon Kurth’s book and was written by John McGreevey.
The Hills have been married for at least a decade when the story begins, but their relationship has deteriorated. Hill’s creepiness is established early on when he and wife, Joan, go to pick up their son, Boot, at a summer camp. He refuses to get out of the car until the classical music piece he’s listening to is over. Then, after Joan has left, he notices Ann Kurth, turns off the music and introduces himself. He insinuates himself in her life every chance he gets or creates after that. Hill’s neglect of Joan and her father’s dislike and distrust of his son-in-law is established early when he insinuates to Joan that Hill had something to do with the death of his own brother, Julian Hill: “People are important to the doctor as long as he can use them to get what he wants and, honey, what he wants, he gets.” Not even half an hour into the movie, Hill is talking about divorcing Joan to Ann and she buys into it. He files for divorce and when Ash Robinson finds out, he goes on the offensive. Ash informs Hill that if he goes forward with the divorce action, he’ll end up with nothing, not even Ann and he’ll be finished in Houston.
Hill reconciles with Joan but continues to see Ann. Then suddenly, Joan becomes violently ill and dies. Joan’s father is convinced that Dr. Hill poisoned his daughter and the fact that her body was enbalmed before a proper autopsy only adds fuel to the fire. A few months after Joan’s death, Hill marries Ann Kurth. Ash Robinson sets out to leave no stone unturned in his quest to get Hill charged with murder. In the meantime, Ann begins to see a different side of her husband. Hill gets charged with murder by omission and by then, Ann Kurth is divorced from Hill and is on the prosecution’s side.
Farrah Fawcett was fresh off quitting Charlie Angel’s when she took on this role because she wanted the chance to prove herself as a serious actress. This was a stepping stone towards that end and it was certainly not the way that audiences were used to seeing Farrah, who had achieved sex symbol status in the 1970s with her signature hair style and her iconic swimsuit poster. Farrah went on to play Diane Downs in “Small Sacrifices” (1989), a woman who murdered one of her 3 children (she was trying to kill them all); and Francine Hughes, a woman who murdered her abusive husband. Both of these films are mentioned in this Real Bad Moms post, although the “bad mom” in “The Burning Bed” was the husband’s mother, not Farrah’s character. Farrah received Emmy nominations for both of those later roles.
Farrah portrayed Joan Robinson Hill as a woman who had everything, except the one thing she wanted the most, the love and attention of her husband. You get the impression, however, that her father dominated her life and you may wonder what might have been if Ash had not interfered in Hill’s plans to divorce Joan. I even wondered if Ash ever wondered that.
When discussing “Dial M for Murder” (1954), I said I like there to be a clear motive in murder cases, but that is in fiction. In real life cases, it is always shocking when people commit premeditated murder and the stuff they do to try to get away with it is revolting. In any event, it was never proved that John Hill caused Joan’s death by failing to get her timely medical care because he was murdered himself before he could be tried.
As we noted above, this film was based upon Ann Kurth’s book and her version of events. She sued Thomas Thompson because she objected to the way he depicted her in “Blood and Money.” Ash Robinson also sued Thompson for libel, but both suits were tossed out. Here are some links to various articles about Joan Robinson Hill, John Hill, Ash Robinson and Ann Kurth.
UPI Archive (3/4/1981) Ann Kurth testifies… an article on Ann Kurth’s court testimony in her lawsuit against author Thomas Thompson.
Money and Murder in Texas: An account of the real story, including an excerpt from “Prescription Murder” and info of what became of the Hills’ son and comments on the case.
New York Times: Oilman is Cleared in Houston Murder of his Son-in-Law (10-21-1977) – This was a civil court trial based on the $7.6 million suit brought by Hill’s third wife, his mother and his son, seeking to prove that Ash Robinson was involved in the conspiracy to murder Hill.