The Lady and the Dale, a new HBO documentary miniseries co-directed by Nick Cammilleri and Zackary Drucker, has been promoted by the network with most of its secrets held in check. Tune in to this nonfiction biography series, the promos suggest, and learn the tale of a female automobile executive who took on the Detroit automakers and tried to market a gas-efficient car in the 1970s, at the height of the oil crisis.
But The Lady and the Dale is so much more than that. Yes, the second installment of this four-part series is mostly about the weird three-wheeled car called the Dale. But the first hour of this miniseries is mostly about a small-time but enterprising con artist. The third hour is about a trial for grand larceny, with the defendant doing double duty as her own defense attorney. And the fourth hour is so full of surprises and revelations that I'm not even going to go there.
The promos held their cards close to the vest, but the opening minutes of The Lady and the Dale hint at some of the intrigue to come. It starts with a vintage 1970s clip from The Price Is Right, where one of the prizes being offered is a brand new Dale automobile, and works quickly through some other period TV footage that adds many layers of mystery to the story.
And what a story it tells! It begins as the story of Jerry Dean Michael, who grew up in small-town Indiana and eventually became a con artist, working every scheme from counterfeiting money and checks to selling bogus get-rich-quick schemes door-to-door. Jerry married and had five kids, but kept grifting—and every time the law got close, he'd pick up the family and move. Over one stretch, according to the documentary, the family moved 21 times in three years.