As Showtime’s new limited series “George and Tammy” lays out, George Jones and Tammy Wynette may have had a messy personal life, but they made beautiful music together. Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain play George and Tammy, respectively, in a musical drama that’s filled with, surprisingly, a lot of facts. (It might not be that shocking considering it’s based upon their daughter Georgette Jones’ own memoir.) Creator Abe Sylvia’s six-episode series isn’t afraid to show the toxic love between the pair, as well as their individual high and low points.
But with a series like this, liberties are of course taken. So what’s real and what’s fiction?
Was George and Tammy’s first meeting that disastrous? (Possibly) FICTION.
The first episode sees Tammy Wynette meeting George Jones after a night of hard partying on his part. Knocking on his hotel room door Tammy is greeted by a half-naked woman. Jones and Wynette proceed to attempt to have a discussion about touring together while he’s in bed with two women. This might be something Georgette Jones talks about in her memoir but it’s not a story that’s popping up in any articles or online research about the pair’s first meeting. The most commonly repeated story is that the pair met in a recording studio in the late-’60s before deciding to go on tour together. No doubt this hotel room scene better encapsulates Jones’ rollicking ways.
Did George Jones really cause his tour bus to crash after firing a gun inside? (Possibly) FICTION.
In another example of Jones’ quick temper, especially when he was drinking, we see how a fun time with his bandmates almost leads to a fatal car crash. Jones, at one point, pulls out a gun and proceeds to start shooting holes in the roof of his tour bus. The driver, scared out of his mind, crashes the bus leaving Tammy and her then-husband, Don Chapel (Pat Healy), to pluck Jones from the wreckage and give him a ride home. This appears to be a way to bring George and Tammy closer together quickly on the show, but there’s no other information out there about this ever happening.
Did Tammy Wynette and George Jones declare their love for each at the family dinner table? FACT.
Episode 1 concludes with George being invited over to dinner at the Wynette/Chapel homestead only for an argument to ensue between George and Don. George gets angry and declares his love for Tammy, before asking her to take her daughters and leave with him. This is actually what really happened, albeit the circumstances are a tad different. According to biographer Jimmy McDonough’s book “Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen,” Wynette’s three daughters came down with food poisoning and had to be taken to the hospital. Jones showed up and supported Wynette through the ordeal and came to the Wynette/Chapel house the next day for dinner.
Dana Hawley/Courtesy of SHOWTIME
It’s here where the argument between Chapel and Jones started. Chapel started speaking derogatorily to Wynette and as Jones laid out in his autobiography, “I felt rage fly all over me. I jumped from my chair, put my hands under the dinner table, and flipped it over. Dishes, utensils, and glasses flew in all directions. Don and Tammy’s eyes got about as big as the flying dinner plates.” The TV series keeps the basic facts and streamlines them, while also firmly situating Jones as the hero in the situation.
Was Tammy Wynette’s hysterectomy done without consent? (Possibly) FACT.
There’s no doubt Tammy Wynette had a hysterectomy after the birth of her fourth daughter, and her only child with George Jones, Georgette. The question is, as third episode implies, whether it was done without her knowing. As the episode lays out, there was severe trauma during the delivery and a hysterectomy was required. The series lays out the bigger issue with how this affected the rest of Wynette’s life. Wynette would suffer from life-long complications as a result of this, with the build-up of scar tissue causing severe pain and issues with her gallbladder. Wynette would become addicted to painkillers as a result.
Did Tammy Wynette really go to Vegas solo? FACT.
Episode 3 is all about Tammy and George going to Las Vegas for a massive concert series. Unfortunately, Jones relapses and Tammy is left to fly to Vegas solo. The situation leads to doubt from a Vegas show promoter that the tour will be a success and Tammy must win the crowd over to a solo performance. It’s not known whether audiences were hostile to Tammy showing up without Jones, but George missing the first performance is true. This would cause many in the music scene to label him “No Show Jones” because of his tendency to disappear.
Did Tammy really take George’s keys to stop him from driving drunk? FACT(ish).
Interestingly, this is a true story but not one associated with Tammy Wynette. According to Jones’ autobiography, “I Lived to Tell It All,” his second wife, Shirley Corley, whom Jones was married to from 1954 to 1968, was the one who took his keys in order to prevent him from driving drunk. And, as is seen in the episode, when Corley did that Jones would turn to the riding lawnmower. As Jones said, “There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”
Did George attempt to shoot Tammy? (Disputed) FACT.
This is another story that, while true according to Wynette, was disputed by Jones. Wynette laid out in her autobiography that the final straw for her happened in 1973 when Jones returned to the family house drunk, chased her, and actually fired on her with a loaded gun. The series softens this a smidge with Wynette fleeing rather quickly and Jones shooting the gun at the ceiling, but the basic facts are still there. Jones took to his memoir, though, to argue that the story was utter “nonsense.”
Did Tammy accidentally leave her divorce papers out for George. (Probably) FICTION.
There’s no proof readily available to indicate whether this is true or not. Wynette and Jones did initially try to divorce in 1973 but for various reasons reconciled. It wouldn’t be until 1976 that the pair would make their divorce official.
Was Tammy addicted to drugs? TRUE.
Like the series lays out, the birth of Georgette Jones forced Wynette to get a hysterectomy that led to a series of serious health complications. The only way for Wynette to dull the pain was to use painkillers, developing into a drug addiction so severe members of her road crew were trained on how to inject her with Demerol and a permanent catheter was inserted into her to dispense drugs. Wynette did doctor shop regularly, as well. In 1986 she entered the Betty Ford Center for treatment but had to undergo surgery for an intestinal blockage, putting her back on the same painkillers she was trying to beat. She, unfortunately, never kicked the addiction completely and in the nineties started abusing Dilaudid.
Did Tammy really fake a kidnapping? UNCERTAIN.
In 1978, Wynette did claim that, while shopping at a local shopping center in Nashville, a man threatened her with a gun and took her hostage. Several days later, and unseen in the series, Wynette’s daughter Georgette was almost abducted from her school. Wynette would also receive ominous notes at her concerts. The FBI investigated though no arrests were ever made. Nothing definitive was ever discovered, though Georgette Jones did believe the kidnapping was a means of hiding that Wynette’s then-husband, George Richey, had abused her. Other theories were that Wynette used the kidnapping to hide that she was unfaithful to Richie, or that George Jones was the one behind everything.
“George and Tammy” airs Sunday nights on Showtime.