The woman, the myth, the legend

By Steve Daly
Updated February 23, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Erin Brockovich

  • Movie

Her research was the key to winning a massive settlement in a water-contamination case. But real-life legal crusader Erin Brockovich might still be an unknown to most of the public if she hadn’t also happened to impress her chiropractor.

Carla Shamberg, a vice president at Jersey Films (the folks who produced Get Shorty and Man on the Moon, among other pictures), happened to go to the same chiropractor as Brockovich. And when the back adjuster pitched Shamberg on what a great movie Erin’s story would make, things began to align.

Several years and one serendipitous piece of movie-star casting later, Erin Brockovich has far outstripped the similarly themed A Civil Action to become one of the most acclaimed docudramas in recent memory — and perhaps the least controversial, thanks to a story line that hewed closely to the facts. ”What’s fascinating about this case,” says producer Stacey Sher, who oversaw the movie with Michael Shamberg (Carla’s husband) and Danny DeVito, ”is that what really happened was always more interesting and dramatic than anything you could have made up.”

There was one limitation: All the plaintiffs from Hinkley, Calif., where water was contaminated by chemicals from a Pacific Gas & Electric plant, had to be composite characters with made-up names. Reason? The settlement included a gag order. But Erin Brockovich and her real-life boss, attorney Ed Masry, signed no such agreement, so the movie was free to dramatize their personal lives.

The result? A picture as inspirational as Rocky and as factual as All the President’s Men. And unlike the producers of The Insider and The Hurricane, who weathered a storm of objections and accusations over factual issues, the Brockovich team didn’t hear a peep. ”PG&E never contacted us,” says Michael Shamberg. ”They were smart enough not to make a stink, because they actually did do what we show they did.” And this time, the whole world was watching.

Episode Recaps

Erin Brockovich

  • Movie
  • R
  • 126 minutes