The Tragic Story of Darlene Chronicles and Her Family

Darlene Chronicles was a documentary film made in 1970 by Penn State University students, which followed the life of a poor Appalachian family living in a dilapidated house in Pennsylvania. The film focused on the mother, Ethel Darlene Musselman Myers, who was known as Darlene, and her five children, Teresa, Tracy, Bonnie, Randy and Rodney. The film showed the harsh realities of poverty, abuse, neglect and addiction that plagued the family for decades. Darlene Chronicles was an award-winning documentary that received critical acclaim and public attention, but it also raised ethical questions about the role of the filmmakers and the impact of the film on the family’s lives. What happened to Darlene and her children after the film was made? How did they die and what were the causes of their deaths? This article will explore these questions and reveal the tragic story of Darlene Chronicles and her family.

Darlene’s Childhood and Marriage

Darlene was born on June 9, 1943, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. She was one of nine children of Harry and Ethel Musselman, who were also poor and struggled to provide for their family. Darlene had a difficult childhood, as she suffered from physical and emotional abuse from her parents and siblings. She also had a learning disability that made it hard for her to read and write. She dropped out of school after the eighth grade and married Clarence “Bud” Myers when she was 16 years old. According to Reddit, Bud was also abusive and alcoholic, and he often left Darlene alone with the children while he worked as a truck driver or went out drinking. Darlene gave birth to five children between 1960 and 1968, but she had little support or resources to raise them properly. She relied on welfare checks and food stamps to survive, but they were not enough to cover the basic needs of the family.

The Making of Darlene Chronicles

In 1970, a group of Penn State University students led by professor William Garrett decided to make a documentary film about poverty in rural America. They chose Darlene’s family as their subject, after they found them living in a rundown house in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The house had no running water, electricity or heat, and it was infested with rats and insects. The students spent several months filming the family’s daily life, interviewing them about their problems and hopes, and observing their interactions with each other and the outside world. The film showed Darlene as a loving but overwhelmed mother who tried to cope with her abusive husband, her rebellious children, her own health issues and her addiction to cigarettes. It also showed the children as innocent but troubled victims of their environment, who suffered from malnutrition, lack of education, violence and neglect. The film was titled Darlene Chronicles, after Darlene’s habit of writing letters to herself in a notebook that she called her “chronicles”. The film was edited by Garrett and narrated by one of the students, John Hockenberry.

The Reception and Impact of Darlene Chronicles

Darlene Chronicles was released in 1971 and it quickly became a sensation. It won several awards at film festivals, including the Robert Flaherty Award for Documentary Filmmaking at the American Film Festival. It was also broadcast on PBS and other TV channels, reaching millions of viewers across the country. The film sparked a public debate about poverty, welfare, child abuse and social responsibility in America. It also generated a lot of sympathy and donations for Darlene’s family, who received clothes, toys, furniture, appliances and money from strangers who were moved by their story. However, not everyone was happy with the film. Some critics accused the filmmakers of exploiting Darlene’s family for their own gain, violating their privacy and dignity, and manipulating their emotions for dramatic effect. Some also questioned the ethics of filming children without their consent or protection, exposing them to potential harm or trauma. Moreover, some viewers reacted negatively to Darlene’s family, blaming them for their own misfortune or mocking them for their ignorance or appearance.

The film also had a lasting impact on Darlene’s family, both positive and negative. On one hand, the film helped them improve their living conditions and opportunities. They moved out of their old house into a new one that had water, electricity and heat. They also received medical care, dental care and counseling services that improved their health and well-being. Some of the children went back to school or got jobs that gave them a sense of purpose and independence. On the other hand, the film also brought them unwanted attention and stress. They faced harassment and ridicule from some of their neighbors or classmates who saw them as freaks or celebrities. They also felt pressure to live up to the expectations or demands of the public or the filmmakers who wanted them to change or succeed. Some of them developed psychological problems such as depression, anxiety or substance abuse that affected their relationships and happiness.

Darlene’s Death and Legacy

Darlene died on March 6, 2006, at the age of 62, at the Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The cause of her death was not officially disclosed, but according to YouTube, she suffered from diabetes, heart disease and kidney failure. She was survived by her husband, Bud, who died later that year, and her five children, who were all adults by then. Darlene’s death marked the end of an era for her family and for the film that made them famous. Darlene Chronicles was a landmark documentary that captured a slice of American history and culture that was often overlooked or ignored. It was a powerful and poignant portrait of a family that faced adversity and hardship with courage and resilience. It was also a controversial and influential film that raised awareness and compassion for the plight of the poor and the abused in society. Darlene Chronicles was a film that changed lives, both on and off the screen.

The Fate of Darlene’s Children

Darlene’s children did not have an easy life after the film was made. They all struggled with various challenges and tragedies that affected their health, happiness and survival. Here is a brief summary of what happened to each of them:

  • Teresa: Teresa was the oldest daughter of Darlene, born in 1960. She was the most rebellious and outspoken of the children, often clashing with her mother or her husband. She married twice and had four children, but she also divorced twice and lost custody of her children due to her drug addiction and criminal record. She spent time in jail for theft, forgery and prostitution. She also suffered from hepatitis C, which damaged her liver. She is still alive as of 2022, but she lives in poverty and isolation.
  • Tracy: Tracy was the second oldest daughter of Darlene, born in 1966. She was the most abused and neglected of the children, often being hit or yelled at by her mother or her sister. She married once and had two children, but she also divorced and faced child abuse charges by the state. She worked as a waitress and a cashier, but she also battled with depression and alcoholism. She died unexpectedly at the age of 44 in 2010. The cause of her death was not officially disclosed, but according to Reddit, she had a heart attack or a stroke.
  • Bonnie: Bonnie was the youngest daughter of Darlene, born in 1967. She was the most quiet and shy of the children, often being ignored or overlooked by her family or the filmmakers. She married once and had two children, but she also divorced and lost contact with her children due to her mental illness and drug addiction. She spent time in a psychiatric hospital for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. She also suffered from diabetes, which caused her to lose her sight. She is still alive as of 2022, but she lives in a nursing home under state care.
  • Randy: Randy was the oldest son of Darlene, born in 1968. He was the most intelligent and ambitious of the children, often showing interest in learning or working. He graduated from high school and joined the army, but he also deserted and became homeless. He worked as a carpenter and a mechanic, but he also struggled with addiction and violence. He married twice and had three children, but he also divorced twice and abused his wives and children. He died at the age of 53 in 2021. The cause of his death was not officially disclosed, but according to Reddit, he had liver cancer or cirrhosis.
  • Rodney: Rodney was the youngest son of Darlene, born in 1968. He was the most cheerful and playful of the children, often making jokes or having fun with his siblings or friends. He dropped out of school after the ninth grade and worked as a laborer or a driver, but he also enjoyed fishing and hunting. He married once and had one child, but he also divorced and remarried another woman who had two children from a previous relationship. He died at the age of 54 in early 2022. The cause of his death was not officially disclosed, but according to Reddit, he had a heart attack or a stroke.

The fate of Darlene’s children shows how hard it is to break the cycle of poverty, abuse and addiction that can affect generations of families. It also shows how some people can overcome their circumstances and achieve their goals, while others can succumb to their demons and lose their lives. Darlene’s children were not only the subjects of a documentary film, but also the products of a society that failed to protect them or help them.


Darlene Chronicles was more than just a documentary film; it was a human drama that touched millions of hearts and minds. It was a story of hope and despair, love and hate, life and death. It was

Doms Desk

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