Doc­u­men­tary tells dark tale of triplets sep­a­rated at birth

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS -

The first time that broth­ers David Kell­man, Bobby Shafran and Eddy Gal­land were in the pub­lic eye, it was joy­ous. The then 19-yearold iden­ti­cal triplets, sep­a­rated at birth, had just learned about the oth­ers’ ex­is­tence.

De­spite grow­ing up sep­a­rately, the three big-smil­ing, curly-haired kids smoked the same ci­garettes and fin­ished each other’s sen­tences. They ap­peared on shows like Phil Don­ahue, be­came early ‘80s tabloid reg­u­lars and even made a cameo along­side Madonna in 1985’s “Des­per­ately Seek­ing Su­san.” They opened a restau­rant in New York’s Soho called Triplets Rou­ma­nian Steak House.

“We were sort of fall­ing in love,” Kell­man re­calls in the new doc­u­men­tary “Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers.”

Their se­cond go-around has been more com­pli­cated. Gal­land killed him­self in 1995. And the dis­turb­ing rea­sons for their sep­a­ra­tion only emerged af­ter that ini­tial glow of re­union. “Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers,” di­rected by Bri­tish film­maker Tim War­dle, is the stranger-than-fic­tion tale be­hind their story, one of the more dis­qui­et­ing cases of sep­a­ra­tion at birth.

Since its Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val de­but, the film — a real-life roller­coaster ride into a dark and twisted his­tory — has as­ton­ished and in­fu­ri­ated movie­go­ers in equal mea­sures. It has re­newed pres­sure on a prom­i­nent child devel­op­ment cen­ter to make the study trans­par­ent. And it has re­turned the re­main­ing broth­ers to the spot­light un­der far less fes­tive cir­cum­stances.

“When we went through the lime­light be­fore it was cel­e­bra­tory. It was all fun,” Kell­man, now 57, said in an in­ter­view. “Is this some­what en­joy­able? Yeah, but it brings up a lot of pain too.

“See­ing it in the the­ater re­ally got me,” he added. “I cried like a baby.”

“Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers,” which opens in the­aters Fri­day, is about a much-doc­u­mented case that had largely re­ceded from pub­lic mem­ory. Af­ter the triplets found each other in 1980 (Shafran, re­mark­ably, ar­rived at an up­state New York com­mu­nity col­lege only to find ev­ery­one al­ready knew him, be­liev­ing him to be the al­ready-en­rolled Gal­land), an­other dis­cov­ery fol­lowed.

The triplets, born in 1961, were placed with three fam­i­lies — one up­per class, one mid­dle, one work­ing — by the now-de­funct Louise Wise Agency as part of a study about na­ture vs. nur­ture by the Child Devel­op­ment Cen­ter. The cen­ter would later merge with the Jewish Board of Fam­ily and Chil­dren’s Ser­vices, a large, 140-year-old New York non­profit.

The study — which en­com­passed an un­known num­ber of twins — was con­ducted through the 1960s and ‘70s by Dr. Peter Neubauer, a prom­i­nent, Aus­tri­an­born psy­chol­o­gist who died in 2008. With­out the knowl­edge of the chil­dren or their par­ents, re­searchers stud­ied the chil­dren’s devel­op­ment right un­til the triplets showed up on TV.

“I don’t know what these peo­ple are go­ing to do, if any­thing. I just know what they did was wrong,” said Shafran. “They can blame peo­ple who are no longer alive, but it’s an in­sti­tu­tion, a con­tin­u­ing in­sti­tu­tion. The en­tire study should just be open for starters.”

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