Book Openers: Meet the Polygamist Family That Inspired TV’s “Big Love”


Alina, Vicki and Valerie with husband Joe Darger at the 2011 RNA conference.

“Big Love” inspiration: Alina, Vicki and Valerie with their husband Joe Darger at the RNA conference. Photo by Barbara Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I’m just back from the annual Religion Newswriters Association conference, where I got a close-up look at the polygamous Darger family — three wives, one husband — who inspired the TV series “Big Love.”

It was a great TV show, and I’m expecting the book, Love Times Three to be pretty interesting as well.

The “Big Love” TV wives were all very different. There’s Barb, the sensible one; Nicki the uptight product of an abusive polygamous family, and Margene, wilful and sexy.

When  the three Darger women were asked which one was the Margene in the family, they laughed and replied none. Indeed, the  women spoke of taking a little quiz, which revealed that all three of them were Barbs to the core.

book jacket "Love Times Three" Darger familyBased on my quick glimpse of this family, I believe it. The three sister wives even look alike (two are twin sisters), with shoulder-length dark hair, handsome faces, and — despite producing and caring for  24 children between them — trim figures.

The Darger family uses the term polygamy, but technically, since it involves three wives, it is polygynous.

Personally, I just don’t see how the math works out here. All four Darger adults grew up in polygynous families. All told, they have produced 11 boys and 13 girls. What’s to become of their 11 sons when they grow up and want to follow in their father’s, mothers’ and ancestors’ footsteps and marry two, three or more women? Will there be enough women in their community to go around?

I asked Alina about this, but her answer doesn’t add up. A man has to be affluent enough to support a family of three wives and a couple dozen children, she said, and it isn’t often that three women and a man will fall in love — so  it just doesn’t happen very often.

But that belies the family’s statement in their book that their primary charge, along with abiding by the gospel, is to perpetuate plural — that is,  polygynous — marriage.

More details to come when I’ve had a chance to look more closely at the book. The post is entitled Is Polygamy Normal?

Spoiler alert. Do not read on if you are watching the “Big Love”  TV series.

The TV show’s final season ended with a bang last spring — though one of the Darger wives told me that she hadn’t seen the finale and didn’t know how it ended (she was too busy caring for the family’s 24 children, maybe.)

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the show ends with the husband getting shot to death.

btw, the Religion Newswriters Association met in Durham, NC, this year. Next year, Bethesda, where the topic will be religion, politics and the election.

Love Times Three: Our True Story of a Polygamous Marriage. By Joe, Alina, Vicki, and Valerie Darger, with Brooke Adams. HarperOne, 2011.



  1. I knew I shouldn’t have come here, lol!

    I literally just started season 2 last night and now I know how the entire show ends. I told myself not to go looking for anything about the show online because of spoilers, but I was really curious as to whether it was inspired by the Sister Wives’ family. Thought I’d be safe, but oh well, that’s what I get.

    I’ll be back to read the rest of the post when I’m done with the entire thing. Thanks!

  2. Fasinating topic and coverage, Barbara. Used to watch “Big Love, ” but replaced it with TLC’s reality show
    on polygamy. For the life of me, I’ve never understood why it’s illegal. Actually the illegality attracts some people. Better it should be open. As for “the numbers not adding up,” I agree. What if the husband dies, then his umpteen wives all collect social security, that’s going to break the system. If we can work out those details, and it’s truly voluntary on the part of the wives, then no problem.

  3. I’m still upset about the story ending at all. It didn’t close enough of the plot points the story was running on and it also seemed a little weak about why he was shot. I think Big Love has one more season it could make if it wanted to.

    • Maybe my standards for TV plot coherence are a little low. Comes from watching “Lost” maybe, which was so tantalizing in plot possibilities and so horribly disappointing in the way it finished up. Yeh. I could have watched another season of Big Love. Tho some of the middle year seasons weren’t that great.

  4. Check out this story on about polygamy in Libya — and the US:

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