Throwback Thursday – Frances Farmer

September 19, 1913 – August 1, 1970

Frances Farmer was a movie actress in the 1930’s into the ’40’s. She is probably best known for sensationalized accounts of her life and most famous for her involuntary commitments to mental hospitals.

Mom and I recently watched the movie Frances based on the true story of her life, starring Jessica Lange. This sent me on search for info on her as it was such a sordid, sad life. I found out the movie was based on the book Shadowland by William Arnold. The key word here is BASED as this book is pure rubbish so the movie is too. It was a good movie and Lange was very good in it (eerie how much she resembles Farmer!) but it is not an accurate account by any means.      

In the movie Frances mom is portrayed as a domineering woman who maliciously kept putting her back into mental hospitals to get her to agree to go back into the movie business. That she was given a lobotomy by Dr. Walter Freeman. Her father threatened suit if she was given one. Also he asserts that service men were snuck into the hospital by male orderlies and given sexual contact with the patients for a fee and that Frances was one of those patients. There is also a reporter in the movie that she maintains a relationship with and he ‘breaks’ her out of the mental hospital. None of this is true. In a This is Your Life segment Frances and her sister talk about Frances just walking out of the hospital and walking the 15 miles to her sisters house. I was incensed that such flagrant falsehoods were included in this book and the movie. Wow! Poor Frances. I would not recommend this movie to anyone because of it. But if your interested in Ms. Farmer and her life journey here is a wonderful article written by Jeffrey Kaufmann, archivist, setting the story straight. Watch her biography on Biography here if you want a reliable version of her life. Jeffrey Kaufmann is interviewed repeatedly in this show as well as her nephew.

All of this made me interested in Walter Freeman and his infamous here. It was quite interesting. Wish I had seen the whole episode. It can be purchased here. The episode was based on the book The Lobotomist: A Maverick Medical Genius and His Tragic Quest to Rid the World of Mental Illness by Jack El-hai. On the PBS page for The Lobotomist I found these two great articles – Bedlam 1946 and Online Forum. Dr. Freeman worked at our nation’s first government run mental hospital, St. Elizabeths and you can read the history of that hospital here.
lobotomies. The early years of mental health care is full of nightmare stories and fascinating to read about. You can watch a 5 min. clip from the PBS documentary on The Lobotomist

My mom was an aide at Woodside Receiving Hospital in Youngstown OH. in the ’50’s. It was opened in 1945 and closed in 1996. She had some great stories to tell! She was present during some electric shock treatments and said it was horrible to watch. It’s a shame how our mental health system slowly deteriorated and put seriously ill people out on the street to fend for themselves. All the work Dorothea Dix worked so tirelessly doing to establish it! She must be turning in her grave!

Here’s a throwback for you: Do you remember that silly song from 1966, ‘Their Coming to Take Me Away‘? I was 8 yrs. old. I remember it vividly! I couldn’t believe it was on Youtube!

I remember it was taken off the air as some thought it was controversial.

An old movie actress and old mental health treatments. Strange I know, but it is a throwback post! If you have a post about anything old, a song, a recipe, a TV show you loved, a family picture, a book, link it up! I’m planning on doing this the third Thursday of each month.

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