In the history of Hollywood, there have been many casualties. Unfortunate dreamers who were consumed and then spat out the machinery of movies. One of the most tragic victims of this treatment is Frances Farmer.
Born on 19th September 1919, in Seattle, Washington. Farmer was a bright girl who won a writing contest at school with an essay called ‘Gods Dies’. Farmer studied acting at the University of Washington, where she featured in several plays.
In the summer of 1935 Farmer was ‘discovered’ by Paramount studios. She signed a 7-year contract and married Leif Erickson. She even acted opposite Bing Crosby in ‘Rhythm on the Range’ in 1936. You would think that this would be the most wonderful time of Farmer’s life. Unfortunately she was unhappy with how Hollywood was more focused on her looks then on her acting abilities, and the choice of roles she was put forward for. This lead to a more combative relationship with the studios, and she refused to ‘play the game’; she would not attend glamorous parties nor allow her personal life to be used as gossip fodder. What Farmer really wanted was to be a serious actress and felt that the glamour of Hollywood was stifling her.
Sadly Farmer began to spiral out of control, she was gaining a reputation as being difficult, drinking more and even though she was receiving positive reviews for her acting roles. Paramount was unhappy with her, plus her marriage was crumbling. All of this chaos came to ahead on 19 October 1942, when Farmer was pulled over in Santa Monica for having her head lights on (a wartime precaution) what happened next triggered a chain of events that ultimately lead to her being incarcerated in a mental hospital.
While there has been some debate over what precisely happened to Farmer during her 5 years of hospitalised, some say that she was lobotomised, given sadistic treatments such as insulin therapy and even rape. What I theorise, is that treatments for the mentally ill at the time were more akin to torture that medicinal. It is possible that she was abused; given the vulnerability of patients and the often lack of supervision of medical staff. After she was finally was released from hospital, Farmer enjoyed a relatively stable and quiet life, appearing on ‘This Is Your Life’ and even recent had her own show.
Her smoking habit finally caught up with her. She died on 1st August 1970 from Oesophageal cancer.
Nirvana paid tribute to Farmer with ‘Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge On Seattle’. Courtney Love even married Kurtz Cobain in one of Farmer’s dress.
Has felt much sympathy for Farmer, the fact that she was punished for basically not following the rules. The real tragedy is that Farmer was a gifted actress who’s talent was overshadowed by her traumatic personal life, hopefully one day she will be remembered for her gifts rather than her sad past.