Frances Farmer’s Paradise Lost?

Day 135 of Colourisation Project – September 19

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Once touted as the next Garbo, today’s subject is sadly perhaps better known for the sensationalized accounts of her tumultuous life. Though her story is clouded by conjecture and controversy, Frances Elena Farmer, born this day, September 19, 1913, was an American actress whose meteoric rise to stardom was truncated by bouts of mental illness and long periods of involuntary confinement to mental institutions between 1943 to 1950.

Frances Farmer

Publicity Still – Frances Farmer – Colourised by Loredana Crupi

Farmer was an actress in Hollywood’s golden era – the 1930s and 1940s and was once described by Cecil B. De Mille as the ‘screens most outstanding find of 1936.’ She made 14 feature films between 1936 and 1942, including Come and Get It (1936), Rhythm on the Range (1936) with Bing Crosby, The Toast of New York  (1937), Ride a Crooked Mile (1938), Badlands of Dakota (1941) and Son of Fury (1942) opposite Tyrone Power.  However Farmer, who as a teenager read Nietzsche, did not always comply with the Hollywood system that recognised her beauty more than her dramatic talents. Fuelled by alcohol she became defiant and abusive as her struggle with mental illness was played out publicly.

Her public stature as a rising actress would have only exacerbated that struggle. The inadequacies of the mental health care system in the 1940s and the primitive therapies employed, including electric shock treatment, would not have served Farmer well.

The last thing I would want to do here is to sensationalise her story. Hollywood has already done that with two movies and a TV documentary. A lot of the stories and mythology surrounding Farmer, including claims of lobotomies have been scotched by researchers and Farmer’s family. An autobiography purportedly written by Farmer and published posthumously in 1972, Will There Really Be a Morning? raises more questions than answers Not for the faint-hearted, it provides harrowing details of her life and times locked up in state mental institutions. There are suggestions that the book may have been ghost written and parts of the story fictionalised or embellished.  We will never really know but what the book does do is provide a shocking exposé of the mental health system that stole almost ten years of Farmer’s life.

In the 1950s, Farmer reclaims her life and makes a valiant comeback appearing in a few theatrical productions, one more movie in 1958, The Party Crashers, and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957, before landing a job as host of her own TV show, Frances Farmer Presents which ran until 1964 and was very popular with her forgiving fans.

On August 1, 1970, Farmer died after a long battle with esophageal cancer; she was 56 years old.

Today I leave you with a slideshow tribute to Frances Farmer set to the music of Everything but the Girl. The lyrics of the song Ugly Little Dreams, provided below, seem to cut to the core of what emotionally may have tilted Frances Farmer’s equilibrium.


Ugly Little Dreams  –  sung by Tracey Thorn

Frances keep your mouth shut dear
We don’t want the neighbors ’round
With their ugly little schemes
That make the pretty world go ’round
And there’s a place in it for every one of us
I’ll keep the home fires burning
Only don’t make a fuss

And if you’re not impressed
With the wares life has to show
You can take them or leave them
They choose their own fare who say no
There’s some ugly little dreams
For pretty girls to buy
It’s enough to make you mad
But it’s safer just to break down and cry

It’s a battlefield Frances
You fight or concede
Victory to the enemy
Who call your strength insanity

What chance for such girls
How can we compete?
In a world that likes its women
Stupid and sweet

I bet you rue the day
The angels gave you your share
Of bright cornflower blue eyes
And golden hair
And there’s a lot of ugly little dreams
For pretty girls to buy
It’s enough to make you mad
But it’s safer just to break down and cry
It’s safer just to break down and cry

This entry was posted in Colorization, Colourisation, Opus Loredana, Photography, Women, Women in Film & TV and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Frances Farmer’s Paradise Lost?

  1. Pingback: Gene Tierney – The Luckiest Unlucky Girl | Random Phoughts

  2. Pingback: Susan Hayward – Brooklyn Bombshell | Random Phoughts

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