Saturday, October 6, 2018


 Frances Farmer

This post is dedicated to Dylan

I began writing about movie stars and Hollywood history when I was in my early 20's and lived in Hollywood.

At that time my fledgling (and mediocre) literary "talents" left a lot to be desired. Also, it was long before I ever had a computer or access to the Internet. All of my research was painstakingly done at the library and/or with occasional interviews. Not an easy task.
Times have sure changed.

Miraculously, dozens of my articles were published in all kinds of movie magazines - some with legitimate reputations and others that published bubble gum fluff.

My main objective at that time was to write about obscure, long-forgotten movie stars, in a humble attempt to renew interest in them - and introduce them to those who might never have heard of them. Many of my articles were about stars from the silent era such as Ramon Novarro, Theda Bara, Barbara LaMarr, Mary Miles Minter.

One of the stars who particularly fascinated me was Frances Farmer - whose meteoric rise to fame and rapid descent into hell is astounding.

Farmer's film career began in the 1930's and lasted until the early 40's, when a culmination of tragic events in her personal and public life eventually came to a boil and exploded. It began with a DWI arrest and - essentially - ended when her vicious and vindictive mother unfairly had Frances committed to a mental institution.

It's no secret that Frances Farmer was a rebel from the onset. She hated Hollywood and the hypocrisy and shallowness of the film industry - and never concealed her contempt. She quickly made enemies in high places. Her eventual dependence on alcohol and drugs accelerated her reputation for being "difficult".

 Frances Farmer
Hollywood perfect (left)
and after her infamous arrest (right)

Frances Farmer being dragged from her room at the Knickerbocker Hotel on a second arrest warrant in 1943 - for not paying a fine, and also for dislocating the jaw of a Hollywood studio hairdresser.
(I was very familiar with the Knickerbocker Hotel when I lived in Hollywood)

I had never heard of Frances Farmer until I was twenty years old. I happened to find her autobiography, Will There Really Be a Morning?, in a bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard and bought it out of curiosity.

Around that time they began showing some of her films on the late-late show (on a local L.A. TV station). I was immediately mesmerized by her talent and beauty and did my best to find out more about her (which at the time, was extremely difficult to do).

Poet and fellow blogger  Dylan shares my enthusiasm for Frances Farmer and was interested in seeing my old (ancient) article about her.

So, I crawled into the cobwebs and dust of the Jon Archives and managed to extract the magazine.
It's the December, 1990 issue of Hollywood:Then and Now
(Meryl Streep is on the cover)


My article
(they misspelled my name on the byline)
It's probably impossible to read here, but I figured I'd post it anyway. 



  1. After getting out my opera glasses, I found that to be a interesting read. I've heard of her, but can't say I remember seeing her in any movies, but it's amazing how current her torment is and the antics....just like her modern day counter parts. It was rare to see them back then "acting out" and dirt was swept deep under the carpets from public view. Great article Jon

    1. I had no doubt that you would be classy by using opera glasses rather than a microscope. Bad behavior was definitely not condoned by the Studios in those days - and I admire Francis for her unconventional behavior.

      I also had to laugh when I heard that she dislocated the jaw of a studio hairdresser. Too bad that incident wasn't captured on film....

  2. fascinating. a shame her mother had her commited.

    1. Francis Farrmer's extremely dominating mother was undoubtedly the main source of her many psychological problems.

  3. Jon, this post really made my day/night (I've been up for 12 hours nursing a rather nasty cold - so will soon try to get some much needed sleep). I bet I'll end up dreaming about Frances Farmer :-)

    I love all the pics you found! And your article looks very professional! I can see why the magazine decided to publish it. There's been some talk about a new biography (the true story of her life and times), but I'm not holding my breath. There's already been 3 books and 2 movies (one was made for TV), so I think most people are satisfied with the myth (instead of the truth) about Frances. That's why I'm glad I'm not the only one to be genuinely captivated by her!

    I have a poet friend (and he's a very good poet) that wrote an excellent poem about her. It was published and got a lot of attention. However, the poem was all about how tragic it was that such a beautiful and talented actress was given a lobotomy for being too intelligent and hating Hollywood big time. When I told him she was never subjected to a lobotomy - he seemed both shocked and a little hurt. Anyway, it would be nice if more people knew the truth...

    Thank you for finding and posting your FF article! Hopefully it will encourage people to give one or two of her movies a long peek. Flowing Gold (with John Garfield) is next on my list. It was made near the end of her movie career, but most of the reviews state that she had not lost any of her beauty or magic.

    Again, I am both flattered and honored by your post :-)

    - Dylan

    1. Dylan, I'm sorry to hear that you're down with a cold and hope you'll be feeling better soon. I'm also delighted that you like this post.

      It's a shame that so many inaccuracies about Frances Farmer are still being perpetuated. Many people prefer to rely on myths rather than checking for facts (I recently read a book about Lizzie Borden and it was filled with misinformation).

      Frances definitely NEVER had a lobotomy, but it is still largely believed. I do think that she had some shock treatments (which were so prevalent back then)- and they always did more harm than good. The victims of those barbaric tactics often became emotional zombies.
      (I'm no expert on the subject, but I've read quite a lot about it).

      I've never seen "Flowing Gold", and I admittedly haven't seen a Francis Farmer movie in a long time. I'll have to check YouTube to see if any are available.
      (Lately YouTube has been deleting so many films for copyright violations that it's extremely annoying. If you see a film that you like, watch it immediately before they expunge it!).

  4. The first time I saw Frances Farmer was on "The Ed Sullivan Show". She sang "Aura Lee" and there was such sadness there that her performance has always remained with me. It was after that, that I learned the reason why. What a horror story!

    1. Paul, I remember seeing that clip from the Ed Sullivan Show. She seems hesitant and rather confused (or perhaps frightened).

      Frances Farmer originally sang "Aura Lee" in the 1936 movie "Come and Get It" and she was superb. That can be found on YouTube.

  5. John,
    I read Frances Farmer's autobiography "Will There Really Be a Morning". I still have that 35 cent paperback book. My memory of reading about her life and her descent into hell (which is what she went through at the mental institution) was haunting. One act of cruelty on her which has always stayed in my memory is one of the attendants at the institution shoving her head into a toilet. I have never forgotten that singular act of unnecessary cruelty. I continue to be impressed with all your many talents Jon with that article you wrote about Frances. Thanks for posting your post about this tragic movie star. Did you ever write anything about Barbara Payton?

    1. Hey Ron - I never knew that you read "Will There Really Be a Morning?". It is a really good book, even though it was "enhanced" by one of Frances Farmer's friends after she died (and before the book was published).

      I never knew very much about Barbara Payton until you sent me the book. WOW!!!!! Her life was really a Hollywood tragedy. She was afforded so many golden opportunities and she blew them all. I've never written anything about her - - it would probably be too overwhelming!

  6. Wasn't there a movie made about her life? Francis or something like that? I know I watched it and felt so sorry for her. I can't read the article (too small) but a very late congrats on getting published all those times. Kudos! :)

    1. Yes, Rita - the movie "Francis" came out in 1982 and featured Jessica Lange in the starring role. There was also a TV movie about Francis but I never saw it.

  7. I'm embarrassed to admit, this is all new to me. Nevertheless -- and because I'm intimately acquainted with hypocrisy and shallowness in the workplace -- I'm intrigued! (No doubt, I've made enemies in high places, but they're all behind me now.)

    1. Myra, I've not only made enemies in high places, I've made them in low places, too.
      Hypocrisy and shallowness are prevalent everywhere.....


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