Frances Farmer Forgotten

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When I first started my blog, I wrote an article about Frances and the stories swirling about her 40 years after her death. My focus lately has been about the bombshells who are now forgotten and cast aside – even though their impact is still around. Farmer is definitely one of those women – with an extra dose of intellect and a rebel spirit that never left. But why focus on Frances? Because today I was reminded about her disastrous 1958  appearance on This Is Your Life. 

I recently completed my Frances book collection (with the exception of William Arnold’s Shadowland Revisited) and remembered what an intelligent but often misunderstood woman lied below the surface of a beautiful facade. In the above clip, Roberts delves into Frances’ problems with about as much tact as a mouse trap; however, Frances stays composed and collected while assuring the audience she’s not mentally ill. Frances was a household name for years but has been forgotten by many, but why?

Frances Only Made 16 Movies and had 5 Years of Stardom

This is the big one. It’s kind of hard to be remembered when you have a limited filmography and didn’t die under the age of 40. The few Frances films in existence show an actress of great depth and talent who likely would have gone far if she had been able to stay in the business – with looks reminiscent of Ingrid Bergman and the acting talent to match. Frances would make her last movie at the peak of her stardom in 1941 but would continue to receive film offers for several years, which leads me to my next point.

Frances’ Breakdown was Incredibly Public

Remember when Britney Spears shaved her head and people saw the photographs everywhere for about 6 months? Times that by 100 and you have the press coverage of Frances’ breakdown in 1943. This wasn’t her first run-in with the law relating to her mental health status, but the photos of her being dragged out of the Knickerbocker by the police made headlines all over the world. The press was sympathetic, but the stigma around mental illness in the 40s still held a strong grip on American society. Even if Farmer returned to films, she likely wouldn’t have been able to salvage her status with the public. We’re still uncomfortable with public breakdowns as seen by people’s treatment of Anne Heche, Amanda Bynes, Aaron Carter, etc.

Frances’ was an Atheist and Suspected of Supporting Communism

Both of these viewpoints would have been cardinal sins in 1940s America. While Frances would eventually convert to Catholicism in the 60s, she had no qualms talking about her distrust in the view of God existing when she was younger. In fact, at 17, Frances saw her essay describing how she had lost faith in God, describing him as fading into “nothingness,” in The Scholastic. She never repented these views during her heyday.

At 21 in 1935, Frances won a contest through the left-leaning magazine The Voice of Action that awarded a trip to Russia. Against her mother’s advice, and less than a year before her big screen debut, Frances took the trip. The whispers of communism spread like wildfire both in Frances’ hometown of Seattle and the national papers that reported on it. The notoriety that came with the trip probably led to her signing with Paramount on September 19, 1935, but Frances would remain questioned about the trip for years to come.

Jessica Lange Starred in a Shitty, Critically-Acclaimed Biopic

Those who know me know I either love or despise biopics. Lange’s Frances is one of the worst films out there when it comes to a celebrity biopic. The main issue is the reliance on Arnold’s Shadowland, a book he later tried to claim was novel instead of a biography when suing the producers of Frances.

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The judge would eventually throw out Arnold’s case, stating:

Shadowland
Click here for the full judgement. I must credit the work of Jeffrey Michael Kauffman for finding the full ruling which you can find here for a detailed debunking of Arnold’s book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lange’s performance deserves recognition but the movie has forever tarnished Frances’ reputation with the public who still believe she received a lobotomy and could hardly function. This is my main issue with biopics. People take them as fact; therefore, authors will write salacious material in exchange for the hopes of their book becoming a movie seen by millions. This isn’t to say every biopic is horrible. Some are quite good, but these films are few and far between.

Why Remember Frances?

Because she was a trailblazer who dealt with her issues quite publicly. Her films are still entertaining and her talent shines. She wasn’t a shrinking violet and chose to handle her life head-on, public opinion be damned. She didn’t shy away from her seven years in-and-out of psychiatric hospitals and made a successful comeback as a television host and stage actress in Indiana (although she sadly got swindled out of money and continued having issues with alcohol). Sadly, Frances passed away at 56 in 1970 from esophageal cancer.

Review: Bombshells – The Women Who Set the Fifties on Fire

I have eagerly been waiting to read historian and author Shar Daw’s book on fifties blondeshells since its announced release. Yesterday, I received my copy and whizzed through it in less than 24 hours – a testament to how enthralling the subject matter is. But does it pass the Classic Blondes test?

“..all five women in this book used every opportunity their appearance afforded them to advance their careers, but it was not a bottle of bleach or a man that made them cultural icons.”

Daws provides an eye-opening look at the women deemed essential to the decade that saw an emphasis on engorged breasts, wasp waists, and voluptuous hips. Her subjects covered are: Jean Harlow, Ruth Ellis, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Dors, and Jayne Mansfield. Each actress is given a separate section composed of several chapters. Instead of a run-of-the-mill anthology composed of straight-forward biographies, Daws examines what made these women tick, major life events (Harlow’s ill-fated relationship with Paul Bern, Monroe’s flirtations with the casting couch via Johnny Hyde), and society’s views on these women due to their hair color.

Some of Daws most intricate analysis details how Ellis, Dors, and Mansfield combined motherhood with the sexuality all relied upon to further their careers in the (still somewhat existent) patriarchal society that believes motherhood, career, and sex mix as well as oil and water. Women are still advised to choose one of these roles – as seen by the near constant backlash women like Kim Kardashian receive when they pose nude. A quick glance of comments on anything posted by Kardashian that is remotely risque shows her mothering skills questioned while being called a whore who only made it by on a sex tape (an asinine claim being Kardashian has a business empire that couldn’t be run on tits alone). Daws does not shy away from showing this side of society, detailing how we really still haven’t left the view that women can only wear one hat at any time (usually in the order of sex kitten, career woman, and loving mother – but never an equal combination of the three).

She also doesn’t shy away from calling a spade a spade, talking about the casting couch freely and openly in regards to each woman, and admitting Monroe’s utilization of the practice with Johnny Hyde. While Monroe would claim she was never a “kept women,” Daws shows how Monroe’s relationship with Hyde was just that – and a testament to Monroe’s quest for stardom and ability to manipulate situations in her favor (reportedly, Hyde only left Monroe a set of bed sheets in his will – possibly a dig towards the basis of his relationship with the starlet). Some Monroe fans will likely unleash their false outrage on this section of Daws book, with their idolized woman-child living without sin, but Daws tackles the situation tactfully and with facts. Can one really accept Monroe as a person – and not a personified saint – if they don’t accept that she did what she believed she had to do? I would say no. Monroe was human and that deserves to be examined.

One of the most illuminating sections for me was Daws telling of Ruth Ellis’ story. For those who don’t know, Ellis was the last woman hanged in Great Britain on July 13, 1955, at 28 for killing her lover. Daws gives a glimpse into the woman behind the scandal, and details why Ellis likely would not have been executed today. Like Monroe, Daws humanizes Ellis, showing a complicated personality with dreams of stardom like every other woman featured in the book. Ellis was also a trailblazer who chose to raise her born-out-of-wedlock child, Andy, instead of adopting him out like society dictated.

The only “flaw” (and this term is used incredibly loosely) in the book is simply based on differences in opinion – particularly in regards to Mansfield’s third husband, Matt Cimber. Daws has formed her own opinions based on available information and she is entitled to those feelings. I also don’t agree with the assertion that Mansfield visited Anton LaVey’s Black House in San Francisco in October of 1966; however, Daws does not assert this visit led to any form of membership and provides Mansfield’s February 1966 quote on never joining the religious sect and her affirmation of being a strong Catholic. If Mansfield did visit, the papers didn’t report on it.

Overall, the book most assuredly passes the Classic Blondes test. In lieu of a conclusion, I leave you with the following from the book’s conclusion:

“The victim label is possibly even more prevalent in regards to the women in this book than the automatic assumption that their blonde hair was synonymous with stupidity. By interpreting them as victims, we are robbing strong, articulate and capable women of their power, placing them on a pedestal for appearance’s sake whilst at the same time enabling us to use them as an example.”

Burdensome Bardot?

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Yesterday, Adele Haenel walked out of the Cesars due to convicted sexual predator Roman Polanski winning Best Director. Reactions were mixed – with most applauding Haenel for what is seen as taking a heroic stand in the era of the #MeToo movement, while others claim she was using it for a few minutes of fame. This got me thinking about a rather problematic Frenchwoman…

Few will deny Brigitte Bardot was France’s prime export of the 1950s. Even though she never made a film in the United States, Bardot it well-known on the American film scene with her kohl-lined eyes, sky-high beehive, and Angelina-Jolie-Before- Angelina-Jolie-Was-Born pout. I’m a huge Bardot fan, but there is a definite push back due to Bardot’s personal feelings and her seemingly nonstop court appearances for inciting racial hatred (1, 2, 3, 4).

So what’s a girl to do who enjoys Bardot’s work but doesn’t necessarily agree with everything Bardot says? Enjoy Bardot’s work. Let’s get one thing straight – Bardot has said a lot of things I find offensive – even if I agree with some of her sentiments behind it (I don’t support Kosher or Halal slaughtering methods but I also don’t feel I can tell a religious group what they can or cannot do when it comes to how they choose to slaughter their meat being factory farming is just as brutal (Personally, I get all my meat from grass-fed, humanely-slaughtered animals and try to use tail-to-snout)). This isn’t me getting on my political soapbox – I just see where she comes from on one issue she talks about; I don’t agree with the derogatory insults she chooses to use when asking for reform.

There is, however, a bigger issue I see in the Old Hollywood community and what I have struggled with as a Bardot fan – cancel culture. Everyday I seem to find a new person with an asterisk in their name because someone has found an obscure interview, fact, or story that needs to be shared to show what a horrible person a celebrity was. From Clark Gable’s alleged push for the firing of George Cukor on Gone with the Wind for being gay (BTW, absolutely not true. David Selznick’s memos show he was heavily considering firing Cukor before Gable was even signed on and was annoyed with Cukor already pushing the film’s budget) to John Wayne’s troublesome Playboy interview.

Here’s the thing – nearly every star is going to have an issue when looking at them through the lenses of the 21st Century. Jayne Mansfield didn’t believe interracial marriages could work, Lillian Gish was unrepentant for working with D.W. Griffith on Birth of a Nation, and Charlie Chaplin, Errol Flynn, and Jerry Lee Lewis had a penchant for underage girls. This is not to say there weren’t progressives in these eras – there certainly were – but the reason we remember them is because they were outside the norm.

Quick intermission to bring in some of the knowledge gained from completing my history degree –  I hate to break it to you but in 1925, the Ku Klux Klan had a low-estimate of 4 million members out of a population of 115 million in the U.s.. When you figure how many people were actually eligible to join (WASP men), it roughly translates to at least 15% of the eligible population being members of the Klan, and that figure does not take into account those who never joined but did support the fraternal movement. Statistically, Hollywood likely did house Klansmen and their supporters within its ranks – but we will never know exactly who.

So where does this leave the viewer of classic films? It depends on what you are okay with supporting (and yes, there is a form of support, even if you are watching on ok.ru) and your ability to separate a creator’s work from their personal lives. Personally, I don’t watch Polanski’s films, but I will watch Bardot’s pictures. Bardot’s personal feelings may be troublesome to me, but I support her right to say how she feels – and the consequences she faces for what she says. Polanski, on the other hand, has continually evaded justice for his actions and that doesn’t sit well with me (although it must be noted he is on amicable terms with the girl he assaulted).

As far as the need to cancel those who are long dead for their actions? Again, it’s up to you. I try to avoid Chaplin and Flynn, but won’t have a coronary if someone I know wants to watch their films. The same mindset (hopefully) holds true for you in regards to Gish, Griffith, Gable, and nearly every other celebrity who has faced “cancel culture” long after their deaths. Don’t let Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram users deter your viewing choices – make your own decisions based on what (and who) you like, and don’t be ashamed to defend this work, even if you can’t defend the star’s actions.

Why Betty Grable’s Being Forgotten

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I don’t do a whole lot of opinion pieces on here but something that’s always bugged me is how much love Betty Grable doesn’t receive. In fact, there’s a stark lack of literature available on her as well; with only a handful of books written about the woman who was in the Box Office Top Ten for 12 years in a row. So why doesn’t she hold appeal for as many people as Monroe, West, or even Mansfield?

She’s (Overall) Wholesome

One thing about Grable, she always played a wholesome girl. Sure, her characters might do misguided things (such as pulling a gun on her students in The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend), but can you really hold it against her? She simply lets her temper get the best of her sometimes. She’s not going to kill someone, just scare them a little.

Grable’s characters almost always were a bit rough on the outside but the right man could tame her – all she needed was love. This persona wasn’t too far off from how Grable was in real life and just what America needed in the 1940s; a sweet as apple pie, All-American blonde to show the GIs what they were missing back home (without the gun drawing).

Grable knew exactly what her fan base wanted, and she was more than happy to deliver. When she was forced out of her comfort zone by Darryl Zanuck, such as in The Lady in Ermine, Grable would buck the decision as much as she could. Fans agreed with Grable’s take on what she was fit to work in and Zanuck eventually learned Grable knew best.

But, these roles can feel dated today. While we all love the happy endings that feel smothered in peaches and cream, it would have been nice to see Grable just go on her own to face life, instead of having to continuously end up married or engaged. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not coming at this from an ultra-feminist standpoint and 100% realize why her films were filmed the way they were, but they can feel stale after you hit your 10th Grable film in a row (albeit, I’m happy with stale).

Her Successor’s Memory Has Lived Forever

Let’s be real, Marilyn was originally planned as a 1950s Betty Grable. She was childlike in a woman’s body. She knew how to use her sexuality on-screen (Grable tends to come across as the 30-year-old virgin until her later work). Fox had tried it with June Haver and Mitzi Gaynor, but Monroe really took off with the public. Although Monroe didn’t have the same appeal as Grable when it came to the box office (and I just know someone is going to have a coronary for me saying that but the numbers don’t lie), she ushered in the decade before the 60s by tantalizingly dangling on the edge of 50s decency. Monroe was the new woman, while Grable was stuck as the 40s fantasy; Grable was the girl you married after the war, Monroe was the woman you cheated on your wife with when you got the seven year itch.

Monroe fans – prepare for another coronary – but Monroe’s tragic death at 36 has greatly aided her memory. As much as Monroe scholars despise the likes of Mailer, Slatzer, Wolfe, and Summers, their salacious tales of murder, affairs, secret marriages, corrupt doctors, cover ups, and abortions tantalize the public. Her death has been deemed suspicious by many, and it keeps her in the public eye. If Monroe had lived out her days, I would be willing to bet she wouldn’t be as remembered today being publicity leeches couldn’t latch onto her memory and destroy it in a dumpster fire of lies. This leads me to my next point…

Betty Grable Lived Out Her Life

While Grable was only 56 before lung cancer took her away from this world, she had been retired from films for roughly 20 years and was focusing on stage work. She wasn’t dying to be in the public eye, and her work was relegated to what she was doing on stage. This isn’t to say Grable became lazy (lessons learned in her childhood would never allow a slothful Grable), but she enjoyed nearly ten years of not having to perform (1955-1965). I hate to say it but if Grable had a violent death in 1950, she would be more remembered now. Why? Because we tend to remember those who we think died in suspicious or violent manners. Humans are gruesome.

Betty was an Icon

I don’t think anyone can deny Grable’s icon status. After all, the above picture was sent to an estimated 5 million GIs (courtesy of Fox) during WWII. But the values held dear to 1940s America didn’t hold true to the 60s and beyond. While Monroe teetered on the edge of the 60s, Grable represented the 40s ideal – which didn’t age well with the flower children of the 60s, those who celebrated the golden age of porn in the 70s, or the 80s power executive. As our WWII veterans have passed away, so has a large amount of Grable’s fan base. Grable isn’t the only person to deal with this; the likes of Gene Tierney, Ginger Rogers, Veronica Lake, and Rita Hayworth all dealt with fallout. Hollywood (and the public) turned their back on their most popular 40s stars, likely because of constant reminders of the horrors of war those women would come to represent. Not, of course, from these women’s own actions, but because of the era they symbolized. Most people have seen Grable’s pinup pose on commemorative covers of Life or Time, but they don’t really want to know more about who their grandparents were fantasizing about while overseas fighting Hitler, Mussolini, or Emperor Hirohito. And you know what? I’m fine with it. More Grable stuff for me. 🙂

Things I Didn’t Think I Would Announce

I’m getting married.

That phrase is still echoing in my ear every time I say it. While I try to keep my personal life outside of this sphere, I think it is important to share so you know why my Instagram presence has cut down significantly. My fiancee, Max, and I have been planning nonstop for our March 15th nuptials. While we originally played around with the idea of getting married on my 30th birthday, Max and I instead opted to wait until the following day. This is significant to me being my mom and stepdad, who are celebrating 18 years of marital bliss this year, got married the day after her birthday as well.

I knew I wanted something connected to Old Hollywood and Max, as dear as he is, readily allowed my to choose our wedding venue. So, I went for The Little Church of the West:

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The Little Church of the West was the planned location for Betty Grable’s marriage to Harry James, but because the press were swarming, they ended up getting married across the street.

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But the venue has hosted its fair share of celebrity weddings, including:

Deanna Durbin and Felix Jackson

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1945

Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Sanders

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1949

Fernando Lamas and Arlene Dahl

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1954

Judy Garland and Mark Herron

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1965

And of course, it was mostly famously featured in Viva Las Vegas as the wedding venue of Ann-Margret and Elvis.

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And The Little Church of the West still rings the bell heard in the film!

A few other things about our venue:

  • It opened its doors in 1942
  • It is the oldest building on the Las Vegas Strip and the building has been moved three times through the years. This means I’m getting married in the exact same building, just at a different location.
  • It is on the United States National Register of Historic Places – the only location on the Vegas Strip to have this distinction

The support we have received has been overwhelmingly positive. As most of you know, I have a five-year-old son who means the world to me. He absolutely adores Max, and I couldn’t think of anything better than that. I’ve also had a few people ask me about our registry which is available by clicking here.

Next post is about my dress and the inspiration behind my decision. I look forward to squealing in excitement with all of you!

Lots of Love,

April