She appeared in over a dozen feature films over the course of her career, though she garnered notoriety for the various sensationalized accounts of her life, especially her involuntary commitment to psychiatric hospitals and subsequent mental health struggles. A native of Seattle , Washington, Farmer began acting in stage productions while a student at the University of Washington. After graduating, she began performing in stock theater before signing a film contract with Paramount Pictures on her 22nd birthday in September She followed this with two Broadway productions directed by Elia Kazan in , but a battle with depression and binge drinking caused her to drop out of a subsequent Ernest Hemingway stage adaptation. Farmer returned to Los Angeles, earning supporting roles in the comedy World Premiere and the film noir Among the Living In , publicity of her reportedly erratic behavior began to surface, and after several arrests and committals to psychiatric institutions, Farmer was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At the request of her family, particularly her mother, she was committed to an institution in her home state of Washington, where she remained a patient until Farmer attempted an acting comeback, mainly appearing as a television host in Indianapolis on her own series, Frances Farmer Presents. Her final film role was in the drama The Party Crashers , after which she spent the majority of the s occasionally performing in local theater productions staged by Purdue University.
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All rights reserved. This article summarizes that research. Other information in this article came from personal correspondence and interviews with a number of people who either knew or worked with Frances during her lifetime. David provided tape recordings of his family discussing the errors in Shadowland. David, an attorney, also helped find the Arnold v. Western State Hospital archives are available to authorized researchers through Washington State. Information about Dr. Charles Jones came from his daughter and co-workers. Joseph Stockdale, also provided information about her years in Indiana, her theater work there, and her general demeanor during these years. All sources utilized in this article remain in the Farmer Archive I manage and will be made available to any authorized researchers upon request.
Frances Farmer is one of Hollywood's most tragic figures. In , she made her feature-film debut. One year later, she defied the studios and simultaneously began appearing on stage with New York's Group Theater, where she played the female lead in Golden Boy and other Broadway plays of the late '30s. After gaining great critical praise for her dual role in the film Come and Get It , Farmer became a sensation, and it was expected that she would become Paramount's greatest star. However, she suffered from alcoholism and mental illness and had some run-ins with the law, forcing her retirement in Declared insane, Farmer went on to spend seven years in various mental-health hospitals before attempting a comeback in the '50s, when she worked in stock, appeared in one film, and made some TV appearances, including the hosting of a local TV program in Indianapolis. She died of cancer at She was married from to actor Leif Erickson.