Who Was Frances Farmer? Here are 5 Facts You Need To Know

One of Hollywood’s most controversial and troubled personalities who had a brief career but was both brains and beauty is no other person than Frances Farmer. As brief as her career was, she still made her mark in the entertainment industry and inspired several post-humorous works some of which have gone on to become award-winning projects.

Who Is Frances Farmer?

Frances Farmer was an American actress and television host who reigned supreme in the 20th century. She was one of the best to have graced and dominated not just Hollywood but also the theater. She is one to always remember in Pop Culture. She was an atheist and proclaimed communist by many who knew her. Here are 5 amazing facts to know of this beautiful, yet troubled actress.

Here are 5 Facts You Need To Know About Frances Farmer

1. Background and Education

Frances Farmer with the full birth name Frances Elena Farmer was born in Seattle, Washington to Ernest Melvin and Lilian Farmer. Her father was a trained lawyer while her mother ran a lodge home and was a dietician. She had two elder siblings – a sister, Edith; a half-sister, Rita; and an elder brother, Wesley. Her parents were separated when she was only 4 years old and she was tossed back and forth between her aunt’s to her mom’s and then to her father’s place at different times.

She attended the West Seattle High School and as a senior student, Farmer entered for an essay writing competition and won the $100 award by the Scholastic Art Magazine for her essay entitled “God Dies.” She graduated in 1931 and proceeded to the University of Washington to pursue a degree in Journalism. In her second year in college, she got actively involved in the drama department of the university and was featured in plays like; Helen of Troy, Everyman, Uncle Vanya, and Alien Corn. The stage plays had good reviews from the critics and local press in Washington. She actually supported herself and paid her tuition throughout her days in the University through odd jobs.

In her final year in college, in 1935, Frances Farmer won yet another contest organized by the Newspaper, The Voice of Action. The prize for the contest was a trip to the pioneering Moscow Art Theater in the Soviet Union. She finally graduated from the University of Washington in 1935 earning two degrees, Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and journalism.

2. Career – American Actress and TV Show Host

Frances Farmer started out her career as an actress in New York City after she met with agent Shepard Traube, who directed her to Paramount Pictures where a screen test was conducted for her. On her successful completion of the test, she was given a 7-year contract at the age of 22. The first film she was cast in was Too Many Parents in 1936 and the movie was a success. She was then cast as a lead actress in the drama Border Flight and like they say, the rest is history.

That was the beginning of her success story and rise to super stardom, she starred in several Hollywood films including Come and Get It; (which was adjudged her best work and received great reviews), The Toast Of New York, Rhythm On the Range (which she played alongside with Bing Crosby), Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Lake, Flowing Gold, among many others.

Frances, having succeeded in Hollywood and studio life, was said to be depressed and rebellious on sets and could not be starred in major roles so she left Hollywood and pursued theater stage plays in a quest to do something different in enhancing her career. In 1937, she moved to New York City where she met director Harold and playwright Clifford who took a fancy to her then invited her to play a role in a production of Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy which was produced by The Group Theatre. The play ran for 248 episodes and became the biggest theater play in the Group’s history. She would later fallout with the show’s producers when they replaced her with another actress for one of her roles in their London run.

In August 1957, after she had managed to rebrand herself, following her stint in a mental home, Farmer returned to the stage in New Hope, Pennsylvania for a summer stock production of Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden. She also made appearances in several other live television dramas in 1958, some of them were packaged on kinescope, same year, she made her last film appearance, The Party Crashers – a Paramount pictures production which got B rating.

She hosted her own television show Frances Farmer Presents which in the six years of its airing got rated as number one because of the amazing job she did with the show. She got recognized and awarded as the businesswoman of the year. She had a relapse in her mental health which cost her the contract to continue hosting the show.

3. Controversies, Arrests, And Committal To Mental Institution

Frances became depressed and began drinking heavily in an effort to suppress her growing depression. This did not end well as she eventually opted out of the productions of Broadway’s adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Fifth Column” and was fined $1, 500 for unprofessionalism.

Her case only deteriorated further with cases of drunk driving filed against her in October 1942, assault of a studio hair dresser in 1943 and on another occasion, she was alleged to have ran down a street topless. At another time, she got herself engaged in a brawl in a bar; and on arrival of the police to arrest her, she resisted and it resulted in her being dragged out naked to the police station. The jail term was changed to a time in a mental institution and with her sister-in-law’s influence, Farmer was transferred to the Psychiatry ward of the Los Angeles General Hospital in 1944, where she was diagnosed with Manic Depressive Psychosis.

Frances Farmer
From L-R: Ernest her dad, Lief her husband, Frances, Lilian her mom and her sister

After her discharge from the mental institute in 1950, Frances Farmer had an interview with Modern Screen magazine where she attempted to clear her name and the controversies that she had been surrounded with throughout her career and committal to mental institutes. She also made two appearances on shows The Ed Sullivan Show and This Is Your Life, which helped her clarify issues and redeem her image from the bad publicity she had been marred with.

Read Also: Zsa Zsa Gabor Biography, Net Worth, Spouse Or Husband, Daughter, Sisters

4. Farmer’s Relationships and Marriages

Frances Farmer lived a very controversial life and it was very evident in her marital lifestyle, she was married to three different men in which all the marriages ended in a divorce. Her longest marriage was to Leif Erickson, whom she met when she was signed on to Paramount Pictures. They got married in 1936 then parted ways after seven years in 1942. She later met and tied the knot with Alfred Lobley in 1954 but quietly divorced him in 1958 and then married Leland Mikesell in the same year. Their marriage lasted five years from 1958 to 1963.

Frances Farmer was also romantically linked with Clifford Oder in 1940, Howard Hawks and Howard Culrman though the facts of these relationships are sketchy.

5. Death

Frances was diagnosed with Esophageal Cancer in 1970, the direct result of her many years of being a chain smoker. She finally succumbed to her illness and died on August 1st, 1970. She was buried in Oak Lawn Memorial Garden Cemetery in Indiana.

She has been portrayed in various movies and songs posthumously, such as Frances in 1982 cast by Jessica Lange, also in Committed, a movie by Susan Blakely in 1984 and Frances Must Take Her Revenge On Seattle. She has also been a subject of many stage plays notably Saint Frances of Hollywood.


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