The legend of actress Frances Farmer endures among the greatest tragedies in the Hollywood firmament; a gifted, luminous performer, she tumbled from the peak of success into a series of nervous breakdowns, sanatorium stays, and bouts with alcoholism. Born September 19, 1913, in Seattle, WA, Farmer was the daughter of an attorney. Her passion was the stage, but her attempts to join the Group Theater in New York were met with little interest, and she reluctantly signed a seven-year contract with Paramount. She made her film debut in 1936's Too Many Parents, quickly followed by Border Flight. Later that same year she also starred opposite Bing Crosby in Rhythm on the Range.
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Farmer's acclaimed turn in the troubled Howard Hawks/William Wyler picture Come and Get It rocketed her to stardom, and many media outlets touted her as the next big thing. With the onset of fame, however, she became notoriously difficult behind the scenes, much to the displeasure of studio executives who punished her with small, stifling roles in films like 1937's Exclusive, Ebb Tide, and, while on loan to RKO, The Toast of New York. Farmer continued to wage war on Paramount, however, and demanded they let her travel to New York to star in the Group Theater's production of Golden Boy. Her stage bow was met with critical displeasure, however, and upon her return to Hollywood, Paramount -- fearing she'd lost all of her momentum -- assigned her the Western programmer Ride the Crooked Mile, where she starred with Leif Erickson, who later became her husband.
Farmer soon rebelled again, demanding better scripts and threatening to move permanently to New York, so the studio retaliated by loaning her to United Artists for the 1940 jungle adventure South of Pago Pago. The chess match continued, and after Farmer successfully demanded to star with John Garfield in Warner Bros.' Flowing Gold, Paramount responded by forcing her into three consecutive B-list productions: Badlands of Dakota, World Premiere, and Among the Living. The 1942 Son of Fury appeared poised to push Farmer back into the spotlight, but at the moment of the picture's release she was arrested for drunk driving. Her personal life a shambles, she headed to Mexico to shoot a film provisionally titled There Is No Escape but ultimately exited the project prior to its completion. However, by traveling south of the border, Farmer had broken her probation, and as a result she was ordered to be committed to a sanitarium.
Farmer spent the remainder of the decade in and out of institutions, suffering several nervous breakdowns and losing her battle with alcoholism. Only in 1949 was she finally released from her asylum stay. In 1957, Farmer was found working as a hotel receptionist in San Francisco and was coaxed out of retirement. She soon made her first comeback appearance on television's Ed Sullivan Show, where she sang and discussed her hopes of revitalizing her movie career. However, she made only one more film, the 1958 teen drama The Party Crashers. Farmer did appear in a handful of theatrical productions, and beginning in 1960 she hosted an Indianapolis-based television program about movies. She died of cancer on August 1, 1970; her autobiography, Will There Really Be a Morning?, was published posthumously. In the years following her death, Farmer's cult following grew immensely, and in 1982 Jessica Lange starred in Frances, a film biography of her troubled life and times. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi