Frances Farmer

  1. June Lang, Nancy Steele Is Missing, 1936.   Exploiting the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in a convoluted manner, the drama had Nancy meeting her kidnapper 20 years later and believing him to be her father. (I did say convoluted!). Among the potential Nancies were: Frances Dee, Jean Parker, Jane Wyatta nd Frances… the stunning “bad girl of West Seattle” – because where she’d entered  a newspaper contest in 1935 and won  a VIP trip to… Moscow!!! She arrived in Hollywood (where she had to fight to safeguard her utter perfection) on October 5, 1935.  Her first film, Too Many Parents, was one of four in 1936. The town’s gossip bitch Louella Parsons promised Frances would be “as great and probably greater  than Garbo.” Within five years Parsons would be trashing her for finding Hollywood was  beneath her!

  2. Frances Dee, Wells Fargo, 1937.    One Frances for another as Miss Dee –  actually, Mrs  Joel McCrea – played her husband’s wife in the kind of sprawling saga that had  Paramount putting the Western back on the A List.  Farmer’s husband would have been Fred MacMurray. She hated the films she managed to make, mostly doing  well at the box-office. Just too many like 1936  breakthrough, Rhythm on the Range.   ”I had no idea what the picture was about …. I never did find out.”  

  3. Frances Dee, Souls At Sea, 1937. Tough director Henry Hathaway swopped one Frances for another.  Her love affair with Hollywood was “childlishly enthusiastic” singer turned actor, also contracted to Paramount, Wycliffe Anderson, then William Anderson, then Glenn Erickson and, finally, Leif Erickson. Paramount tried them together in Die A Crooked Mile, in 1938, aka  The Last Ride. And it was for them.

  4. Anne Shirley, Stella Dallas, 1937.
    Producer Sam Goldwyn never  understood – and therefore,  didn’t got on  – with the firey Farmer during the previous year’s Come and Get It, 1936.   So he refused his director King Vidor’s request for her as Stella/Barbara Stanwyck’s daughter, Laurel.  Silly Sam!  Howard Hawks (sacked from that film) adored Frances. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Frances Farmer was the best actress I ever worked with…. One of the cleanest, simplest, hardest-working persons… always looked as though she was shining.  She had no phoninesss… just fabulous. More talent than anyone…  She was a blonde, a natural, but she just used a dark wig, that’s all she put on, no change in make-up. Just her face… her whole attitude changed, her whole method of talking. And then she fell in love with a guy who ran away from her.  She didn’t take a drink before that, then she started to drink.  She just went to pieces.”

  5. Louise Campbell, Men With Wings, 1937.     In the aerial mix (with Carole Lombard) for Peggy Ranson, caught between two fly boy buddies: WW1 ace Fred MacMurray and  airplane designer Ray Milland – in another aviation thriller from one of the titular kind –  the 1928 Wings director  and WW1 daredevil, Wild Bill Wellman.

  6. Louise Platt, Spawn of the North, 1937.    The second  time Frances  nearly co-starred with  Cary  Grant. She was due to be John Barrymore’s daughter, Di Turton. They should have also met in Border Flight, 1936 (“by long odds the worst picture ever made”) before finally appearing together in The Toast of New York, 1937.  Frances rushed back to her real love. The stage… including Clifford Odetts’ Golden Boy with John Garfield. And having affairs with both of them.

  7. Susan Hayward, Beau Geste, 1938. Frances preferred Broadway and the Golden Boy hit by her lover, playwright  Clifford Odets. Farmer and Hayward co-starred in 1941’s Among The Living.   Farmer’s 1940 was not good.  South of Pago – as excruciating as it sounds –  and Calamity Jane far from the centre of  of Badlands of Dakota. Like shoving Meryl Streep into pot-boilers.   

  8. Jean Parker, Torpedo Boat, 1941.    Richard Arlen (or Paramount) couldn’t get enough of Parker…  After she took over from Carol Blake in Arlen’s Power Dive, 1940, and from Farmer here, Parker joined his next ’41 programmer, Wrecking Crew… and two more in ’43.  Surprised she had the time. She had four husbands including another B-movie stiff, Robert Lowery.

  9. Veronica Lake, Sullivan’s Travels, 1941 Jerry Seinfeld’s favourite film because of its content – the importance of fun and laughter. One story says after their Lady Eve, 1940, Barbara Stanwyck was Preston Sturges’ choice for The Girl.  Rubbish!  He always had Ronni Lake in mind, since loving her in I Wanted Wings, 1940. Paramount suits preferred Lucille Ball, Frances Farmer, Ruby Keeler, Ida Lupino in the classic inspired by John Garfield’s hobo days.This was Farmer’s worst year… The night she finished being Tyrone Power’s loving cousin in Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake, 1941, Francs  was arrested for drunken driving. (She took amphetamines as diet pills). Her career was toast due to a series of arrests, jaili and psychiatric confinements until 1950.

  10. Patricia Morison, Hitler’s Madman, 1942.  Change of Jarmila in the US debut of director Douglas Sierck – Hollywoodised as Sirk.  The account of the assassination of Nazi SS commander Reinhard Heydrich was more recently suggested as Spielberg’s style-model for Schindler’s List. She, alas, never made another movie until The Party Crashers in 1958 (her 16th since 1936) 

  11. Ingrid Bergman, For Whom The Bell Tolls, 1942.  The bell was tolling already – for Frances.  She did, though, come back in live TV plays  and The Party Crashers film in 1958…  Barbara Britton, Betty Field, Paulette Goddard, Susan Hayward and  Barbara Stanwyck were also seen for Gary Cooper’s gal. Plus the French Annabella, Mexico’s Esther Fernández, true Brit  Vivien Leigh and Germany’s Luise Rainer and  Vera Zorina.  However, Ernest Hemingway insisted on Bergman (and Cooper) because  he’d had them in mind when writing the book. In case Ingrid changed her mind, producer-director Sam Wood had  the Austro-Hungarian Lenora Aubert waiting in the wings.

  12. Rosa Harvan, Five Were Chosen, 1943. The Mexico location shoot  had been a perfect excuse to get Frances out of LA after her arrest for drunk driving. Then, she was deported..! Months later, she was wrongfully declared mentally incompetent and her parents had her committed to various public institutions and in one,  she was given  a lobotomy. Frances was released in 1950 and took a hotel laundry job in Seattle to help support her parents.

  13. Mary Brian, I Escaped from  the Gestapo, 1943.   The end of the much troubled Frances Farmer…   On the first day, she  slapped one of the production’s hairdressers and was arrested for violating her drunk-driving probation. The film was a typical  Poverty Row job from Monogram, wasting as little shot footage as possible. If-you-shoot-it-use-it! Therefore, one shot remains  of Farmer in a montage…. looking as puzzled as her audience.  Who is that and WTF is she doing there?

  14. Jane Wyman, The Yearling, 1945.    Director Victor Fleming refused to have the UK star Flora Robson as Spencer Tracy’s wife – and called up Ann Revere. Tracy’s son was changed and then Tracy tested with Farmer and Ruth Hussey as his wife. The project was postponed and  totally re-cast four years later. 

  15. Brenda Joyce, The Enchanted Forest, 1945.   Farmer had not made a film for three years – and did not  make another (due to family and  health issues) for another dozen. Sad. Very sad.  Her 16th and final film since 1935  was a terrible  angry youth number, The Party Crashers in 1957.  After which, people played her… Published after Farmer’s 1970 death, her autobiography, Will There Ever Be a Morning?, became a 1982 tele-movie with  Susan Blakely (Ida Lupino, had wanted go buy the book);  Jessica Lange played her in Frances, 1982; and  Sheila McLaughlin in the cunningly titled Committed, 1984.   Scenarist Dalton Trumbo, who had his own Hollywood battles, told her biographer William Arnold: “They were out to get Frances and she knew it. Who? The cops. Why? The political thing.  The (support of) migrant workers thing.  You name it. They want to bust that kid wide open and finally they had the opportunity. Next she was a victim of shrinks with their ‘superior knowledge’.”


 Birth year: 1913Death year: 1970Other name: Casting Calls:  15