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Actress Frances Farmer starred in films in the late 1930s and early '40s, but is best known for her rebellious reputation and the time she spent in a mental institution.
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Frances Elena Farmer was born on September 19, 1913, in Seattle, Washington. The daughter of a lawyer, Farmer enjoyed a comfortable childhood, during which she developed a penchant for stage acting. In 1931, she enrolled at the University of Washington, where she majored in journalism and drama.
After a failed attempt to join the Group Theatre in New York, Frances Farmer concentrated on a film career, signing with Paramount Studios in 1936. Later that year, she was cast in a bit part in the drama Too Many Parents, followed by Border Flight and the musical Rhythm on the Range, starring Bing Crosby. Playing the dual role of a saloon singer and her daughter, Farmer's work in the 1936 film Come and Get It, was heralded as the best screen performance of her career.
Despite Farmer's initial success, she quickly earned a reputation as a demanding and rebellious actress on the set. Displeased with her attitude, Paramount cast her in bland parts in a handful of films, including Exclusive and Ebb Tide (both 1937). By the early 1940s, Farmer was forced to appear in a succession of inferior productions, including South of Pago Pago (1940), World Premiere, and Among the Living (both 1941).
In 1942, Farmer's career enjoyed a brief resurgence when she was cast opposite Tyrone Power and Roddy McDowall in the swashbuckler Son of Fury. However, Farmer's efforts to improve her image backfired when she was arrested and convicted of drunk driving at the time of the film's release. Inundated with negative publicity, Farmer traveled to Mexico. However, by leaving the United States, she was found in violation of her probation. She was put on trial and deemed mentally ill. Farmer was committed to a mental institution where she underwent shock treatments, hydrotherapy baths, and reportedly received a trans-orbital lobotomy. Over the next few years, her physical and mental health deteriorated; she developed a debilitating dependency on alcohol and suffered from a series of nervous breakdowns.
Upon her release from the institution, in 1949, Farmer worked as a hotel receptionist before making a comeback appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957. The following year, she starred in her last feature film, The Party Crashers, and began a six-year run on the Indianapolis-based TV show Frances Farmer Presents.
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