(Sept. 9, 1913-Aug. 1, 1970). Born in Seattle, Washington, Frances Farmer graduated from the University of Washington and became a movie actress while still in her twenties. Although considered a major star in the 1930s and 1940s, she never enjoyed working in films. In 1942, Farmer quit acting and did not return to her craft for 14 years. During this period she was institutionalized for 8 years, diagnosed as schizophrenic.

A woman stands between two men.
Movie actress Frances Farmer in Indianapolis, ca. 1950s Credit: Indiana Historical Society View Source

In 1957, Farmer began touring in summer stock and played at the former Avondale Playhouse in Indianapolis. While in the city, she accepted an offer from local television station WFBM (Wrtv-6) to host its afternoon movie show. “Frances Farmer Presents” ran for seven tumultuous years. She was fired twice for erratic behavior and drunkenness. Although Farmer finally left the show in 1964, she remained in Indianapolis at her home on Park Avenue.

During the next five years, Farmer acted in several productions of the Purdue University Drama Department, joined St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church, and opened a home decorating business with her friend Jean Ratcliffe. When Farmer’s investment with Ratcliffe in a line of cosmetics soured, she lost all her money and her home. For the remainder of her life, she rented a farmhouse at 6000 Moller Road.

Farmer’s final years were spent writing her autobiography, Will There Really Be A Morning? (1972). The book chronicles her years in a state mental asylum as well as her life in Indianapolis. Before finishing her story, Farmer died of cancer at the age of 56. The book’s final chapter was written by Ratcliffe. In 1982, EMI Films released Frances, a movie account of Farmer’s life starring Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard.

Revised July 2021

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