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Shadowland: Search for Frances Farmer Hardcover – December, 1978

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Editorial Reviews

In the 1930s, Frances Farmer was acclaimed as a rising star with a brilliant future to look forward to. But suddenly she was thrown into a state insane asylum (as they were then called). Her name erased from the official movie-studio history books-it was as though she never existed. This is a true story of what really happened to this young woman and the story of the author's search to find her buried life. It is also the tale of how institututions of society, law, psychiatry, and family converge to break a will and destroy a life. A harrowing story. 260 pages. 8.75 x 6 inches. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1978.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Inc.,US (December 1978)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0070023115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0070023116
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #291,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Richard Brzostek on June 29, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Shadowland by William Arnold is one of the few books available about Frances Farmer. Farmer was an actress in the late 1930s and early 1940s that was institutionalized, and as some believe, this was due to her political beliefs rather than mental illness. Today, Shadowland is still sought after and is somewhat hard to get a hold of, but is a valuable book as it sheds light on a captivating actress and what happened to her.
Shadowland is an attention-grabbing book that is hard to put down and reads quickly. This book is basically an outline of William Arnold's progress as he attempts to solve the mystery of Frances Farmer. Arnold recounts the life of Farmer from various documents and personal interviews of people that claim to have known her. More than half of this book is about Farmer's life before she was institutionalized, and only after 150 pages does it get into her psychiatric involvement.
This book makes a great companion to Farmer's autobiography. Although Arnold does point out information that shows the autobiography may be inaccurate, for the most part, Shadowland does not entirely contradict the autobiography. Shadowland is an important book to read for anyone interested in knowing more about what happened to Frances Farmer.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Gary Wang on March 5, 1998
Format: Hardcover
The author is on the staff of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (the star was a native of Seattle, spending her childhood and much of her later life there) and here he weaves a spellbinding tale encompassing the golden era of Hollywood, primitive psychiatry and the depravities of insane asylums, her artistic triumphs onstage with the Group Theatre and their shameful exploitation of the Farmer name, industry parties in Malibu and the unconscionable 'star status' that she was accorded by the health care professionals to whom she had been entrusted following her revolt after colliding with the Los Angeles judicial system (on charges arising from a minor traffic violation). There is an undeniable undercurrent throughout the first half of this book to the effect of "there, but for the grace of God, go I...". Because there is no official record of a lobotomy having been performed in 1949, we are left to decide for ourselves if the actress and University of Washington alum was, in fact, subjected to this ultimate indignity: after the first 75 pages, it is easy to understand why Kenneth Anger (Hollywood Babylon) was moved to identify her as that town's foremost victim. Arnold's thorough treatment of the forces that led to the powerfully tragic and errant commitment of this enormously talented, left-wing Paramount and Broadway star is devastating to read and impossible to put down. That someone could ascend to the pinnacle of success and tumble so quickly and easily into the abysmal squalor of the ancient Fort Steilacoom Hospital, with it's dirt floors, rats and ice baths that were representative of mental health care in Washington State in the 1940's, is hair-raising and remains deeply troubling today. This was reverse-serendipity, times ten.Read more ›
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 7, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This is a spell-binding account of the life of Frances Farmer, a promising, gifted actress whose only "flaws" were a critical mind and a fierce sense of independence. An independent thinker and a rebel from her teenage years, ms. Farmer paid a high price for not acting submissive and "ladylike". The response to her challenges to legal, political and medical authorities was brutal, and can not be justified in any manner. But such was the political and medical climate in the 1940s and `50s that if you absolutely refused to conform, you were doomed to what some might call a fate worse than death. What was then considered medical treatment is now considered torture, and with the paranoia of the McCarthy era it was dangerous to have a social conscience. Ms. Farmer was critical and courageous, and thus deemed to be an outrageous deviant by the authorities. Perhaps worst of all, she was a fiercely independent woman in a time when women were not supposed to think for themselves. Thus, ms. Farmer suffered in the hands of just about anybody who had the power to abuse and degrade her, from film directors to medical personnell and legal authorities. Perhaps worst of all is the role her mother played in all this. Shadowland is more than just another Hollywood biography. It provides insights into a crucial, if not so proud part of American medical and political history. This book makes excellent reading for high school and college classes in the sociology of deviance/social control, as well as 20th century history, and women's history. This book may cause you to lose some sleep, but we should be thankful to mr. Arnold for showing us the dark side of our treatment of non-conformists.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "drownsoda18" on June 7, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I first read this book when I was 14 years old. I had no idea who Frances Farmer was, except that she was the subject of a Nirvana song. The music may have brought me to Shadowland, but Farmer's life and Arnold's prose kept me captivated. I read it again at age 15, then 17, and then just recently at 20. Six years later, this book still hits me hard. Shadowland will stick with you.
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