What the hell happened to Frances Farmer?


Frances Farmer was an actress in the 1930s and 1940s, Hollywood’s golden era. A goddess among other goddesses, a beautiful woman with a lower-register speaking voice (close your eyes, hear the plangent tones of a French horn). No less a goddess, either, for the relative brevity of her Hollywood career. Frances made only 15 feature films from 1935 to 1942—and a 16th, albeit trashy one, in 1957—appearing in the best of these with such luminaries as Cary Grant (The Toast of New York), Bing Crosby (Rhythm on the Range), Edward Arnold (Come and Get It and The Toast of New York), and Tyrone Powers (Son of Fury). But she was not just a figure of the ’30s and ’40s; she was one of the ’90s and ’00s, too. “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge on Seattle” is the fifth song on Nirvana’s In Utero; particularly arresting is the line, “She’ll come back as fire and burn all the liars, leave a blanket of ash on the ground.” Full-bore vengeance on untold millions of Seattle innocents. That’s dramatic enough to make you wonder: What the hell happened to Frances Farmer?

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