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Brilliant Cure But We Lost the Patient
How psychiatry leveraged its influence
into the Rich and Famous

Quackery practised in psychiatry has been the target of many human rights groups over the years. Here Phillip Day highlights how psychiatric thought and practice absorbed themselves into the celebrity culture and were broadcast to millions.

Psychiatry's philosophies and treatments have wrought far-reaching effects in the areas of pop-culture, mass entertainment, media, religion and the family. Hollywood and the arts industry became rapidly infected and seduced with the new 'mental health' ethos, which brought with it its rebellion against law, order and religion. Language later found itself peppered with 'getting my head together', 'doing my head in', 'love and peace, dude', 'freaking out', 'far out, man' and 'chill'.

In the early decades of the 20th century, Los Angeles storefronts, Hollywood parlours and Santa Monica boardwalk shacks advertised psychoanalysis and tarot readings. Hollywood was getting spiritual, but quite what spirit it was getting was not to become immediately apparent.

The clever goal pursued by psychiatry was to increase its government funding and reputation with the public through positive portrayals of its 'philosophies' on the silver screen. In 1916, psychologist Hugo Münsterberg had penned The Photoplay: A Psychological Study, which clearly articulated psychiatry's newly discovered passion for the possibilities of the entertainment industry.

By 1940, the psychiatrist's many portrayals in movies had elevated the 'shrink' to a god-like status in the eyes of the public. Always the pipe-smoking benevolent 'father', bestowing wisdom and chemicals into the ears and mouths of his 'children', the psychiatrist was in his element. And the strategy was wildly successful. US National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants for psychiatric research alone in America rocketed from under $10 million in 1957 to around $50 million by 1963 - an increase of 580% in just six years. Between 1963 and 1995, the funding exploded almost 900% from $60 million to just under $1 billion.

In the movies, of course, the psychiatrist always won against the 'disease'. But the reality, especially to the rich and famous who were seduced by the psychiatrist's pharmacopoeia, was often altogether different.

A young Norma Jean, caught up in the web of drugs and film industry pressures, turned to psychiatry to alleviate her problems. One of Marilyn's psychiatrists was Dr Marianne Kris, who received Monroe five days a week for therapy. Kris later prescribed the actress the powerful barbiturates that would eventually kill her. After a particularly nasty session, Kris committed Marilyn Monroe to a mental institution, where she was locked in a padded cell for two days. Monroe pounded the door hysterically until her hands bled. After her release, she fired Kris.

Dr Ralph Greenson was Monroe's psychiatrist in the final years. Still ensuring the actress remained on her barbiturates, Greenson increasingly began to take over the starlet's life, severing her connections with friends, and even her husband, baseball star Joe DiMaggio. The pretext was that familiarity would cause set-backs and prejudice the actress's recovery from the schizophrenia Greenson was publicly diagnosing as the reason for the starlet's absences.

Towards the end, there is evidence Monroe had begun to realise the catastrophic effects the Svengalian Greenson was having on her life. She had made 23 films in the seven years prior to commencing therapy. Thereafter, she would complete a mere six films in the final seven years of her life. On 4th August 1962, after a six-hour therapy session with Dr Greenson, Marilyn Monroe was found by her housekeeper Eunice Murray, naked and sprawled across her silk sheets. Death had been delivered from Greenson's barbiturate bottle on her nightstand at the age of 36.

Hollywood actress Vivienne Leigh's hysterical outbursts were well known in the industry. After filming of Elephant Walk in Ceylon was constantly interrupted by Leigh's frequent losses of control, wanderings in the night and hallucinations (widely believed to be caused by a combination of her TB medication and heavy drinking), her husband, film legend Laurence Olivier, became concerned for her mental well-being, and repeatedly pleaded with the actress to 'seek help'.

Vivien was persuaded to be flown to England for 'treatment' at the Netheren psychiatric hospital. Her treatments included being packed in ice, a diet of raw eggs and repeated electroshocks. Olivier naturally noticed her change in personality. While being treated on location as an outpatient in Warsaw, she performed with a splitting headache. Burn marks from the electroshock were visible on her head.

Olivier finally divorced her in despair in 1960. Even though it was widely recognised that physical illness can produce psychiatric-like symptoms, Vivien Leigh's long-running tuberculosis was relegated in favour of her psychiatrists continuing to diagnose the Hollywood star with various mental disorders. On 7th July 1967, after her TB had spread untreated to both lungs, Leigh was found lying on the floor. Choking on her own liquid, she had drowned.

Believed to be another inevitably 'mentally tortured' genius, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway was given over 20 electroshocks by his psychiatrists to cure him of his 'mental illness'. After being released, Hemingway was traumatised and extremely bitter:

"What these shock doctors don't know is about writers and such…. They should make all psychiatrists take a course in creative writing so they know about writers.… Well, what is the sense of ruining my head and erasing my memory, which is my capital, and putting me out of business? It was a brilliant cure, but we lost the patient…."

In July 1961, just two days after leaving the famous Mayo psychiatric clinic, Papa Hemingway put a shotgun barrel to his head and pulled the trigger.

'Bad' Hollywood starlet Frances Farmer was always in trouble. High-spirited, rebellious, passionate and magnetically beautiful, Farmer was typical of many stars of that era who lived life in the fast lane. After her marriage to actor Leif Erickson failed, Farmer became increasingly unable to cope with her hectic schedule, turning to psychiatric amphetamines such as Benzedrine. Her constant drinking and fights soon landed her in court. After starring in the prophetically named No Escape in 1943, she was involved in a drunken brawl and arrested. Frances was placed into the custody of psychiatrist Thomas H Leonard, with whom she failed to co-operate. Leonard diagnosed her as "suffering from manic-depressive psychosis - probably the forerunner of a definite dementia praecox" - a diagnosis later described by doctors as 'pure gibberish'.

Farmer was transferred to the screen actor's sanitarium at La Crescenta, California, and subjected to a living nightmare under psychiatric care. The Hollywood starlet was given at least 90 insulin shocks, finally escaping from the institution in terror. Her mother later signed a complaint against her and she was re-committed into custodial care in March 1944. At West Washington State hospital in Steilacoom, her psychiatrists gave her repeated ice baths and electroshock sessions in an effort to break her will. Finally, the subdued starlet was declared 'cured' and discharged.

Returning home disoriented and terrified, Farmer repeatedly ran away, believing she was going to be re-institutionalised. Her psychiatrists, stung by the media coverage Frances' escapes and failed rehabilitation were generating, contacted Farmer's mother and the actress was once more returned to Steilacoom and re-committed. Mental watchdog The Citizen's Commission on Human Rights (CCHR) reports:

"Conditions [in Steilacoom] were barbaric. Both criminals and the mentally retarded were crowded together, their meals thrown on the floor to be fought over. Farmer was subjected to regular and continuous electroshock. In addition, she was prostituted to soldiers from the local military base and raped and abused by the orderlies. One of the most vivid recollections of some veterans of the institution would be the sight of Frances Farmer being held down by the orderlies and raped by drunken gangs of soldiers. She was also used as an experimental subject for drugs such as Thorazine, Stelazine, Mellaril and Proxilin."

One of the last psychiatrists to visit Farmer was Dr Walter Freeman. Farmer's biographer William Arnold describes what happened:

"The tormented actress was held before him. He put electrodes to her temples and gave her electroshock until she passed out. Then he lifted her left eyelid and plunged the icepick-shaped instrument under her eyeball and into her brain. [After doing a number of other patients, Freeman left. William Keller, the superintendent of the hospital, had walked out, sickened]. An hour later, Keller returned to the operating theatre and found everyone gone. He walked into the anteroom and looked at the post-operative patients resting on cots. One woman was silently weeping and several others were staring blankly at the ceiling. Near one end of the row of patients was Frances Farmer. She would no longer exhibit the restless, impatient mind and the erratic, creative impulses of a difficult and complex artist. She would no longer resist authority or provoke controversy. She would no longer be a threat to anyone."

The movie Frances was made of her life in 1982, starring another leading Hollywood actress, Jessica Lange. Frances Farmer died at the age of 57, broken, tortured and destitute.

The famous British child star had been struggling with anorexia for 22 years. In September 1999, after years of psychotherapy, anti-depressants and electroshock treatment had failed, she was admitted to the University Hospital of Wales at Cardiff for a lobotomy. In spite of warnings that the discredited operation could destroy her intellect, erase parts of her memory and change her character, Lena and her family persuaded themselves that it was for the best. After all, Britain's most skilled 'brain surgeons' would be presiding. Bob Burrows, a spokesman for the hospital, pointed out to the London Times that the operation was performed using the latest cutting-edge technology:

"We are one of the UK's premier teaching hospitals and at the leading edge of research and medical technology. Miss Zavaroni came to Cardiff because we are one of the few centres in the world that carry out this operation."

Lena died of a chest infection two weeks after the operation. She weighed just 49 lbs.

Many of the famous have owned up to needing drugs to get by. Singer Del Shannon (Charles Westover) thought the Prozac prescribed to him by his psychiatrist would "…help me over the hump I'm in." His wife LeAnne "…watched him turn into somebody who was agitated, pacing, had trembling hands, insomnia and couldn't function." On 8th February 1990, after taking Prozac for just 15 days, Charles Westover shot himself in the head with a .22 calibre rifle.

Princess Diana and Sarah Ferguson both admitted using the 'liquid sunshine' drug, Prozac, Diana becoming the subject of huge media speculation over her drug use. Royal author Andrew Morton's controversial book, Diana: Her New Life, detailed her catastrophic mood-swings and alleged suicide attempt on board a royal flight, where she had attempted to slash her arms, smearing blood over the walls and seats before being restrained.

Lady Brocket, Libby Purves, Al Pacino, Roseanne Barr and Mariella Frostrup are a few among many who have been some-time users of Prozac. INXS pop-frontman Michael Hutchence died in November 1997 in an apparent hanging suicide. His song-writing partner, Andrew Farriss, attributed the death to Prozac and alcohol. The actor and comedian Chris Farley died aged 33 after a four-day alcohol and drug binge. Prozac was present in his blood. Don Simpson, co-producer of Hollywood blockbusters such as Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun and Crimson Tide, died in 1996 aged 52. Police searching Simpson's Bel Air estate in Los Angeles discovered thousands of tablets and pills lined up neatly in alphabetical order in his bedroom closet. They later discovered that Simpson had obtained over 15,000 psychiatric amphetamines, tranquillisers and sedatives from 15 doctors and 8 pharmacies. Steve Simmons, a senior investigator for the California Medical Board, stated:

"Everybody understands how lethal street drugs like heroin are, but it takes a prescription overdose by someone famous like Don Simpson to drive home the fact that pharmaceutical medications are just as deadly."

But what of those fuelling the TV and film revolution? How many Hollywood actors and actresses bought into Freud's sex and drugs magick, and had their careers wrecked and lives destroyed as a result? Maybe Sunset Boulevard could be lined with its own memorial plaques as a tribute to the lives of those whose profligate careers helped to fuel the new hedonism by dynamiting the pillars of society's moral temperance. Studio chiefs, lawyers, financiers, and the bewildering list of ancillary workers in the film industry, from directors to best boys, from cameramen to make-up artists - so much creativity; so much desire to please the public and make the shows with the greatest talents in the world. But how many of these lives were wrecked and on the rocks after drugs, sex and rock 'n roll herded them into the sheep-pens of psychiatry, which believed it could control the 'creative insanity of the artist'?

This writer lived in Los Angeles for many years and saw firsthand, through his friends, contacts and work assignments, the drug tortures and emotional pressures many live with in the film industry. And always just in the background, or around the next palm-treed corner in Beverly Hills, Miracle Mile or West Hollywood, like barnacles attached to an ocean-going liner, the ever-present industry of 'mental health advisors' cling on, shiny plaques on doors, brows crinkled with the faint concern of the consummate professional. Their prey, would-be actors and actresses coming to town to make it big, folios stuffed full of bright celluloid and happy faces, end up working menial jobs and scraping together what living they can. More than a few end up drug and sex addicts in the pornographic industry centred in Northridge, twenty-five miles to the north-west of Los Angeles.

Wonderful human beings who make up Hollywood, giants of their time, like the lives we have examined, are still somebody's son, someone's daughter. Over the years they have been forced to witness the shattering of their own innocence, the bankruptcy of their dreams, the destruction of their special talents and the systematic breaking of their health. Many died. Today, the mental mill is working as smoothly as ever. Today, as you read this, how many more regrettable 'mental' diagnoses will be made? How many more prescriptions are being scrawled out? How many more lives will be betrayed today by the very professionals who have offered them 'help' and set them on the path which will assure their destruction?

ECUB COMMENT: For more information on psychiatry, mental illness, and the effects of the counter-culture revolution, please obtain a copy of The Mind Game by Phillip Day.