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Brilliant Cure But We Lost the Patient
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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.
"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."
LIFESTYLES OF THE RICH AND
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."
THE BOULEVARD OF BROKEN DREAMS
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
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. www.credence.org