Frances Farmer’s Brain
From an article by Raj Persaud in The British Medical Journal:
Yet the popular media view of psychosurgery, reinforced by its portrayal in Ken Kesey’s film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Frances, the 1982 biopic about the life of the rebellious movie and stage actress Frances Farmer, is that doctors chose particular patients to operate on precisely because they wanted to crush their spirit. A disturbing scene in Frances shows a balding and goateed psychiatrist, who closely resembled Walter Freeman, performing an “ice pick” lobotomy at Western State Hospital on the supine heroine. The film turned Frances Farmer into a well known symbol of the excesses of the procedureâ€”a patient supposedly selected for her nonconformist political opinions and who was operated on only with the consent of her vindictive mother, who colluded with doctors in using the procedure to vanquish her soul and spirit.
But as Jack El-Hai points out in this meticulously researched account, it’s extremely unlikely that Frances was an accurate portrayal of the psychiatric treatment Farmer actually received. The author can find no reliable record in the hospital’s accounts of its operations that anyone fitting Farmer’s description ever received the procedure. Also, given Farmer’s personal accomplishments after her release from the institutionâ€”marrying, regularly hosting a TV programme in Indianapolis, and appearing on This is Your Lifeâ€”combined with Freeman’s compulsive pursuit of his patients to accumulate evidence of the benefits of his controversial procedure, it seems odd that the neurosurgeon would neglect to record or mention what would have been his most celebrated success story.
EDIT: J.M. Kauffman points out his own extensive research, here.