Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Alex Beam's "Gracefully Insane"

Alex Beam is a columnist at the Boston Globe and author of Gracefully Insane: The Rise and Fall of America's Premier Mental Hospital.

Is there a movie to be filmed based on this work of social history? You bet. The author explains:
My non-fiction book about the storied, celebrity-choked (Sylvia Plath, James Taylor, Ray Charles, et al) McLean mental hospital outside of Boston has attracted the usual eyeball-rolling "film interest." Most of it was of the slavish, me-too variety, with half-literate agents and producers hyperventilating at the thought of optioning the next "Girl, Interrupted," which won an Oscar for Angelina Jolie. (Susanna Kaysen's book, Girl, Interrupted takes place at McLean, where she was a patient in the 1960s.) "Serious" actors, dream of portraying mentally disturbed characters, to prove they can act.

At zero financial gain to myself (Alex -- call your agent), I optioned the story of Anne Sexton's McLean stays several times. Sexton was a gorgeous, suicidal, promiscuous, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who taught poetry to McLean patients for about a year. Unfortunately, she later ended up there as a patient. Worse yet, as they say in the trade, she ended up firing her psychiatrist; she killed herself. Mary Louise Parker and (I'm told) Jessica Lange have expressed interest in portraying Sexton.

I would prefer to see the love story of Katharine McCormick and her husband Stanley up on the screen. T.C. Boyle featured Stanley in his novel Riven Rock, but he played Stanley's plight for laughs in what is far from his best book. McCormick, one of the first women graduates of M.I.T., watched her wealthy husband devolve into catatonic despair, and tried, unsuccessfully, to save his life through psychiatry. His family, the Chicago McCormicks of combine harvester fame and fortune, sued her for custody of their son in the so-called "trial of the century", and lost. She later became an early advocate, and financial backer, of what are now called reproductive rights for women.

Would Susan Sarandon play Katharine? In a heartbeat, I wager. To play Stanley, there are any number of male actors who take themselves very seriously; Jeff Bridges, Robin Williams, Jim Carrey, to name a few.
Read more about Gracefully Insane, and check out its Page 69 Test results.

--Marshal Zeringue