William Arnold

Farmer's Shadowland biographer, William Arnold, says anyone who knows Jacobson would understand "there's a screw loose."


Marie Yates

The Farmer-Jacobson combo makes sense to France's Marie Yates.  "You wouldn't expect her to be involved with a 9-to-5er."

Yates are equally disputed. The story begins in Seattle in 1973, when Seattle Post-Intelligencer film critic William Arnold embarked on a biography of Farmer after being intrigued by a revival of her 1936 film Come and Get It. An article about Arnold's planned book that appeared in the Scientology publication Freedom brought him together with Yates, then a struggling Hollywood producer-agent anxious for a promising property. Yates became Arnold's literary agent and negotiated a movie deal with Noel Marshall. It stipulated that Arnold would write the Shadowland screenplay and Yates would be associated with the film's production.

Meanwhile Jacobson surfaced in the Freedom editor's Hollywood office and reportedly offered to reveal important secrets of Farmer's life for $25,000. Arnold claims he sent Yates to meet with Jacobson but dismissed Jacobson's statements as "outlandish." But sometime later, according to Marshall, Yates started up a side deal with Brooks, who was interested in acquiring the Farmer property. "Brooks apparently offered her a better position in the making of the Frances film if she could get him the rights without paying me fees as co-producer," Marshall says. (Yates has earned about $100,000 in association with Brooks as well as "co-producer" billing.) As Marshall states and Arnold confirms, "Mel Brooks told Arnold that his lawyers could get him

[Arnold] out of the contract and that they could easily 'f--- Marshall.'" But Arnold says he found Brooks "cruel and unpleasant" and refused to dump Marshall. There the matter rested for "a few days," recalls Arnold, "till I saw a piece in Variety that Brooks was making this movie about Frances Farmer and that Marie Yates was the co-producer. Just like that. She didn't even call me and tell me. I was really mad and phoned her and said, 'You can't do this, you're still my agent.' She said that, well, she thought she could. But she had a contractual obligation to me. She got 10 percent of my book, and then she sold me out."

Though Arnold charges that the resulting Frances screenplay is "a complete adaptation of my book," Yates insists that what was not in the public domain came from extensive interviews with Jacobson. For instance, there is the gruesome scene near the end of the film in which a doctor performs a lobotomy on Farmer, of which no mention is found in Will There Really Be a Morning? The operation is described in great detail in Arnold's Shadowland, but Yates claims that the scene was re-created from "Jacobson's records." Yates further claims that her discovery of Jacobson "never came through Bill Arnold" but rather from her own research and her interviews with Seattle judges. "I don't want to mention their names," she says.

Arnold scoffs at Yates' alleged research. "It was easy for her to believe Jacobson because it was convenient for her," he says. "She was a person who had been around Hollywood a long time and had never made a feature film. This was her big opportunity. You get around the big money and the big glory and the temptation is great." Retorts Yates: "Mel Brooks wanted him to come aboard at one point, but he didn't. It's a pure case of sour grapes." Though Brooks has declined comment, the sniping continues as both sides gear up for further nastiness when the lawsuit comes to court, possibly in June. As for Frances Farmer, who gave up her film career rather than subject herself to the mores of Hollywood Babylon, she would doubtless be watching it all with a keen sense of irony.


        This article appeared in People Magazine - March 21, 1983 - Written by Joshua Hammer, reported by Joseph Pilcher

        Text provided by David Farmer