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Jane Hutcheon

broadcaster/journalist/author

06 Sep
2014

Biff Hartman celebrity Life

Jane Hutcheon

I recently watched a classic movie called A Patch of Blue from1965.

It starred the great Sidney Poitier and a lovely, fragile-looking actress named Elizabeth (Biff) Hartman.

In the drama, she plays Selina, a young blind woman who's mistreated by her mother. Selina falls in love with a doctor, Gordon (played by Poitier). She doesn't know initially that he is black.

A Patch of Blue was Biff Hartman's first film. Incredibly, she won an Oscar for it, as Best Supporting Actress

She had only just arrived in Hollywood from a small town in Ohio at the age of 21. She was the new 'next best thing' in the glamorous world of acting.  She scored a few more roles, got married, and then in 1987 at the age of 43, she died by suicide.

For some people, life after celebrity is incredibly difficult.  

In an interview with the New York Times Biff said:

That initial success beat me down. It spiraled me to a position where I didn't belong. I was not ready for that.

And people like Joe Don Baker, one of Hartman's co-star's, had this to say:

I was so upset when I heard (of her death). But I wasn't surprised. Nothing surprises me in this town. There are a lot of (people) here who won't stick with someone when they're down. She was a great actress. She should have been working. I keep thinking that acting is a noble profession, but it's nothing but a garbage pail. I wish more people had helped her.

Half a century on, are we better at helping people manage the pressures of sudden celebrity?  Or do we watch as they sink or swim, assuming they can manage? 

Something to ponder in the approach World Mental Health Day on October 10.   

 

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