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Thursday, March 31, 2016

The roots of Frances Lear's outspoken leftism

I was talking to a woman recently who reminded me of the title character Maude, from the 1972-1978 TV series. Bea Arthur starred as the imperious, outspoken liberal woman who rubbed lots of people the wrong way. The character was supposed to have been based on Frances Lear, the wife of Norman Lear, the producer of the show.

Most of you will be too young to remember, but for a while, Maude was the archetype of a certain kind of woman many loved to hate.

Out of idle curiosity, I Googled "Frances Lear" and found this surprisingly honest obituary of her in the NY Times, from 10/1/96. (My comments not in italics):

Frances Lear, a mercurial figure in the media world who spent some $25 million she received in a divorce settlement to start a magazine named after herself, died yesterday at her home in Manhattan. She was 73...

Ms. Lear was married for 28 years to Norman Lear, the highly successful television producer of series like ''All in the Family'' and ''Maude.'' Her divorce settlement from Mr. Lear, an amount variously estimated to be between $100 million and $112 million, was one of the largest ever recorded. ''I was very much a part of his thinking,'' she often said, justifying the amount of the settlement. ''Norman could not have done his shows without me.''

(That may have been true of "Maude," in a negative sort of way, but seems highly doubtful in the case of "All in the Family.")

It is generally considered -- and she herself claimed -- that she was the inspiration for Maude, the feisty and opinionated title character played by Bea Arthur.

(A little surprising she would admit to that.)

Ms. Lear made a name for herself among feminists, working in political campaigns, including Eugene McCarthy's Presidential campaign in 1968; with the National Organization for Women on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, which was not ratified; as a partner in an executive search firm specializing in placing women, and as a writer, producing articles for a number of national publications. But she believed that she had faded into the background as her husband's career took off in the 1970's. After Mr. Lear acquired his own movie studio and founded his own civil liberties group, People for the American Way, she discussed her frustrations in an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times in 1981.

A woman in Hollywood is a nonperson, she wrote, ''unless she is under 21, powerful or a star.'' She noted, too, that an industry wife was looked through, never at. In a later interview, recalling her years as a Hollywood wife, she said she had felt constantly ignored and undervalued, had had little self-esteem and had often been depressed.

(This seems a somewhat hollow complaint: a man in Hollywood is a nonperson unless he is powerful or a star as well.)

Ms. Lear, in her own words, ''always aspired to something out of the ordinary,'' and she moved to New York after her divorce in 1985. She quickly set out to change the nonperson identity she had felt in Hollywood by creating Lear's, a magazine aimed at women like herself -- ''the woman who wasn't born yesterday,'' as the magazine said on its cover.

Lear's began publication in 1988 and was a success. It began with a circulation base of 250,000 and grew to 350,000 in a year. But after two years, Ms. Lear abandoned her original concept and lowered the age of the theoretical Lear's woman to over 35. Abandoning the older-age niche put the magazine into competition with other women's magazines, and its advertising never recovered from the move.

Almost immediately after the magazine's debut, Ms. Lear developed a reputation for being unpredictable and hot-tempered. She held a series of intimate lunches in her apartment during which she sought, and then usually ignored, advice for her fledgling publication. She also frequently brought up more of her personal history than most of her guests were prepared for, revealing that she had a Dickensian childhood, that doctors had determined that she was manic-depressive and had prescribed lithium for her condition, that she was an alcoholic and that she had made several suicide attempts over the years.

(Who knew that Maude was manic-depressive as well as alcoholic? The narcissism, as demonstrated by her talking about herself inappropriately, is no surprise, though.)

There ensued a revolving door of editors and writers, many of whom complained of Ms. Lear's inexperience and capricious decisions. Numerous articles were accepted and not published, and layouts were changed at the last minute. In an article in The New York Times, a staff member recalled that when Ms. Lear had been told that she could not change a quotation, she had shouted, ''It is my magazine, and I will do what I want...''

(Such a revolving door always seems to revolve around a difficult personality. And shouting at subordinates who gently remonstrate also reeks of narcissism.)

Although circulation was more than 500,000 in its final months, Lear's ceased publication in March 1994. It had lost an estimated $25 million to $30 million in its six years of operation...

Ms. Lear was born on July 14, 1923, at the Vanderheusen Home for Wayward Girls in Hudson, N.Y., the child of an unwed mother and an unknown father. ''The odds were stacked high against me,'' she once said. She was given the name Evelyn, but she was renamed Frances when she was adopted after 14 months in an orphanage by Aline and Herbert Loeb of Larchmont, N.Y.

(Not having a bond with a nurturing figure for the first fourteen months of life does mean the "odds are stacked high" against any sort of good character later on.)

''Aline was outwardly affectionate with me for my father's sake, but she did not like me,'' Ms. Lear wrote in ''The Second Seduction,'' (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992) an autobiography that pulled no punches. The slim volume laid out in harrowing detail her personal history and most intimate experiences.

(And then, to be brought up by a stepmother who doesn't even like you -- let alone love you -- is more or less a guarantee of a narcissistic personality, and maybe even sociopathy.)

The memoir related her years of sexual abuse, beginning at age 12, by the man whom her adoptive mother married after Mr. Loeb committed suicide during the Depression. She told, too, of being sent to a psychiatrist, to whom she revealed her stepfather's abuse, and of the psychiatrist's betrayal in repeating her confidences to her mother and stepfather. Her stepfather, she wrote, ''met me at the door with a kitchen knife in his hand.'' Her mother ''turned and left the room, went into her bedroom, closed the door and protected her economic hide.'' On her mother's death, her stepfather was left 90 percent of the $100,000 remaining from Mr. Loeb's insurance, Ms. Lear said.

(That sexual abuse was pretty much the final nail in the coffin of her mental health; and it's obvious from her words that she hated her stepmother as well.)

Ms. Lear attended the Mary A. Burnham School for Girls in Northampton, Mass. In the 1940's and early 50's, she held a number of jobs, primarily in advertising and retailing in New York. She was, she never hesitated to say, dismissed from most of them for behavior like listening in on the boss's telephone conversations and drinking through lunch….

Ms. Lear had two short-lived marriages before she met Mr. Lear. Her first marriage, to Arnold Weiss, a traffic manager at the Navy Yard in Charleston, S.C., lasted less than two years. Her second marriage, to Morton Kaufman (''or Kauffman or Kaufmann -- I cannot remember how to spell my second husband's name,'' she wrote in the autobiography), was dissolved within a year. She said that he had been unfaithful, leading to her first suicide attempt and three weeks in the psychiatric ward at Bellevue Hospital.

(Multiple short term marriages are usually an indication that something is amiss. Pretending not to know how to spell your second husband's name seems like an affectation.)

''I tried to commit suicide three times seriously and three times with minimal interest in the outcome,'' she once said.

Lear is yet another social justice warrior whose politics are basically just an expression of her personal issues. Lear obviously bears no blame for the unfortunate circumstances of her childhood. But, once someone is scarred like that, they inevitably make others suffer for it.

In some ways Lear is a more extreme version of Susan Sarandon, whom I wrote about three posts ago. The dysfunctional family, the resulting personal issues, and the later outspokenness on social issues, are all of a piece. And it's always an aha moment when you find out where it all originated from.

There are people who arrive at stances on both sides of the political fence for a variety of reasons. But what distinguishes the SJW's like Sarandon and Lear is their outspokenness, which is often just a bid for attention in disguise. (Female suicide "attempts" are likewise often characterized as "cries for help.")

In any case, a disproportionate number of those "outspoken" bids for attention seem to emanate from the Left.

After reading that obituary, it's a little easier to understand "Maude." Unloved, molested as a child, bipolar, alcoholic, with low self-esteem, and hating her parents. Lear undoubtedly hated her stepfather more than her adoptive mother, since he molested her, but also hated the fact that her mother was dependent on her stepfather financially. This led her in the direction of feminism, which substitutes a vague resentment of all men for hatred of one.

Voila, another maladjusted leftist.


Dave Moriarty said...

how could three different guys want to marry this chick? I figure it would take about an hour for her true colors to emerge and most guys would run as fast as they could to get away

in general I would imagine narcissistic, alcoholic victims of sexual abuse don't make the best marriage partners.

John Craig said...

Dave --
God question. I Google-imaged "young Frances Lear," and she was good-looking, but not so good-looking as to compensate for her personality. I'd have to imagine that she was one of those who was good at putting her best foot forward and convincing potential beaus that she was something other than what she actually was.

Justin said...

In response to Dave's question, the guys who want to marry this type of woman were raised by narcissistic personality disorder mothers and have unresolved issues. They are natural codependents for whom the match feels familiar and natural. My impression is the guys who stick it out long term then turn to self-medication with alcohol.

John Craig said...

Justin --
That's interesting, thank you. I hadn't even considered the angle of what Norman Lear's angle/motivation on all of this was. I also hadn't really thought about what his codependency would entail or where it came from, but that makes sense.

Justin said...


Out of curiosity I looked up Norman's biography, and it appears he did indeed have a narcissist mother (and criminal sociopath dad). So yes, theory confirmed.

Disordered people and their patterns are really not that complicated once you start reading about them. It's just so hard to believe at first that these are real humans walking the earth.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Just looked up Norman's bio on Wiki myself. I completely agree that his con man father was a criminal sociopath. Didn't find anything out about his mother to indicate narcissism, though. Norman Lear later said that he had based the character of Edith Bunker on his mother, and I never saw Edith as a narcissistic personality.

I've met my share of disordered people in person, so find them all too easy to believe. The amazing thing is what a high percentage of famous people are disordered, and often sociopathic. It's hard not to come to the conclusion that being sociopath, or at least a narcissist, helps one succeed.

Justin said...

Well, the New York Times, in reviewing his autobiography, says his mother was "No day at the beach", and he called her a sourpuss in an old interview from 2001. And the piece below from Jewish Journal relates the following:

Norman once called his mother in Bridgeport, Conn., and said, “Mother, I just got this call. The Television Academy is forming a Hall of Fame. And the first inductees are going to be General Sarnoff and Edward R. Murrow and William Paley and Milton Berle and Paddy Chayefsky and Lucille Ball — and me.”

There was about a two-second beat, and she said, “Listen, if that's what they want to do, who am I to say?”

I looked at the first pages of his autobiography on Google Books. He talks about his mother dropping him on his head while bathing him in the kitchen sink at 3 months old, then running to the neighbor's to figure out what to do. Later she would retell the story because she thought it was funny. She also sent him to live with his grandparents and rarely saw him for some years.

I haven't seen All in the Family, though, so maybe I'm overreaching in my assessment.

My parents have these disorders (narcissism and sociopathy), which made it harder for me to perceive because it seemed normal.

John Craig said...

Justin --
In that case, you're right. I just did the lazy man's thing of glancing at Wikipedia and judging from that. Norman Lear's mother does sound like a less than affectionate mother. Some of that stuff could be passed off as a biting sense of humor, but sending him off to live with the grandparents is definitely a sure sign.

Your parents are a narcissist and sociopath? You "sound" normal to me, but that background obviously must have affected you strongly. No one escapes from that scot free, but have you been able to distance yourself since?

Justin said...

Yes, sociopath dad and narcissist mom.

I mean they basically destroyed by childhood and kept me isolated for many years. My dad died some years ago and I have no contact with my mother. I have a high IQ and work in the technology industry, which has sort of saved me.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Sorry to hear about the childhood, but you sound like a survivor. I'm sure your high IQ and the money you make help.

I guess it's the talk about sociopaths here that drew you to this blog…..

Justin said...

Yes, I was googling stuff about Richard Matt to see if anyone had an analysis. But the other content such as political stuff is right up my alley too.

John Craig said...

Justin --
I get the sense a fair number of people come here because I've written about sociopathy but get turned off because of what I write about race and politics. They think, oh he's a nice guy and insightful about sociopaths but a horrible racist. But in fact I just write with the same honesty about both topics.

Justin said...

I'm basically an expert on the topic by now, and your material is easily one of the best resources online about it. I don't understand why only now this subject is becoming well known.

John Craig said...

Justin --
Thank you.

I'd say you were probably an expert on the topic by the time you were ten, you just didn't realize it at that point. I gained my knowledge of them by being exposed to one at age 25 for six months, then realizing there was something really wrong with her, going to the UCLA psychology library and looking up "pathological liar," and then reading what was available there for about five hours one fascinating Saturday afternoon. Ever since, I've been a "connoisseur" of them, so to speak. I had a boss on Wall Street who was also one, but with him I was well aware of what he was, though I didn't dare talk about it to others. He seemed to have most of them fooled, though.

Thanks to the internet, the subject IS becoming better known, but it seems to me that an awful lot of them are in plain sight and ply their various trades to adoring multitudes.

Quartermain said...

Here's my take on Norman Lear:

John Craig said...

Allan --
I didn't realize you had a blog! I'll have to check in from time to time. Just read the Norman Lear post, agree with you about that. I'm 62, so remember All in the Family but I was never a fan of the show, only watched it rarely. I know we were supposed to laugh at Archie Bunker's bigotry, but somehow, even at the time, I didn't find the show all that funny (and I was more or less apolitical at the time). Normal Lear's own background is telling though, you're right about that. And he was basically everything that's wrong with America: let's laugh at those provincial, unenlightened bigots (even if everything they're saying is actually more factual than what we believe in).

We overlap in our taste in women, but not completely. Anita Bryant did nothing for me, neither did Cher, neither did Raquel Welch, to tell he truth. I liked Farrah Fawcett a lot, and Lee Meriweather, and Morticia Addams. You know who else was really attractive from that era, though she never achieved sex symbol status? Barbara Feldon, Agent 99 from Get Smart.