West Seattle history: Walking tour recalls Frances Farmer

That’s a clip from “Come and Get It,” featuring West Seattle-raised movie star Frances Farmer, who came back to the city for its premiere in 1936. Seventy-five years later, she remains a local legend and source of curiosity – which brought about 20 people out for a Museum of History and Industry-sponsored walking tour in Admiral last night.

(Photos by Ellen Cedergreen for WSB)
Its guide was Peder Nelson, the local historian/musician who also put together a Frances Farmer tribute three years ago at the city-landmark Admiral Theater – where last night’s tour began. WSB contributor Ellen Cedergreen went along for part of the tour.

The tour was billed “The Life and Times of Frances Farmer,” and Nelson told her story as the group walked a 2-mile route on the warm August night. He has often pointed out that while she is remembered for the tragic aspects of her story – fighting with mental illness that some say may have been nothing more than a refusal to conform — she also worked for social justice, and strove to break through the barriers women faced back then. Other bits of West Seattle history were woven into the tour, such as the Alki Mail and Dispatch stop:

Nelson said the building at 47th/Admiral was a grocery store back in Farmer’s day – just down the block from the house where she lived, at 2636 47th SW:

She was long gone from Seattle by the time she died in 1970, just 56 years old. But her work lives on, and with events like the ones Nelson has organized, her memory lives on. He, meantime, is known these days as co-host of the “MOHAI Minute” videos – including one from earlier this year, detailing the history of the Admiral Theater itself:

Though Wednesday night’s Frances Farmer tour was presented by MOHAI, you can keep an eye out for Southwest Seattle Historical Society tours too – and a celebration of West Seattle history is coming up at Alki Arts this Friday night, put together by West Seattle Helpline

13 Replies to "West Seattle history: Walking tour recalls Frances Farmer"

  • Andrew August 18, 2011 (7:36 am)

    So sorry I missed this! I’ve been a fan and a collector of her memorabilia for years. Sure wish her old home could be restored and opened as a museum of some sort.

  • RJB August 18, 2011 (8:05 am)

    I am sorry I missed this also! She was a very interesting woman I had had no idea she was raised in West Seattle, this tour would of been very cool.

  • GoGo August 18, 2011 (9:14 am)

    I too am sorry I missed this. Is there any way to get a heads up on stuff like this?

    • WSB August 18, 2011 (9:24 am)

      GoGo – I just killed a comment along those lines that I was going to post, for fear it sounded too reproachful, but, since you ask: This was in the events calendar for the past few weeks, and I also mentioned it in the morning preview yesterday. Every day by 10 at the latest (usually lots earlier but today for example I’m running late) we publish “West Seattle Monday (Tuesday, whatever day)” with the day’s highlights, and this was featured in the one for yesterday. I don’t know where or how else it was publicized, but it was sent to us and we put it in the calendar shortly thereafter. I also often highlight events on the WSB Facebook page, http://facebook.com/westseattleblog outside of plugs here, though not in any organized fashion. – TR

  • BJ August 18, 2011 (9:15 am)

    And Peder Nelson, people, what a guy to do it too! We all grew up in that neighborhood! It’s great to see him out there, so involved in the local commmunity and it’s inhabitants! This guy gets much props! Rock on Peder!

  • mookie August 18, 2011 (10:10 am)

    One of the many fans of Frances Farmer – film critic and author Kim Morgan – wrote a thoughtful and poignant piece about Farmer that I read just the other day. Check it out: “Come Back As Fire To Burn All The Liars”.

  • GoGo August 18, 2011 (10:24 am)

    Well crap, I guess I don’t look hard enough!
    I will from now on, thanks!

  • Dave August 18, 2011 (10:35 am)

    My neighbor, Elmer, remembered Frances growing up next door to him. He said, “she is such a sweet girl. She’d come visit me when she was home from Hollywood.” Good memories of Frances and of Elmer.

  • Eileen August 18, 2011 (10:55 am)

    I grew up on Othello St. My mother always said that Frances used to stay overnight with her boyfriend. Never had any evidence to confirm this, but that was what she told us. I find her life facinating.

  • Scandinavian August 18, 2011 (1:10 pm)

    Thank you, Peder. You are a credit to West Seattle.

  • WSB August 18, 2011 (3:15 pm)

    I’ve just found out that West Seattle In Motion – the campaign we’re co-sponsoring right now, promoting walking/biking/etc. – is apparently co-presenting an exclusive reprise of this tour in a couple weeks. Confirming now, and watch for a separate item here on WSB later today/tonight. But you have to sign up for In Motion! https://westseattleblog.com/west-seattle-in-motion

  • WSHS1957 August 18, 2011 (4:25 pm)

    My beloved late mother Astrid was born in a little house in WS in 1913. She was at WSHS the same time as Frances Farmer. She used to tell stories about Frances and her family. Mom liked Frances altho she said she was a little ‘odd’. According to my mom, Frances’s mother was REALLY off her rocker. I quote my mom as I never met Frances or her mother. My mom died in 2009 at nearly 97 yrs. old and loved her WS childhood.

    Fellow WSHS grad., class of ’57.

  • Dean August 18, 2011 (4:34 pm)

    My wifes aunts claim to fame is she lit Frances Farmers cigarette at the old Jigsaw Tavern across from the Admiral Theater when she was back in town while on a hiatus from Hollywood! She was a huge star then.

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