An Open Letter of Gratitude to Anne Francis (1930 – 2011)
Anne Francis passed away on Sunday, 2 January 2011. I had known this was coming for some time, but that did not lessen the impact when I finally heard the news. As an actress, Anne was known for her beauty, her talent and for creating inspiring female characters with style, wit, and independent spirits. Many years ago I got to know another side of Anne—the generous, wise, compassionate, spiritual being she showed to me at a most critical time in my life.
What follows are a few excerpts from a letter of gratitude I sent to Anne sixteen years ago. I am posting these excepts as a tribute to the woman whose love, generosity and compassion shapes my life to this day.
5 September 1994
Hello and Happy Birthday. It has been twenty-one years since I last wrote to you. For many of these past years I have intended to write to you again to say thank you for the profound effect your letters to me of so many years ago had on my life. I suppose I always hoped that since we both worked in show business and were both very involved with metaphysics that we would simply bump into each other one day, either backstage somewhere or at a workshop. At the same time I knew that writing this letter was something I would do one day. In order to be able to express my gratitude to you I had to look at a period of my life that was very difficult and very painful. And it has taken me a while to be be able to do that. The letters I wrote to you many years ago came from helplessness and pain; this one comes from healing.
I began writing to you sometime in 1966, I believe. I was 12 years old and had fallen in love with Honey West and with you. I had no idea if any of those early letters found their way to you, but I kept writing and in October of 1969 you answered. I’m enclosing a copy of that first letter; Maggie was 11 days old! In order to explain the impact this letter and the subsequent ones had on my life, I’ll give you a little background.
[Miserable childhood spent being punished for wanting to be an actress explained]
So I watched a lot of TV to escape. One Friday night in September 1965 I turned on the new series about a female private eye (“Pretty cool and about time!” I thought) and my world changed. It was one of those profound moments when the universe sends you a major gift. You’re not quite sure what it means or what you’re supposed to do with it, but you know that something way down deep inside has changed and things are never going to be the same. And things never were. Honey was glamorous and gorgeous but she was also tough and smart. Nobody pushed her around. And she didn’t work for some man—a really neat guy worked for her. I wanted to be Honey West? Not exactly. I wanted to be the actress who got to play Honey West. No more hiding in the closet for me – I was going to be an actress and be damned what anyone thought.
I might as well have declared war in the house. It was the beginning of years of fighting and being disowned (three times), screamed at, punished, called a tramp, and told that if theatre is what I wanted I could just bicycle my way to rehearsals in a February snowstorm.
By the time I had received your first letter I was fifteen and had completed my first professional summer stock season. The summer had been bliss. But now it was fall and I was stuck back in the house with my parents. I guess Mom and Dad figured I had had my little taste of theatre and should now settle down into real life. Every day was a battle. What little freedom I had was only gained by complicated pyramids of lies built on other lies. I was becoming emotionally worn out. I felt powerless and dead inside and no one cared. I contemplated running away. Even though I was smart enough to know how difficult and dangerous that would be I thought it might actually be better than what I was going through at home.
And then I got your first letter. It was a thank you for whatever little present I had sent you for your birthday. But it was more than just a thank you. You told me what was going on in your life. You let me into your life just enough to make me feel that someone knew I existed. The real me. I do not know when you first received any of my letters, but I do know that I used those letters to you to scream out who I was. Nobody ever wanted to hear that. And no one ever responded, except perhaps with punishment or verbal abuse. Except you. You never got caught up in my drama or tried to fix the situation, you just sent love. Love and acknowledgment. I will never forget reading that first letter about Maggie and Smokey and your new film. Or the ones that followed. You’d tell me if you were doing a new play or film, maybe a few lines about the children. Friendly loving cards or notes that kept me going. You gave me just enough of yourself to sustain me and sustain me they did.
I learned so much from those letters. I learned that my mother was wrong about successful people in show business—they could be loving, generous people who had lives that were very much like everyone else’s. When I first became a theatrical company manager in New York—I was only about 23—people were always amazed at my ability to “handle” difficult stars. I think that talent has something to do with learning from you that we’re all just people trying to do the best job we can in a difficult profession we adore. I learned that it could be safe to love someone and be who I was with them and be loved in return. I had never been able to trust anyone before this. I had only learned manipulation at home. I began to open up to friends, especially in the theatre. My acting got better! I allowed new people in whom I loved and who loved me. I began to live my life from a center of personal power and some sense of self love rather then from the defensive position in a never ending battle.
Thank you, Anne, for sending love to a mixed up kid you didn’t know and didn’t have to take the time to care about. Thank you for being there for me when I didn’t believe in people or God. Thank you for my first lessons in the the power of unconditional love. Thank you for the secondary level of that course in the form of your book [Voices From Home: An Inner Journey]. Thank you for occupying a special private corner of my heart which is a place I can always go when I need to remember what gratitude feels like. It is true that you often can’t repay someone for something wonderful they did for you; your only obligation is to pass it on. However, I can say thank you and send you love. And that’s why I wrote this letter.
With love always,
On Monday morning when I heard Anne had passed away, I did what I always do when someone I love deeply has crossed over. I ask them, “Please send me a sign to let me know you are okay.” Within an hour a familiar voice in my head said, “Go look in the bottom drawer of your brown wooden file cabinet.” I had not opened that drawer in years. I had no idea what was in there. Under a few pieces of paper I found the letter Anne had sent me in response to the letter you’ve just read excerpts from. Here’s some of what she said:
I read your remarkable letter yesterday. You chose the perfect time to send it, dear one. I am coming out of the most painful time of my life (on all levels). What a joy to be told I have been of some assistance to a precious soul who was trying to make sense of Life’s confounding maze. “Something” does guide us, Barbara, even during the times we feel most disconnected. I am most grateful you decided to communicate at this time…
…It sounds like you are doing wonderful things with your life. I am so happy for you.
Once again, Anne has sent me exactly the right words at exactly the right time. Although it’s painful working my way through the enormous grief I feel right now, it’s comforting to know that I’m still guided by Anne’s “voice from home”.