TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT April 1990

slant

The Autobiography of Eve

A MIND OF MY OWN is the autobiography of Chris Costner Sizemore, better known as “Eve.” Sizemore was the case study upon which The Three Faces of Eve, a popular 1957 movie directed by Nunnally Johnson, was based. Joanne Woodward played Eve, winning an Academy Award for her virtuoso performance as a woman under the influence of a mental illness, Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD). In the movie Woodward metamorphosed, before the camera and without special effects, from Eve Black, “the party girl,” to Eve White, “the mother/wife,” to Jane, “the intellectual woman,” enacting a female Jekyll, Jekyll and Hyde as constituted through a psychiatric/cinematic lens.

Sizemore has been dogged by her cinematic representative “Eve,” who made her a celebrity, although no one knew who she was— Sizemore didn’t go public until the mid ’70s —and, more disturbing, neither did she. In a sense her life has been mediated, if not constructed, by the movie that gave her “fame in anonymity.”1 (Her books prior to this one are entitled The Final Face of Eve and I’m Eve.) Sizemore was supposed to have been cured of MPD by her first psychiatrists, Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, which is what The Three Faces of Eve portrays; and Lee J. Cobb, playing the psychiatrist who discovers her illness and works through it with her, is nearly as much its star/hero as Eve. But A Mind of My Own tells another tale: Sizemore writes that it took twenty more years for her to overcome MPD, to become, as she puts it, “unified.”

Ironically, Sizemore did not see the movie until November 16, 1974, an event of great meaning to her and her family, and one carefully documented in the book. “My alters” (her other personalities), she writes, “had been barred from its world premiere in Augusta, Georgia, because Drs. Thigpen and Cleckley believed that seeing it could be highly detrimental to the stability of the patient who, they had wrongly claimed, was cured.”

Sizemore’s book takes up her life after the movie and explains how she worked through her illness with her new analyst, Dr. Tony A. Tsitos, how she strove to bring together her alters, to allow her various personalities to find expression or representation through just one conduit or self. After unification, her newly won self learns the difficulty of existing in the so-called real world. She must make amends with her husband, who has, in a sense, been married to many wives—“whichever one was ‘out’ was my wife”—and to her children, both of whom, she explains, were given birth to by alters and had formed attachments to their alter-mothers and to others of her personalities. With a new psyche in place, Sizemore now pursues a career as a painter (some of her alters had painted), making work that represents her former illness and current “wellness.” In addition to painting, Sizemore actively campaigns for the mentally ill, especially the sufferers of MPD, speaking in front of large audiences around the country as an advocate for their rights and their ability to be helped. She has also worked hard to get MPD recognized as a bona fide mental illness, to make the disorder exist in representation not just as a movie but in the annals of the psychiatric establishment. (In 1980, MPD entered the medical language by way of the APA’s handbook, the DSM, as 300.14 Multiple Personality.)

The issue of representation in all its complexity is critical to Sizemore’s life, and its multiple meanings show themselves throughout her book, a book in which she speaks of her own multiplicity. MPD itself, understood as an intrapsychic battle waged over mind and body by warring selves or representations, is a condition that embodies such issues. As Sizemore recounts her life she often compares herself with the movie Eve, with whom she seems at times to have a kind of sibling rivalry. (Even after she is unified, she is given presents by her husband and family in the name of that alter.) She likens herself to celebrities—Liz Taylor, for one—in a conscious effort to emulate successful female role models. She presents herself as “cured patient,” as “artist,” as “writer,” as “normal woman, wife and mother,” to public, family, and friends. Overwhelming at times is Sizemore’s need to achieve representation and to make representations in the world—in all of these guises. “In short, I struggled to be all things to all people.” A Mind of My Own showcases a dizzying display of what she has done and who has praised her, making this reader wonder whether the self, once unified, is almost destined to become self-congratulatory.

Perhaps to offset this burgeoning narcissism, Sizemore’s preferred mode of writing the self is the quote. Like literary devices, the many alters are in a sense already quotations. These personalities offer their thoughts through Sizemore, as memories and dialogue, or through their diaries and notes. When their voices enter, paragraphs read like sketches for bizarre sitcoms in which characters such as Retrace Lady, Strawberry Girl, or Purple Lady vie for “point of view” or dominance.

But even when not representing the alters, who are in a way the unconscious’ quotations, Sizemore writes her life as a series of quotes. Rather than saying what she thinks, she cites herself having said the thought at another time. Or instead of incorporating into her narrative someone else’s comments about her, she puts their sometimes innocuous remarks in quotes. The curved marks of punctuation distance the reader from her words and set off the ideas as if they had arrived from faraway. The effect is to make the unified self Sizemore so urgently wants recognition for a fabrication of fragments and statements, an aggregate of impressions rather than a seamless unity. It may not be the result she desired, but it is a better reflection of the problems of the constructed self and of representing that self. Overall, the use of quotation attests to her desire for authenticity. In this regard the book’s ultimate sentence is striking—again in someone else’s words: “Chris Sizemore is real.”

Having engaged successfully with the psychiatric institution, Sizemore may be ready for her current entanglement—with the law. Some years ago Sissy Spacek, the actress, expressed a desire to make a film of Sizemore’s life since The Three Faces of Eve. But Twentieth Century Fox has refused to allow the project to go forward, insisting that the studio owns the rights to Sizemore’s life story, which Sizemore, at the time the movie was made, signed over to them. To add to the obvious irony of a fight to own her life story—“claiming my own history”—is the injury that might have been done to her by the psychiatrists who negotiated the contract for her, when they stood to gain as much if not more from it than she.

Sizemore’s legal argument is that one of her alters, Jane, signed the contract, and that she was not yet cured of her illness. When it comes to trial, the case will most likely rest upon the issue of her competence at that time. But in A Mind of My Own Sizemore may have logically contradicted her own defense. Asked by the FBI, in February 1982, to evaluate the case of Kenneth Bianchi—the serial murderer known as the Hillside Strangler, who claimed to have MPD—she recounts her position (she thought he was a fake) and also her feelings about the “not guilty by reason of insanity” plea. As to whether a person with MPD “could have determined right from wrong” and “be held responsible for those acts,” Sizemore answers, “Unlike schizophrenics, MPD patients do not lose touch with reality, and most of their alters can tell right from wrong. So, yes, I believe he should have been held responsible for his acts.” Should Sizemore now be held responsible for the act of a competent alter? Or was that alter incompetent? What’s true?

If Chris Sizemore’s story reads as much like fiction as “real life,” it may be because truth or reality isn’t opposed to fiction. Sizemore’s “cases” pose truth itself as a complex of representations whose interpretations will always be informed by the institutions that define reality. And Reality and its fraternal twin, Representation, undergo continuous overhaul. Sizemore’s struggles within different discourses are played out on a broad field where the battle over, and the critique of, representation is waged. That current field includes movies such as Everybody Wins, in which Debra Winger’s character flips from one personality to another—raunchy prostitute, wholesome do-gooder, pedantic sadist. Her romantic partner, Nick Nolte, doesn’t know what’s hit him, along with the audience, which is elliptically clued in, an hour into the film, that Winger’s character is more than just whimsical. But her “craziness” is never referred to as MPD or indeed named anything at all. The representation of an unnamed disorder fuses with familiar fantasies and fears of women, conjuring psychoanalyst Joan Riviere’s “femininity as masquerade” (discussed in her essay “Womanliness as a Masquerade,” 1929) as the horror-movie theme of the ’90s. Sizemore might be horrified by this casual usage of MPD, where personality changes become just so many plot points. “Everybody wins” certainly won’t be the outcome of her court case, as it probably won’t be the conclusion to the struggle for representation itself.

Lynne Tillman is a novelist and filmmaker. A collection of her short fiction, Absence Makes the Heart, will be published by Serpent’s Tail, London, in May.

1. All quotations of Chris Costner Sizemore, or of her husband, are taken from Chris Costner Sizemore, A Mind of My Own, New York: William Morrow, 1989.