Sunday, August 28, 2016

Book Review: No Longer Alone

A Fair Trade Book

Title: No Longer Alone

Author: Joan Winmill Brown

Date: 1975

Publisher: Fleming H. Revell

ISBN: 0-89066-010-7

Length: 160 pages

Illustrations: black-and-white photos

Quote: “My beautiful, fun-loving mother…had died in childbirth. The baby, who was to have been the ‘surprise,’ was dead also.”

Psychoanalytical theory traced everything back to some sort of emotional trauma in a person’s early life. Losing her mother was Brown’s “trauma,” easy enough to spot. Her emotional feelings of loneliness and despair, which reached the level of clinical depression, weren’t alleviated merely by remembering the trauma, as psychoanalysts hoped. Some readers might suspect that her “cure” for depression was growing up, and realizing among other things that she did not actually want to be a psychiatric patient…but there’s no question in Brown’s mind that her path back to mental health involved a spiritual experience.

Similarities between Brown’s early training as a singer and actress, and those of Julie Andrews, highlight the two great differences in their stories. Andrews belonged to a family of performers; and Andrews had a world-class talent. Apart from that, both grew up during the war, attended a variety of somewhat inadequate schools, got office jobs and performing gigs at an early age.

Perhaps partly due to having suppressed natural grief for so long, Brown lacked the instinct that guides most introverts to do what a doctor had to tell Brown to do: pace herself, be selective about spending time around other people, spend quality time with herself. Feeling almost rebellious because she didn’t know how to pace herself either on a job or as the mother she wanted to be, Brown pushed and pushed until one day she found herself boohooing uncontrollably on a bus. “Must be drunk,” fellow passengers hissed. A doctor prescribed one of those wonderful “sedatives” of the late 1940s and early 1950s that left so many of the Greatest Generation twitching and homeless. Brown apparently survived the lethal-chemical-experiment gantlet and was able to find a husband, have children, and market her talents in the United States thanks to Billy Graham’s international gospel crusades, with which she and her husband worked.

Highlights of No Longer Alone include a splendid example of a drug-free, healthy childbirth: “I thought it was something I had eaten…Three-year-old Bill… [said] ‘Dennis the Menace’ is coming on next, Mom, and that will make you feel better!’ I realized my own little ‘Dennis’ was on the way…In a mirror I saw my second son being born.” It was followed by postpartum depression, “an award-winning attack of the blues,” as second son (named David, not Dennis) became ill and Brown’s father died around the same time. This time Brown was able to feel her feelings at the time, and move on through them into the rest of her life.

Brown remained primarily a British actress, best known in the U.S. as part of the Graham Crusade team. Though Christian-phobia kept their association from being publicized, Brown reports that Graham encouraged her to share her story with Judy Garland, but the doomed pillhead actress replied, “[Y]ou had a need. I don’t have any needs!” We all know what happened to Garland a few years later. Brown thinks the overdose could easily have been accidental. “When I had taken my phenobarbital tablets, I would sometimes forget if I had had them.”

By 1975 Brown had reached an age at which actresses of her generation normally retired, although she hadn't really, so this was a fairly typical end-on-a-high-note memoir for the period. It’s recommended to anyone interested in the history of Hollywood, of Graham Crusades, of movies, of women, and/or of mental illness.