A few years back, I made the documentary film Of Dolls & Murder about Frances and her extraordinary Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. I was so captivated by this woman who is as mysterious as her Nutshells.
|The one and only Frances Glessner Lee|
Her imagination. Her talent. Her sheer genius. How could the world not know about her? Sadly, I think I know the answer. From the 1930s until her death in 1962, a relatively small group of people respected and acknowledged her enormous contributions in early forensic science. And those people were the men who attended HAPS (Harvard Associates in Police Science) - the seminar series she created to help foster relationships between law enforcement and the medical community in the pursuit of justice.
Everyone else generally dismissed Frances. Especially her colleagues at Harvard. A lot of people placated her only because she donated so much money to the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard - where she was generally viewed as a meddlesome old woman with money and not enough to do. (Her words)
She was a truly woman ahead of her time and this threatened people. She never gave up and this irritated people. Things were rarely good enough for her and people resented her for it.
And when she died, the forensic academic community - the community she helped pioneer - allowed her name and contributions to fade away because they simply didn't think she was worthy of credit.
HAPS members, however, are another story. They keep her memory alive. But memories aren't quite enough for a screenwriter and documentary filmmaker like me, are they? I needed photos, documents, newspaper articles, letters, and interviews with family members and people who can speak to her impact on criminology.
When my filmmaking partner and I made Of Dolls & Murder, we had to partially abandon our original vision because we could not find enough of the kind of information I listed above. We were proud of what we created but regretted that we couldn't find enough details about Frances Glessner Lee's life.
So I started to fantasize about the Hollywood version of her life - staring some amazing actress like Cate Blanchett as Frances Glessner Lee. So I wrote the screenplay, Dollhouse of Death and it turned out better than I could have ever imagined. If this film ever gets made, there is no way history could ever forget about Frances Glessner Lee again.
And now we are almost done with our follow up documentary Murder in a Nutshell because we were lucky enough to unearth some pretty compelling new material about Frances Glessner Lee.
Her story just keeps getting better and better. Frances spoke so eloquently for the dead and I feel privileged to speak eloquently for her.
|One of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Frances Glesssner Lee -|
photo by Susan Marks