Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Telling Frances Glessner Lee's Story by Susan Marks


Telling Frances Glessner Lee's story is complicated and beautiful. She is every bit the archetypal superhero. You could set her story in an era and the same themes resonate - the pursuit of justice in the face of great adversity. And like any superhero - she had her demons and flaws.
Still, Frances is more human than your average superhero. In fact, her superpowers were superior intelligence, hyper focus, advanced fine motor skills and the fact that she acted like a man in a man's world.
Frances also knew true monsters, she knew how it felt to be trapped, she knew injustices, she knew how it felt to be ignored, not taken seriously and dismissed. She didn't fit in. She tried it, played the role well but her true nature kept surfacing.

At one point she wrote, "I've lived a rather lonely and terrifying life." And understandable so. Life really began for her when she was in her 50s in the 1930s. That's when she devoted her life to "legal medicine" - creating a miniature world of macabre death scenes to help level the playing field. But that didn't mean her life got easier for her. In many ways, she became more and more isolated.

Her story hasn't been well preserved; files are missing, letters destroyed and journals may have been hidden away. Some members of her family are very secretive about Frances. (Others are very forthcoming and are in genuine awe of Frances). One family member told me that Frances was a very private person and wouldn't want anyone writing or making films about her. Another family member told me that information is wrong and that Frances wanted to be known for her work in forensics.  My guess is that they are both a bit right, Frances wanted her story told but she also wanted to control it. Unfortunately, in her lifetime, much of her story was left untold.

So for those of us now who want to tell her story we are left chasing her mystique. Inventing storylines while trying to stay true to what she cared about. To date, I've made two documentary films about Frances, wrote a screenplay and most recently wrote a tv pilot. And surprisingly, I'm finding new and inspired ways to tell her story.  It's exciting that Frances's story is starting to get the attention it deserves!

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