THE LILLIAN ROTH STORY …
I am really enjoying the old movies that I order from Netflix. Recently I watched the 1954 movie “I’ll Cry Tomorrow”. It stars Susan Hayward. She was one of my favorites back in my impressionable teen years but I’d missed this one.
It is the story of Lillian Roth, a child movie star of the 20’s. She was very successful but her career was hampered by her addiction to alcohol and she spent the latter years of the 1930’s out of the limelight and spiraling deeper into alcoholism. She finally “hit bottom” in 1946 and sought out AA.
Anyone who has read my blog knows that I have enjoyed the past 19 years as a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has been a huge influence in my life and I was intrigued to watch how (or if) it would work for Lillian. After all, this was 1946 and AA had only been in existence for eleven years.
Sure enough, after contemplating suicide, Lillian finally drags herself to an AA meeting. It was very interesting to see how the members detoxed her. Nowadays this is seldom done except in a hospital or a rehab. I am always fascinated by the really old members of AA who actually remember using small doses of alcohol to taper off a person so they won’t die from DT’s.
Also of interest were the scenes of the actual AA meetings. They were very similar to those that we hold today. What was different was that a man, Burt McGuire, became her sponsor. I can only speak for our area of the country, but here it’s considered best for a woman to have a female sponsor.
Lillian ended up marrying Burt and he became her agent. That is where the movie ended but the rest of her life is just as compelling. In 1953, after much soul searching and against Burt‘s advice, she appeared on an episode of the TV series “This Is Your Life” with Ralph Edwards. In response to relating her story of alcoholism she received more than forty thousand letters.
This is always a tricky thing for us in AA. You would think that a story like hers would be a good way to advertise AA but we advocate attraction rather than promotion. Our 11th Tradition states, in part…”we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.” The problem is that so often when a celebrity claims sobriety through AA he or she relapses and there goes the credibility of the program. Burt had tried to explain this to her but she opted to do the TV show anyway.
After 18 years of sobriety Lillian relapsed in 1964 and her sober days and her marriage were over. She spent the final 15 years of her life with 3 dogs and a woman companion. The inscription on her marker in Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Westchester County, NY reads: “As bad as it was it was good”.
I can only shake my head and think how much better it could have been if she’d stayed sober !