Wednesday, May 06, 2009


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 !


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

It must be terribly difficult to stay sober. It makes success stories like yours all the more remarkable. Congratulations.

1:40 PM  
Blogger dmmgmfm said...

What an amazing story.

3:37 PM  
Blogger Cazzie!!! said...

Such a sad story about a lovely actress. My Pa loved her. You are right, a sober life would have seen her live a better life..and perhaps a longer one too.

3:11 AM  
Blogger Syd said...

What a sad story about her. I didn't know anything about her until you wrote this. I'll have to read more.

8:30 AM  
Blogger kenju said...

I remember reading about her years ago, and I saw that movie. I loved Susan Hayward too.

4:52 PM  
Blogger possum said...

A friend loaned me this movie a couple months ago. I had never seen it before. It was very moving and heartbreaking. It is so amazing how substances can take over one's life. Imagine my surprise when in the early days of studying Buddhism, I found the 5th Precept was to avoid alcohol and other intoxicating substances. The 5 Precepts for a Buddhist are kind of like the 10 Commandments to a Christian.

7:10 AM  
Blogger Bill said...

I found your blog post via a google search. I just got home from a cook-out with some of my fellow AA pals, and we watched this movie after we ate. It's a good movie, but we wondered about the impact of her TV appearance & linking her name with AA publicly. I had also heard that she went back out, but could find no info on that until I saw your post about Lillian Roth.
Anyway, thanks for writing about this movie, and I also enjoyed what you had to say about alcoholwasm. I've been sober for four years, and my bottom looked about as bad as the one in I'll Cry Tomorrow, so I am really grateful for my new sober life!

8:58 PM  
Anonymous Maggie said...

Back in 1977 I worked with "Lil". She was working as a receptionist for the American Guild of Variety Artist & I worked in the membership department. She carried the message of recovery to me in those few quiet moments we had together. The upside of the this sad story about her is that she has saved my life by telling me about AA. I have 34 years of recovery by the Grace of God & the help of AA. I am & shall be always grateful for her words of hope & wisdom that set me on this path. Some do die so that others may live, that is the cold reality of this disease. Thank you for telling people about Lillian.

1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Lillian Roth did have a couple of relapses but she died sober. I found an interview she did just a couple of years before she died and you can just see that she's a happy, contented, older woman who has come to terms with her past and is at peace.

(It's not particularly fair to insinuate that living with her dogs and another woman roommate is somehow a bad thing, either.)

You can see the interview here:

12:12 PM  
Blogger anonymous said...

Actually alcoholism is a disease so once she started drinking did she have a choice. At least she tried time and again. Do any of us really think she really preferred relapse over sobriety. Sometimes the burden of life just gets to be too much and the weakness wins.

7:52 AM  
Blogger anonymous said...

Sad movie, if that was her life in film it must have been a hundred times worse in real life. Does anyone really think she would have chosen the terrible things that happened in her lif, alcoholism is a disease, I don't think it was all a choice some maybe but who are we to say why anyone picks up a drink to drown out reality know what or where that drink can lead. Certainly if we realized it was alcoholism we would not take that first drink. I don't think anybody would knowingly select that road to travel.

7:59 AM  
Blogger tonine wilson said...

I don’t think the 18 years she spent sober were erased by her relapse. I heard her Mike Wallace interview and she seemed a very intelligent and insightful woman. It’s a miracle she lived as long as she di. It seems one of the few stabilizing forces in her life was her talent. I’m sure her books, snd the movie helped other alcoholics and those close to them.

8:22 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I heard somewhere that she played a big part in bringing A.A. into Austrailia. Is this true ?

12:32 PM  
Blogger Goldendaze-Ginnie said...

I seem to remember someone else mentioning the connection to Australia but I have no idea if that's true. If you research it and find out please let me know. Thanks for commenting.

1:52 PM  

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