Chris Costner Sizemore became one of the most famous Americans of the 1950s but under a disguised name, after the Georgia psychiatrists who had treated her multiple-personality disorder published her life story as the startling and best-selling “The Three Faces of Eve.”
The book, which paints Sizemore as an anguished Southern wife and mother who battles for control of her own mind, sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It inspired the 1957 film that earned Joanne Woodward an Oscar for playing the title role, a woman who veers from mousy housewife (Eve White) to reckless barfly (Eve Black) until a sympathetic psychiatrist helps her find her “true” self (Jane) through hypnosis.
Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, Sizemore retreated from publicity and lived anonymously for much of her life in Northern Virginia while raising a family. “We accepted no invitations and extended none,” she later said. In 1977, she announced herself to the world with her memoir, “I’m Eve,” which she saw as a corrective to the hit film. To start with, she had 22 distinct personalities, not three.
Sizemore, who widely lectured on how those with mental illness could serve as functional members of families and communities, died July 24 at a hospice center in Ocala, Florida. She was 89.
The cause was a heart attack, said her son, Bobby Sizemore.
In the popular imagination, multiple-personality disorder - now known as dissociative identity disorder - was largely the stuff of “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” sensationalism.
Serious medical literature on the disorder was relatively sparse when doctors Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley of Augusta, Georgia, published a clinical article about Sizemore followed by a series for lay readers in the American Weekly magazine.
The 1957 book and film - which probed at the role of the unconscious mind - were blockbusters. At the center of the story was a demure young wife and mother, Sizemore - identified as Eve White - whose headaches signaled a stark, sometimes terrifying change in personality.
She would lash out in epithet-filled rages and claim to hear a voice who urged her to taunt her husband: “Why don’t you knock his block off?” and “He’s a bore.” They soon divorced.
Dainty and proper Eve White sometimes was startled to wake up in a sleazy nightclub; Eve Black did the partying, but Eve White was left with the hangover. As Eve Black, she once tried to tie Venetian blinds around her daughter’s neck to stop the child from crying, but Eve White flashed in and rescued the girl.
The book and the film left readers and viewers with the impression that Sizemore had largely won the struggle over her neuroses. She embraced what seemed to be her dominant personality, Jane; she remarried, to a patient and understanding construction electrician; and psychiatry and hypnosis had restored her to sanity and wholeness.
It was premature.
Jane, like Eve White and Eve Black, soon died. More personalities manifested themselves - each time in sets of three. She endured suicide attempts, and she struggled to keep jobs in the retail industry. At one time, she ballooned to 175 pounds as she fed three people, each with her own tastes.
There was the Strawberry Lady, who was 21 and ate strawberries to the exclusion of all else. The Banana Split Girl was a temperamental child who would only consume that dessert. There was the Purple Lady, an arthritic 58-year-old who wore white wigs and purple dresses. The Virgin wore no makeup and could not stand to be touched by her husband. The Spoon Lady collected spoons. The Blind Lady could not see. There was the Retrace Lady who never liked to take the same route twice.
Some personalities could drive while others could not, and they tended to switch at inopportune times.
“Mom drove me to a shopping center and couldn’t drive home,” Bobby Sizemore recalled of one episode from his childhood.
“For all those years, we walked on eggshells wondering which personalities might come out,” he added. “You could see parts of all of them in her. Sometimes the personalities could do things that Mom could do, and sometimes they did things she could not do. Some were artists, and she maintained her artistic skills. Some could cook and sew, and she couldn’t cook or sew a lick.”
She saw therapist after therapist but attributed her greatest progress to Tony Tsitos, her eighth doctor, whom she began seeing in 1970.
Over a four-year treatment period, she said, he began the process of “integrating” the divergent personalities she had developed over a lifetime as a defense mechanism against intensely felt fears and insecurities.
“They were all searching for something,” Sizemore told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1993. The breakthrough, she added, was “accepting the fact that it was all right to be myself and I didn’t need these personalities to function, that there would be some people who dislike me and that that’s OK.”
A few years later, she said, she dreamed that “the personalities were in a kind of Greek arena. They all joined hands and then walked behind a screen and then everything disappeared. They have never come back.”
Christine Costner was born in Edgefield, South Carolina, on April 4, 1927, and she grew up in a large Southern family. Her father worked in a lumber mill. The first signs of trouble surfaced at 2, following a series of macabre incidents involving violent injury and death.
She was unnerved at the sight of her mother badly cut in a kitchen accident. She later saw a man severed in three by machinery at her father’s workplace. She saw a drowned man pulled from a ditch. A cousin’s funeral was particularly awful for her, and she recalled attending in the company of an imaginary friend, a flame-haired child with bright eyes.
Her teachers and some family members thought she was playing games or lying, and she would get into serious trouble for not remembering things she had done in the guise of other personas. One personality would sit in class for a lesson, and another would arrive the next day for a test wholly unprepared, not having been there for the lecture.
Relationships with men, at times, left her devastated. She said a local race-car driver conned her into a fake marriage and battered her. Her condition later led to the dissolution of her first marriage, to Gene Rogers, and threatened her second, to Don Sizemore.
She was grateful at first to Thigpen and Cleckley, both of whom diagnosed her properly and treated her at no cost for years. While under treatment, they persuaded her in 1956 to sign her life rights to 20th Century Fox, which made the movie version of the doctors’ book. She got $7,000.
According to the New York Times, she signed the names of her alternate personalities and had no legal representation. Decades later, Thigpen, who has since died, told the Times: “I didn’t think about a lawyer, and I don’t guess that she did. She was divorced, and she had used a lawyer for her divorce, so she could have called him.”
Under the name Evelyn Lancaster, Sizemore also published an early memoir, “The Final Face of Eve” (co-written in 1958 with James Poling) that came too late in the publicity to sell well.
Besides “I’m Eve,” written with her cousin Elen Sain Pittillo, she wrote a follow-up memoir, “A Mind of My Own” (1989). Actress Sissy Spacek expressed interest in making a film about that book, but 20th Century Fox objected on the grounds that Sizemore had already signed away her life rights. Sizemore, who then sued the studio, eventually accepted an out-of-court settlement; no film was made.
She left Northern Virginia in 1985, eventually settling in Florida. Don Sizemore died in 1992. Survivors include a daughter from her first marriage, Taffy Fecteau of Fredericksburg, Virginia; a son from her second marriage, Bobby Sizemore of Fort Myers, Florida; two sisters; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness estimates that 2 percent of the population experiences dissociative disorders and that women are more likely than men to be diagnosed. According to experts, the extreme rarity makes it hard to study.
After “The Three Faces of Eve” film, the disorder was ushered further into the mainstream by the 1970s book and TV movie “Sybil,” starring Sally Field as a woman with more than a dozen personalities. By the early 1980s, the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - regarded as the profession’s bible - officially recognized dissociative disorders.
Sizemore said she did not see “Eve” until 1975, explaining to The Washington Post, “Joanne Woodward did an excellent job of acting. But, after all I’ve lived through, the movie just seemed so unimportant.”