Ramblin' Rhodes: Real-life Eve of 'Three Faces of Eve' honored at funeral

"Chris" Costner Sizemore talks with Augusta Chronicle columnists Don Rhodes and Sylvia Cooper at a 2007 event for The Three Faces of Eve at the Imperial Theatre.

It’s been almost 59 years since the black-and-white movie The Three Faces of Eve, about a woman with multiple mental personalities, had its world premiere on Sept. 18, 1957, at the Miller Theater on Broad Street.

 

This past Monday, Aug. 1, the funeral service for the real life subject of that movie was held in rural Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, northeast of Edgefield, S.C., where Christine “Chris” Costner Sizemore was born and reared.

Sizemore, a member of the church and the widow of former electrician Don G. Sizemore, died in her sleep on Sunday, July 24, at Sylvia’s House Hospice in Ocala, Fla. She was 89.

About 40 people, including family members, pallbearers and friends heard two female ministers recall that Sizemore’s rich life embodied far more than the three personalities discovered by Augusta psychiatrists Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley.

They first presented their findings in 1953 about their patient, identified only as “Eve,” at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in Los Angeles and showed a film of the patient talking about her illness. The widespread interest in their presentation led to their writing a book, The Three Faces of Eve, published in 1957, which was turned into the movie of the same title.

Sizemore spent her last years giving talks and lectures about mental health and, as her obituary stated, “was passionate about mental health issues and advocated staunchly for the removal of discrimination and the stigma of mental illness and improving the care and affordability for those seeking mental health care.”

The Rev. Myra Taylor, a niece of Sizemore and pastor of Mount Carmel United Methodist Church, said her aunt did a lot to change public attitude about victims of mental health.

But Taylor also said there is still much to be done in helping so many homeless people, including former members of the armed forces living on the streets, unable to find or take advantage of affordable mental health care.

Taylor added that Sizemore was able to articulate the issue of mental health “in a way only she could put the words to” and that her message was simple: “Love me as I am.”

The Rev. Karen Radcliffe, of Fort Mill, S.C., who previously was a pastor of Mount Carmel, recalled the church’s roof once was made of cedar boards that were replaced by stronger materials.

“Chris obtained one of those boards, and she painted for me a picture of Mount Carmel on one side,” Radcliffe related. “And on the other side she wrote, ‘I’m Eve.’ It hangs in my office today and reminds me of my friend, Chris Sizemore, and the love she had for her family.”

Sizemore, the daughter of Acie and Zuline Hastings Costner, talked about her life in the books I’m Eve (1977) and A Mind of My Own (1989).

Even before her books were published, she spoke at Piedmont Technical Center in Greenwood, S.C., in January 1975 and, as Tom Harrison, of The Chronicle, reported, gave credit to her husband; her married daughter, Taffy; and her 15-year-old son, Bobby, for much of her recovery.

“My husband is a most remarkable man,” she said. “Without his support and that of my family, it would have been most difficult for me. I just would not have been able to cope with my life.”

The movie, with newcomer actress Joanne Woodward portraying the three distinctive personalities – Eve Black, Eve White and Jane Doe, turned out to be a fairly home-grown affair.

Nunnally Johnson, a native of Columbus, Ga., wrote the screenplay for the film.

Woodward was born in Thomasville, Ga. (Her father, Wade Woodward Jr., was a native Augustan and graduate of the Academy of Richmond County. He met his wife, the former Elinor Gignilliat Trimmier, at a relative’s house in North Augusta. Her grandfather, Wade Woodward Sr., was a physician who served on the North Augusta school board.)

Neither Woodward nor Sizemore was at the movie’s premiere at the Miller.

Woodward was filming The Young Lions with Marlon Brando. Her mother, who had remarried and was living in Aiken, did attend. Sizemore was advised not to attend by her psychiatrists, who warned that it might trigger a setback.

But 50 years after the premiere that she missed, then-Imperial Theatre board member Mike Deas thought it would be great to celebrate the golden anniversary of the film and give Sizemore her due recognition.

He tracked her down living quietly in Ocala, and she immediately accepted his invitation to come back to Augusta for the film’s presentation.

The celebration was held in September 2007 with Sizemore being introduced to the Imperial audience, who gave her a standing ovation.

The next day, back at the Imperial, Sizemore talked about her life, took questions from the audience and used a digital slide show to discuss her paintings, which were influenced by the 20-something personalities that emerged in the years after she supposedly had been “cured” by the Augusta psychiatrists.

In a telephone interview before she came to Augusta for the event, I asked Sizemore about a scene in the movie in which “fun girl” Eve Black supposedly dances and sings in a nightclub for soldiers of Camp Gordon (now Fort Gordon).

I had been told that the nightclub was located just across the Fifth Street bridge in South Carolina at a popular, cinder-block place called the Club Royal, and I asked her whether that was true.

She confirmed the story and said of the club, which later burned, “It was huge, and it was nice. I was surprised they let me sing there. Eve Black, though, had a nice voice.

What I find interesting is that I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, but she sang so well. And, if she just appeared there as a guest, they would ask her to sing. She loved it, you know.”

The 2007 event, originally held to benefit the restoration of an antique organ in the Imperial’s lobby, was so successful that Deas and the Imperial’s board of directors decided to have it again the next year.

It again involved Davis and Sizemore, but this time added 93-year-old Emily Remington, the music director of the Augusta Choral Society for 25 years, who played an organ in the Miller for the 1957 premiere.

Remington later would write a guest editorial for The Chronicle in which she said, “Meeting Chris Sizemore, the fascinating ‘real’ Eve about whom the book and movie were written, was such a pleasure. She is a sparkling personality indeed, and her eyes dance with the joy of life. How wonderful for her that Augusta doctors could help her with life’s mystery.”

Sizemore told me that she could remember most everything that she was doing when one of the personalities was expressed.

“Just like you have memories of your past, I have memories of mine, now,” she said. “But when I was ill, I didn’t know what the others were doing. But once the healing took place, I retained all the memories.”

I couldn’t help but ask whether there still was some of ‘fun girl’ Eve Black left in Sizemore.

“Of course,” she said. “I enjoy having fun, but I’m like everybody else, now. There is a part of me that enjoys fun, and there is a serious part like being a mother. There are so many people that don’t know how to relax anymore. They’re so serious about life and everything that goes with it that they really don’t know how to live.”

Then she added, “And I think that’s sad, because what else is there in our life except recognizing ourselves and living to the fullest of our abilities every day?”

Attending Sizemore’s funeral service last Monday with anniversary organizer Deas brought back a pleasant memory that Sylvia Cooper wrote about in her City Ink column.

As a reporter for the Augusta Herald in 1973, I noticed that it was the 20th anniversary of when Drs. Cleckley and Thigpen presented their original paper, “A Case Of Multiple Personality,” in Los Angeles about the three faces of “Eve.”

I went to the Medical College of Georgia to interview them about it. They surprised me with a copy of the original paper that I had asked them to autograph.

It was a treasured possession for more than 35 years. But after Sizemore’s talk in the Imperial in 2007, I knew that someone deserved to have it more - the real Eve, Christine Costner Sizemore.

She had never seen the original presentation and was very grateful to receive it.

I can tell you what her personalities were in being given her due recognition in the Imperial in 2007 and 2008: feeling happy to be honored and grateful to be from the Augusta area.

 

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