Chris Sizemore, born April 4 1927, died July 24 2016
Chris Sizemore, who has died 89, was the subject – under an assumed name – of the bestselling psychiatric study The Three Faces of Eve, which documented her treatment for multiple-personality disorder and became a 1957 film starring Joanne Woodward.
Chris Sizemore’s story had come to public notice while she was under the care of psychiatrists Corbett Thigpen and Hervey Cleckley in Augusta, Georgia. She had been referred to them suffering from blinding headaches, accompanied by blackouts and erratic behaviour. She also confessed to hearing a voice which taunted her about her husband.
Initially, the doctors had put her symptoms down to the stress of raising a family. Several months into therapy, however, a completely different personality emerged, as brazen as Chris Sizemore’s other self was demure. Thigpen and Cleckley dubbed this provocative self “Eve Black”, while the dominant yet quieter personality was “Eve White”. It was Eve Black who had tried to choke Chris Sizemore’s two-year-old daughter, leading her to seek psychiatric help for the first time.
While Eve White liked reading, Eve Black preferred to spend her days at the cinema and her evenings in nightclubs. In The Three Faces of Eve, Thigpen and Cleckley described their efforts to encourage the emergence and eventual dominance of “Jane”, a third, more capable personality.
The study, which was published in 1957, declared their therapy successful, but for Chris Sizemore there were further struggles ahead. Jane died and more personalities took over, always in groups of three. They would function together for a time, then drop away and be replaced by others. Their ages would vary, as did their characters and even their physical health. “The Purple Lady”, who appeared when Chris Sizemore was 46, felt herself to be 58 years old, suffered from joint pain and sprayed her hair grey, while “the Strawberry Girl” thought she was 21, went barefoot and ate only strawberries.
Each switch would be accompanied by headaches and facial contortions, which her second husband Don had initially mistaken for signs of a stroke. She struggled to hold down a job and attempted suicide. In 1970 the family moved to Fairfax, Virginia, where she finally made progress under the care of Tony Tsitos, her eighth therapist.
For four years the two of them worked at reintegrating her various “psychic sisters” to form a coherent personality. “For me, being one person isn’t easy”, she told an interviewer in 1976. The final “sister”, who was mute, emerged briefly and then receded while she was trying to finish her autobiography, I Am Eve, written with the help of a cousin.
The book was an attempt to reclaim her identity from Thigpen, Cleckley and the mythmaking of Hollywood. Yet when the actress Sissy Spacek expressed an interest in making a film based on Chris Sizemore’s follow-up work, A Mind of My Own (1989), Twentieth Century Fox pointed to the wording of the 1956 contract that she had signed for The Three Faces of Eve, which surrendered the rights to “all versions of my life story heretofore published or hereafter published” to the studio. Chris Sizemore’s attorney contended that the contract proved she had not been in her right mind when she signed it: Eve White, Eve Black and Jane had all added their names. The case was settled out of court.
She was born Christine Costner on April 4 1927 in Edgefield, South Carolina. In the space of a few months, aged just two, she saw her mother injure herself severely with a knife and a man severed by machinery at the lumber mill where her father worked; the funeral of a baby cousin also left a deep impression. During these moments, another child with flame-red hair would appear to her and watch the proceedings without apparent distress.
In all, she reckoned that about 22 different personalities emerged over 40 years. But she had no professional help until she was 24, when she was diagnosed with atypical schizophrenia. The doctors recommended electric shock therapy, but Eve Black objected and stormed out of the hospital. Another year went by before Chris Sizemore was referred to Thigpen and Cleckley, who diagnosed multiple-personality disorder.
Later therapy sessions allowed her to harness her talents – several personalities had shown artistic abilities – and she made a living selling paintings and giving lectures. Of all her personalities she claimed to like Eve Black best, since she was “an honest person”. Husband Don, however, had fallen in love with Jane.
Her first marriage, to Gene Rogers, was dissolved. Her second husband Don predeceased her in 2002. She is survived by a daughter from her first marriage and a son from her second marriage.