For this movie and Tootsie (1982), actress Jessica Lange received two Oscar nominations for acting in the same year. It was the first time since 1942 that an actress had been nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress in the same year and the third time overall. Frances (1982) was Lange's first Best Actress Academy Award nomination but she won that year only for Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Tootsie (1982). Ironically, in Frances (1982), at one point in the film, her character is named a "little tootsie" by another character. Lange would eventually win a Best Actress Oscar for Blue Sky (1994).
The movie was originally based on William Arnold's "Shadowland", a fictionalized biography of Frances Farmer optioned in 1979, but, when the producers jettisoned Arnold's involvement, the screenwriters created Harry York, a fictional character, because they had to prove the movie was based on original material. Arnold sued, and lost, finally, long after the film had been released.
Harry York, a largely fictional character played by Sam Shepard, was based on a political radical named Stewart Jacobson who claimed to have been Frances Farmer's lover. People who were close to Farmer claimed he had never even met her.
The production company of this film was Mel Brooks's Brooksfilms, but as with The Elephant Man (1980), Brooks preferred not to have his personal name, which is associated with comedy, billed with the picture. So though Brooks was an executive producer on this movie, Brooks received no on-screen credit.
The film's closing credits declare that: "In exchange for the use of certain facilities and per agreement with the California Department of Mental Health, the producers have agreed to the following disclaimer: "Since the 1940s there have been major advances in the care and treatment of the mentally ill. The reprehensible conditions experienced by Frances Farmer are not typical of mental health treatment today"."
John Barry, the film's composer, also wrote a song based on the main theme, entitled "Close Your Eyes", specifically for the movie. Although a demo exists with Barry accompanying Sarah Brightman on piano, the song failed to make the final cut.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
This film's closing prologue states: "Frances [Farmer] made one final movie [The Party Crashers (1958)], then moved to Indianapolis where she hosted a daytime television show [Frances Farmer Presents (1958)]. She died on August 1, 1970, at the age of 56. Harry was not with her. She died as she had lived . . . alone.".