By Martin Northway
“Kings Row” was a popular 1942 film based on the best-selling novel by Henry Bellamann. It featured a young Ronald Reagan, portraying the sunny rake Drake McHugh, best friend of precocious Parris Mitchell, the thinly veiled alter ego of the author puzzling his way toward maturity in an 1890s mid-American small town.
Drake had set his cap for the daughter of the town’s Dr. Henry Gordon, who does not approve. After a railroad accident, Drake falls into the hands of the sadistic doctor, who unnecessarily amputates Drake’s legs. Awakening from his anesthetic, Drakes rips the covers off the stumps and screams, “Where’s the rest of me?”
The role helped make Reagan a star. He even used the memorable line as the title of a memoir.
While the movie softened the much bolder book for the censors, it remains a pioneering exploration of mental illness, early psychoanalysis, gender relations and small-town secrets and hypocrisies. In the film, the relationship between Parris Mitchell’s enigmatic mentor, Dr. Alexander Tower, and his reclusive daughter, Cassandra, is disturbing but mysterious; in the book, it is incestuous.
“Kings Row” spurred an ongoing controversy in Bellamann’s hometown, Fulton, in central Missouri, about how much of the story was fact and how much fiction, and about whether Bellamann bore some grudge for his birthplace. Read the rest of this entry »