[Wide Angle] Finding Constance

Looking ahead at all five parts of the main story

Part 1 (American Dreams) explains why I became curious about actress Constance Dowling, and describes unexpected discoveries that drew me much further into her story.  Part 1 covers key events up to 1947, explores her relationship with renowned director Elia Kazan, her lifelong friendship with actress Shelley Winters, and her career in Hollywood. It also creates a possible portrait of Constance’s personality—and explores the influence of Hollywood’s studio system, as well as the personal and professional options available to women during this period.

Chapters . . .

1 Ambitions
2 Unraveling
3 Reset

Part 2 (Italian Dramas) documents her years abroad, her brief but consequential affair with the nationally beloved Italian writer Cesare Pavese, and the circumstances that made Constance accidentally—but perhaps permanently—famous in Europe.  We look closely at the background, the aftermath, and the continuing legacy of that country’s most famous literary suicide, separating fact from myth and clarifying the “Constance connections.” We also find out the real story of her movie career in Italy (which has been unfairly dismissed), along with details about the making of an important neo-realist film that starred her younger sister Doris.

Chapters . . .

4 Italy
5 Pavese
6 That Woman

Part 3 (Surprising Developments) follows Constance into marriage, motherhood—and some remarkable connections with the transformation of American culture between 1950 and 1970.  We meet a cast of unexpected characters: influential producer and futurist Ivan Tors; neuroscientist and counterculture guru John C. Lilly; diver, chemist, doctor, and inventor Parry Bivens. In the 1950s, this trio brought LSD to Hollywood and made dolphins famous—with Constance playing a key role behind the scenes. Some mostly-forgotten lore about the early popularization of psychedelics is included, along with a look at changes in the entertainment industry. We also catch up on the high-profile lives of sister Doris and best friend Shelley Winters. 

Chapters . . .

7          Home
8          Intersections
9          Transformations

Part 4 (Complications) takes a dark and in many ways disturbing turn, with varied interpretations and revelations concerning Constance’s death. John Lilly becomes a visionary/poet, and new characters (writer Curt Siodmak and director Herb Strock) enter the story from the burgeoning world of cinematic science fiction. We consider the intertwined complexities of projection, manipulation, and gender in the depiction of public lives, and learn how Constance’s story found new significance in the 21st-century through its potent influence on the work of media theorist Arjen Mulder.

Chapters . . .

10      Dark Discovery
11      Searching for Insight
12      Still Searching . . .

Part 5 (Reflections) describes what happened to the cast of characters after 1969, summarizes themes of the Constance story, and reflects on unanswered questions. Also included—seldom-seen photographs of Constance that expand our understanding of her life and personality.

Chapters . . .

13      Storylines
14      Images
15      Eye of the Beholder