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Psychiatrist Says ‘Bell Jar’ Movie’s Lesbian Scenes Humiliated Her

January 27, 1987 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ A psychiatrist says the betrayal she felt by Sylvia Plath’s novel ″The Bell Jar″ turned to humiliation in the movie version because she was falsely depicted as a lesbian.

Dr. Jane V. Anderson testified in her U.S. District Court libel suit Monday that she felt angered by the novel because she saw herself as a character in it who committed suicide.

She said she never attempted suicide and never had a sexual relationship with Plath. In addition, she disputed a defense implication that she had a homosexual affair with a college roommate.

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Anderson, 55, was to return to the stand today in the fourth day of her defamation and invasion of privacy suit over the 1979 movie, also called ″The Bell Jar.″

Among the 14 defendants is Ted Hughes, British poet laureate and Plath’s widower, who sold the movie rights.

Without naming Hughes, Anderson testified Plath told her in June 1956 that she had fallen deeply in love with a poet, but thought he was ″a person capable of being sadistic.″ Plath married Hughes 12 days after the conversation, Anderson said.

Also named in the suit are individuals and companies responsible for producing and distributing the movie. CBS Inc. and Home Box Office are accused of intentionally inflicting emotional harm on Anderson for showing the movie after being told it was causing her harm.

Anderson, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, testified she and Plath grew up in Wellesley, attended the same church and college, dated the same man and were mental patients at the same time at McLean Hospital in Belmont.

The same relationship holds true in the book between Joan Gilling, the character Anderson says is based on her, and Esther Greenwood, the character Plath modeled after herself.

Many of the similarities are left out of the movie, except for their stay in the mental institution. However, Anderson claims she was defamed by scenes created for the movie in which the Gilling character exhibits homosexual tendencies and tries to entice Greenwood into a lovers’ suicide pact.

She said the movie sent her back into therapy after a 5 1/2 -year hiatus.

Anderson cited 10 scenes in the 1963 novel that mirrored events in her own life. She testified she was most disturbed by her initial discovery of her likeness in the book and then by the inclusion of her treatment for mental illness.

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″She was violating my right to privacy and revealing a very painful and private fact about myself,″ Anderson said of Plath, who committed suicide a month after the book was published. ″I felt profoundly betrayed.″

She also contradicted defense lawyer Alexander Pratt’s interpretation of a passage in a diary she kept in 1950 while at Smith College.

During his opening argument last week, Pratt said he would show Anderson had engaged in a lesbian affair in college. He then read from the diary: ″Em and I in bed together for first time since we’ve been back.″

Anderson said the passage referred to the first night she and her roommate, Mary ″Em″ Eckart, were back at school after a Christmas vacation.

″We went to bed together at the same time in separate, single beds,″ she said. ″During the entire time I was at Smith College, I never shared a bed with any female.″