There are two kinds of love surrounding Marian Rose White, a woman who was incorrectly institutionalized when she was a teen-ager. One is the selfish and misguided love of her mother, who rejected her daughter because of her poor eyesight and rebellious nature and turned the child over to an uncaring, harmful institution.
The other is the love of Marian, who never lost her self-respect and channeled her compassion for others defined as feeble into challenges for their lives. These two varieties of love,regrettable and admirable, make "Marian Rose White," the CBS Tuesday night movie at 9 p.m. on Channel 9, a memorable vignette of how both personal and institutional narrow-mindedness can destroy lives, and how individual will can triumph.
This admirably done movie is the true story of one woman's life in California in the 1930s. As a child, White's protector was her father, but his sudden death leaves her with her mother and younger brother. After trying special schools and a convent, her mother commits her to a state institution. At the home, White becomes a victim of its policy of experimental sterilization, a practice that becomes a strong theme of the story.
Nancy Cartwright as the teen-age Marian is a marvel, from cynically observing the world while scrubbing the floors, to tenderly chiding another resident at the hospital into walking, to proudly challenging her I.Q. tester. Valerie Perrine gives just the right, tight woodenness to the mother, who never attempts to have any patience or show any love. In the hospital scene, after Marian's sterilization, the mother pays a visit, bringing a doll. From her hurt, adolescent body, Marian summons up enough outrage to say, "You take away my babies and you bring me this." All the mother has are empty excuses.
Marian's angel in this trauma is a nurse, played by Katharine Ross, who realizes Marian is very capable, fights the sterilization practice and finally helps her find a life outside the institution. Ross' softness is contrasted with the cold nature of the hospital's primary administrators: Dr. "Call Me Daddy" Ashcroft, played with menacing zeal by Charles Aidman, and Nurse Hartman, played unsmilingly well by Ruth Silveira.
Though the time is California in the 1930s, the horrendous ideas and the political issues behind the debate are not that remote. When Marian is first committed to the hospital, she is told the worst form of punishment is to share a cell with "Black-out." Since her rambunctiousness is constant, she finds herself in that cell, with a black woman who prances around like a gorilla. Marian sings "Mammy" to her, then "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," and they end up doing a patty-cake on the floor. When justifying the sterilization, Ashcroft coldly explains, it's his "right and duty."