In 1952 folk singer Woody Guthrie developed Huntington's disease and never sang again.

In 1967 he died of this hereditary nerve disorder that gradually makes its victims physically and mentally incompetent, then inexorably kills them.

In 1975 his widow, Marjorie Guthrie, asked Congress to help victims of the disease. They may yet include her singer son, Arlo, now 30, since half of all children of victims inherit the illness.

Congree created a Commission for the Control of Huntington's Disease, and Majorie Guthrie was named to head it. Yesterday the commission made its report and gave Congress a surprise.

It did not ask for a new institute, crusade or special effort against this disease alone, as other recent federal commissions on diseases have done.

Instead, the commission - at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations health subcommittee - asked for a broadened attack on many baffling nerve and brain disorders, financed by a $139.7 million appropriations increase for the National Institutes of Health and $4 million for other agencies, spread over three years.

Among the other diseases that might be alleviated by the research, said the commission, are Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, senility and other mental disorders, muscular dystrophies and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as "Lou Gehrig's disease."

Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), chairing the hearing, called the proposal "reasonable" and said he will support it.

The commission also said care for all the chronically ill should be part of any new national health insurance plan. It said the Social Security Act should be amended so disabled women who have been homemakers can get the same disability benefits that wage-earners can get.

Such measures are needed, the commission said, because Hungtington's and similar ailments devastate both victims and their families.

"The costs of long-term care of Hungtington's patients are so high," the commission said, "that health agency personnel sometimes advise the healthy spouse to get a divorce" as the only way of making the patient a state ward, eligible for free care.

"It's difficult to describe this illness, but once you see the patients you never forget them," testified another commissioner, Jennifer Jones Simon, actress and wife of industrial Norton Simon.

Then she narrated a film strip which showed patients - some in early stages, walking and talking with difficulty; some later, writhing and demented.

Commission doctors said one urgent need is a test to identify the 50 per cent of sons and daughters of patients who will get the illness - anytime between the ages of 2 and 80, but most often between 35 and 45.