West 47th Street

I ain’t goin’ in no crazy-cage! (Fitzroy)

(2001) – mentally ill & homeless in NYC. (1:23:59) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4xYoFcVAyE

I remember seeing this ages ago and I’m glad to have tripped over it again. The documentary, or cinema veritè if you prefer, is centred around Fountain House (psychosocial rehab), in its 50th year. I remember Esther from the first time I saw this, a stern, no nonsense woman. “It will not rain,” she said, about the weather forecast for a funding event – and of course it didn’t. I remembered this too and I think it can be applied to a far broader scope than people in treatment.

You’ll find people here a little sicker than you; that’s not your business. Your business is to come in here and do the best you can for yourself. (Esther)

The spotlight is on:
Fitzroy Frederick (schizophrenia) who said I’ll wear loafers, but I’m not cutting my dreadlocks.
Frances Olivero (manic depression, gender dysfunction) who said I might scare god when he sees me, I’ll be wearing a frilly pink dress.
Zeinab Wali who said it was hard to be clean and happy on the streets.
Tex Gordon who said today marks the first day of nobody being my guardian. (Since 1952)

(Where there’s a diagnosis mentioned, it was taken from the person’s own description.)

The warts ‘n all approach works well. You get to hear criticisms of the place and there’s no soft focus on any of the people either. It’s a small slice of space and time, not mindblowing, but fascinating. And it’s heartbreaking, though probably not for the reasons you’d guess before seeing it.

“The subject of West 47th Street hits close to home for (Bill) Lichtenstein (filmmaker), whose career as an ABC News producer came to a halt 18 years ago when he was diagnosed with manic depression. It took three years to struggle back from the brink of self-destruction. Following his recovery, he founded his own company, Lichtenstein Creative Media, in part to educate the public about mental illness.” IMDB

Okay, here be spoilers – you’ll appreciate them way, way more if you watch it first though.

Frances Olivero
Born: February 16, 1950 Died: April 15, 2000


I have no idea if this is accurate (findagrave.com). The dates are correct.

More info about the legislation here.
“Speaking about his partnership with Mr.* Olivero, Fred Levine – who was himself diagnosed with bipolar illness in 1975 – notes, “Every day I worked with Frances was a gift. He was insightful, energetic, passionate about human rights, and he had a unique ability to bring people together and make them listen. He was the heart and soul of the Fairness Campaign.””

2003 update (about all four)


This is from 2008: (also found here)
“My brother* was Frances Olivero. Kenneth Frances Olivero. My cousin Lolly found this on the internet and sent it to me. I would like this film if possible. My mom and sister and I are in it, in the end of the program with my brother. If possible please let me know how I can get it.
Thank you so much for this reading. My brother was very proud to know all of you. He loved the fountain house for all they did for him. I too am very grateful for all the help they gave him.
God Bless you all.
Joanne Noble
jojogrooven2@yahoo.com “

*I am quite sure she’d have preferred ‘Ms.’ and ‘sister’ and the correct pronouns, but I’m also sure it wasn’t intended badly in either case. Still. You saw how she corrected her name and gender at the start of the film and for me, that moment when she had to state her birth name in the hospital was heart wrenching. (Fellow cis-gendered humans, we need to check our privilege.)

The Frances Olivero Advocacy Award is presented annually to “an individual for their inspiring efforts to advocate and advance system and service reforms on behalf of New Yorkers with psychiatric disabilities”.

If you search Olivero on the Fountain House website, it defaults to a generic donation page. That seems sad – and possibly even foolish; beyond her activism and courage, she touched many hearts. Having just done a fair amount of searching, there would definitely be interest in a page about her – people might even want to donate in her name. She was within 2yrs of the age of Fountain House – if she’d lived, she’d be 60 this year.

Lichtenstein Creative Media had a west 47th street website too – looks like the last update was 2013. They also did the USA’s first mental illness anti stigma campaign and other interesting work. Aaand there’s some film stuff in The Infinite Mind (try page 14).

Drop any further info you have in the comments, pleasethankyou.

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