Chris Costner Sizemore, the Real Patient Behind ‘The Three Faces of Eve,’ Dies at 89


At the start of the 1957 movie “The Three Faces of Eve,” the British-born journalist Alistair Cooke, who narrates the film, appears on camera to tell viewers that the incredible tale they are about to see is a true story — not suggested by or based on something that happened, but a facsimile of actual events.

Adapted from a book by two psychiatrists, Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, the movie starred Joanne Woodward, who won an Academy Award for portraying an unassuming housewife who suffers from what is now called dissociative identity disorder, the psychological malady that manifests itself in the display of multiple personalities.

At the end of the book, and of the film, the title character, whose three distinct personalities were known as Eve White, Eve Black and Jane, was cured; the Eve personalities had dissolved. She was living as Jane, happily married and reunited with a young daughter from a previous marriage that had been irreparably rent by her illness.

In spite of Mr. Cooke’s assurances, however, the happy ending was premature. The patient whose story the book and movie purported to tell, Chris Costner Sizemore, actually had a much grimmer time of it. Her new marriage turned out to be not an ending at all; she endured a fragmented identity until the mid-1970s, seeing several psychiatrists after Thigpen and Cleckley, until, in the care of a Virginia doctor, Tony Tsitos, her personalities — not three but more than 20, it turned out — were unified.

“You don’t know how wonderful it is to go to bed at night and know that it will be you that wakes up the next day,” Mrs. Sizemore said in an interview in The New York Post in 1975.

By most accounts, for the last four decades or so, Mrs. Sizemore lived a productive and relatively serene life as a mental health advocate and painter. She died on July 24 in Ocala, Fla. She was 89. Her son, Bobby Sizemore, said she had a heart attack.

Mrs. Sizemore was born Christine Costner on April 4, 1927, in Edgefield, S.C., near the Georgia border. Her father was Doctor Acie Costner, a farmer who later worked in a lumber mill; her mother, the former Zuline Hastings.

Psychiatrists believe that dissociation is a defense mechanism: a reaction to severe childhood trauma or prolonged physical, emotional or sexual abuse. In Mrs. Sizemore’s case, the fragmentation in her mind began when she was as young as 2, after she had witnessed a series of gruesome incidents, including her mother being bloodily injured in a kitchen accident, the funeral of an infant, the dragging of a corpse from a ditch and a man being “cut in half by a saw at a lumber mill,” she told The Post.

As she grew older, she would be punished for acts of disobedience or cruelty that she could not remember committing, she said. She would be baffled by a test in school that a different personality had prepared for. She never finished high school. According to her 1977 memoir, “I’m Eve,” written with a relative, Elen Sain Pittillo, she was scarred further by an early romance with a sadistic man, who beat her.

A severe headache would announce the emergence of a different personality. She began seeing Dr. Thigpen in Augusta, Ga., after her first marriage, when she began alternating between the demure and depressed Eve White and the self-indulgent party girl Eve Black, perplexing her husband with her bizarrely shifting behavior. In one episode depicted in the film, she wrapped the cord of a venetian blind around the neck of her young daughter, Taffy, when the child would not stop crying.

The personality Jane, a pleasant and sensible young woman, became manifest during her therapy. Her marriage ended. The second, to Don Sizemore, an electrician, began.

The two Eves and Jane proved evanescent, but as those personalities faded, others appeared, usually in groups of three. As doctors learned more about dissociation, the presumption that its main manifestation was multiple personalities with vastly different traits gave way to an understanding that the divides in a person’s identity could be far more subtle.

Even so, the way her divided self presented itself was remarkable; some of her personalities knew how to drive, for instance, but others did not. She opened a cloth store in Manassas, Va., her son said, “because one of the personalities was an accomplished seamstress.”

In the Post interview, Mrs. Sizemore said her personalities dressed differently, talked differently, ate differently.

“I once weighed 175 pounds because I was feeding three different people in the same body different meals,” she said.

Dr. Tsitos began treating her in 1970, and by 1974 she was no longer dissociating.

Attempts to reach Dr. Tsitos were unsuccessful, but another psychiatrist, Richard Kluft, who knew him as well as Mrs. Sizemore during his treatment of her, said in a phone interview that her previous therapy “had been all over the place and she felt betrayed.”

Dr. Tsitos, he said, “was a very savvy clinician who could see that more was going on than the typical picture of different personalities, that not all of them were apparent, and that the differences were sometimes very subtle.”

“Chris Sizemore was a lady,” Dr. Kluft said, “truly a beautiful human being. She did a lot of good. My hat’s off to Tony.”

Don Sizemore died in 1992. In addition to her son, a high school guidance counselor, Mrs. Sizemore is survived by two sisters, Louise Edwards, known as Tiny, and Becky Walton; her daughter, Taffy Fecteau; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Sizemore wrote a follow-up to her memoir, “A Mind of My Own” (1989), in which she recounted the integration of her personalities and her life afterward. In later years she was a frequent speaker on behalf of people with mental illness and an accomplished figurative painter.

The actress Sissy Spacek attempted to buy the film rights to “A Mind of My Own,” but 20th Century Fox, the studio that produced “The Three Faces of Eve,” stood in the way, claiming it owned the rights to her life story in perpetuity. Mrs. Sizemore had earned $7,000 from the earlier movie; a settlement was reached with Fox, and the second movie was never made.

The sunny narrative of Mrs. Sizemore’s triumphant second act was called into some question in 2012, when Colin A. Ross, a psychiatrist specializing in dissociation, published a book, “The Rape of Eve,” in which he accused Dr. Thigpen of having exercised an unethical, Svengali-like influence over Mrs. Sizemore and manipulating her for nefarious purposes during and after his treatment of her ended. Dr. Thigpen died in 1999.

“At different times he functioned as her psychotherapist, publicist, literary agent, film agent, book editor, contracts negotiator and legal adviser,” Dr. Ross wrote. “He attended her husband’s funeral uninvited, was her son’s godfather and engaged in sexual misconduct with her. He arranged for her to have an abortion, and during the procedure she was sterilized without her or her husband’s consent.”

Dr. Ross and Mrs. Sizemore had worked together on a documentary film about dissociation. In a phone interview, he said she had been a collaborator on the book, which portrayed her as still under Dr. Thigpen’s control in some ways until his death.

“I want to give Dr. Thigpen and Dr. Cleckley their due, because they were the first to diagnose Mom,” Bobby Sizemore said in response to a question about Dr. Ross’s assertions. Mr. Sizemore knew about Dr. Ross’s book but had not read it, he said, adding that, yes, his mother had participated in it.

“There is some truth there,” he said.