I Want To Live!

I’m currently working on a series of posts about the murder of Mabel Monohan in Burbank in 1953. Ultimately three people: Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo, and Barbara Graham would be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for slaying the 64 year old widow.

iwanttolive_sweThe film, I Want to Live! (1958), was adapted from letters written by Barbara Graham and newspaper articles written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Montgomery.

The film tells the story of the life and execution of Barbara Graham (Susan Hayward) a prostitute and convicted perjurer. Graham is the product of a broken home, and works luring men into fixed card games.

At one point, she attempts to go straight but marries the “wrong man,” and has a child. He is a drug addict and she ends their relationship.

When her life falls apart, she returns to her former professions and becomes involved with a man who had murdered a woman. The police arrest them, and her, and her companions accuse her of the murder to reduce their own chances of going to the gas chamber. She claims her innocence, but is convicted and executed.

A prologue and epilogue contributed to the film by Montgomery characterize the film’s content — which largely portrays Graham as innocent of the murder — as factual. But there was substantial evidence of Graham’s complicity in the crime.

Hollywood writer Robert Osborne, who later became the host of Turner Classic Movies, interviewed Susan Hayward and asked whether or not she believed Barbara Graham had been innocent. According to Osborne, the actress seemed hesitant to answer at first, but ultimately admitted that her research on the evidence and letters in the case led her to believe that the woman she played in the movie was probably guilty.

iwanttolive_foreign

The film is a powerful indictment of the death penalty, but is only partly factual, not entirely as Montgomery’s statements would lead you to believe.

While I’m busy writing the story of Mabel Monohan’s murder I encourage you to see the film, I Want to Live!, it is worth viewing — but it is absolutely not a documentary.

 

NOTE: I took most of the description of the film from Wikipedia.

12 thoughts on “I Want To Live!

  1. Let’s see, I was 10 in 1958 and I remember seeing that movie so well. I was so upset that Susan Hayward died in the gas chamber. That was the only time I saw the movie, but I can still remember how the jailer said to count to 3 after you hear the drop and then take a deep breath.

    • Dolores – it’s a powerful film, and a compelling indictment of the death penalty. She was told to take a deep breath because it would go easier for her, but I believe in real life she said “how the hell would you know”. It’s a fascinating case. I’m planning to get the first post up tomorrow. Thank you for reading the blog! –Joan

    • I was surprised by that too. Although if Hayward read most of the same material that I have, I understand why she’d feel that way. I believe that Graham was guilty too.

    • They sure did, in Chester. Santo and Perkins received the death penalty for those slayings too — they were going to die in the gas chamber with or
      without the Monahan case. They were a couple of genuine dirt bags. Best –Joan

  2. I personally know the son, sister and nephew of Emitt Perkins . It has been difficult for the family knowing that their family caused so much heart ache. After all these years it still haunts them. The nephew told his wife about his uncle and she said “I think I want a divorce”.

    • In these kinds of cases it is tragic for everyone. My heart goes out to Perkins family — they should be recognized for what they’ve made of themselves, and not tarnished by what Emmett did. He alone was responsible for his actions, and he paid for them. Best — Joan

  3. I HAVE THIS MOVIE AND WATCHED IT 50 TIMES, I AM 65. TODAY SHE WOULD HAVE PROBABLY BEEN CHARGED AS AN ACCESSORY OR NEVER DEATH, POSSIBLE MANSLAUGHTER., MAYBE 25 TO LIFE. THE COURTS WERE DIFFERENT AND SO WERE THE LAWYERS IN THOSE DAYS. TODAY WE HAVE INVESTIGATIONS AND LOOP HOLES. I 5THINK THE MEN SHOULD HAVE DIED FIRST, THEY JUST DIDN’T LIKE HER AND I THINK THEY MADE HER MORE INVOLVED THEN SHE WAS, THEY WRE NEVER GOING TO TELL THE TRUTH, IT IS A PRICE SHE PAID AND MADE.
    NO EXCUSES!

    • Madelyn – I agree with you that today Graham would not have received the death penalty. Perkins and Santo were killers without a conscience, but Graham made the choice to participate that night and, as you said, no excuses. Thank you for reading the blog and for your comments. Best — Joan

  4. I read about the murders Santo and Perkins committed in Northern California, they killed a young father and 3 small children. One of the children survived somehow and actually went on to grow up and have a normal life. But how traumatic that must have been for her unless she was too young to realize what was happening. I think Graham was guilty of the murder too. But Santo and Perkins would have gotten the death penalty anyway for killing those children. Just cold blooded murderers. I wonder what happened to Graham’s kids, hope they never found out they were related to her.

    • Santo and Perkins were truly evil and they were destined to end up in the gas chamber. I don’t know what happened to Graham’s
      kids. The newspapers focused on her son Tommy. I believe she had two other kids who she abandoned–they lived with their father(s). She was a piece of work.
      Thank you for your comments and thank you for reading the blog–I genuinely appreciate your support. Best — Joan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>