Three movie stars who played distressed farm wives offered sometimes tearful testimony to congressional Democrats today about the emotional toll being exacted by America's agriculture crisis.
"It is heartbreaking to witness their anguish as they watch their lives being stripped away," Jessica Lange, who starred in the film "Country," said through tears as she spoke to a dozen Democratic congressmen on the party's House farm task force.
Lange was joined by Sissy Spacek, who produced and starred in "The River," and Jane Fonda, who developed and played the title role in the television film "The Dollmaker." Both films were about stresses facing farm families.
While Rep. Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), the panel chairman, said "our purpose is not political," the event had partisan overtones: No Republican members were invited, it was sponsored by the party's House fund-raising apparatus and Daschle is frequently mentioned as a promising Democratic Senate candidate in 1986.
Feeling of Failure
Lange said she had spent "countless hours" in recent years talking with farmers about the effects of crushing debt, low crop prices and plummeting land values that have brought the worst farm financial crisis in decades.
"They are being made to feel and made to believe they have failed," she told the group. "Failed their families, their heritage, their country and they have failed their land."
Fonda accused President Reagan of practicing "a double standard" that offers more in subsidies to defense contractors than to farmers and better breaks to those who invest in farming as a tax shelter than to those for whom it is their livelihood.
"The reason we are here is to underscore the gravity of the crisis that is leading to the bankruptcy, humiliation and banishment of farmers from their lands at a rate not seen since my father made 'The Grapes of Wrath,' " she said, a reference to the film about the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.
"As actresses whose work is to identify with what is most human, we cannot confine ourselves to the screen while the cruel and unusual punishment of farmers grinds on," Fonda said.
Spacek, who lives on a farm near Charlottesville, Va., said she feared that "our largest and most vital industry is disintegrating. It is not the marginal producers, speculators or bad managers that are being squeezed out, but the solid core of our agriculture which is threatened."
A Republican member of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Pat Roberts of Kansas, dismissed the event as not helping in the difficult task before Congress of writing new long-term farm legislation to replace the law that expires Sept. 30.
"I don't have time, as much as I would like to, to play 'Hollywood Squares,' " Roberts told a reporter.