“There are sixteen of us They’re all very neurotic, everyone but me. At least I don’t think I am, but in this chaotic age one never knows.”
- Sybil speaking as Vicky


Sybil TV Movie
Tammy Blanchard (left) and Jessica Lange (right) in “Sybil.”


(In a new session with Doctor Wilbur, a red-eyed Sybil opens her eyes and looks around. She’s in Doctor Wilbur’s office. The charcoal sketch signed Peggy Lou Baldwin is pinned to the wall. The Doctor sits poised, as if waiting for Sybil to continue to speak. She hesitates, then:)

SYBIL (AS SYBIL): He – he doesn’t want to see me anymore. I know it’s my fault but still it hurts.

DOCTOR WILBUR: What are you talking about, Sybil?

SYBIL (AS SYBIL): Stan. He let me down in as nice a way as possible. He’s such a wonderful man –

DOCTOR WILBUR: You’ve completely changed the subject from what we were talking about a moment ago. Are you aware of that?

(Sybil’s lost, completely confused. Trying to avoid the doctor’s question, she digs in her purse -)

SYBIL (AS SYBIL): He – he left me this letter and –

(- and pulls out the letter, now taped together. But she freezes – someone has scribbled all over the letter in black magic marker the word “Stupid.”)



SYBIL (AS SYBIL): It’s done it again. Time runs away. It doesn’t do that to everybody, does it?

DOCTOR WILBUR: What do you mean “runs away?” What just happened?

SYBIL (AS SYBIL): I don’t know. I don’t know what happened. I’m here and then I’m not and then I’m here again and everything is different. Things are different and people are different and –

(Suddenly Sybil rises in a fury, rips up the letter, and tosses it in the waste basket. She now stands very still, clenching her fists and face in anger. She seems to have shrunk in her clothes, acting all of a sudden like a little girl mid-tantrum.)

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): You jist can’t trust ’em. You can’t, you really can’t. You really really really really –

(Then she turns and heads for the Doctor’s windows, pounding on the glass and screaming.)

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): Let me out! I want out!

(The Doctor rises and moves quickly toward her – )


(- but before she can get there Sybil has smashed her fists through the pane of glass. Doctor Wilbur grabs her forearms, then gently pulls her hands back through the broken window, avoiding the broken glass.)

DOCTOR WILBUR: Careful, careful. Let me see your hands.

(The Doctor examines Sybil’s hands – luckily, there’s no cut – while Sybil watches her wide-eyed.)

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): What about the window? You don’t care about the window?

DOCTOR WILBUR: Of course not. Windows can be fixed a lot more easily than people.

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): There’s blood.

DOCTOR WILBUR: No blood. You didn’t cut yourself.

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): In Grandma’s bed. Just before she died. And in the hayloft. When Tommy Ewald was killed. He fell on the fork he was dead I stayed with him til the doctor came because I didn’t want to leave him lyin’ there like I did my Grandma she was bleeding I called for help they took me away and wouldn’t let me see her she was dead oh dear God Grandma Grandma don’t leave me!

(Doctor Wilbur is very concerned, sympathetic. She’s not sure what’s going on, but she’s playing along anyway. After a long beat, she speaks.)

DOCTOR WILBUR: Go on, Sybil. Tell me about your Grandma. What did you feel (when you were with her?)

SYBIL (AS PEGGY, accusing): What do you care? You don’t care how I feel.

DOCTOR WILBUR: Yes I do. I care very much.

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): You’re jist tryin’ to trick me. Lots of people trick me, just like they trick Sybil. (a quick correction:) Me. Like they trick me.

(The Doctor studies her patient. Something’s wrong, different.)

DOCTOR WILBUR: Who are you?


DOCTOR WILBUR: No. No you’re not.

(Sybil stares back. Another beat. Should she tell the truth?)

SYBIL (AS PEGGY): You can tell the difference?

DOCTOR WILBUR: You bet. What’s your name?

(A beat. From now on we will refer by name to the personality who is present.)

PEGGY: Peggy. Peggy Lou Baldwin. We don’t look alike, me and her, but most people can’t tell.

DOCTOR WILBUR (nodding to the sketch): Is that yours, Peggy?

PEGGY: Uh-huh. I like to draw in black and white cause I don’t paint as good as her.

DOCTOR WILBUR: Oh, I think it’s very good. Tell me something – if you and Sybil don’t look alike, are you still related? Do you have the same mother and –

PEGGY: No, no, she’s not my mother! Don’t say that!

DOCTOR WILBUR: Okay, I’m sorry. I just wanted to know. Can you let me talk to Sybil? Do you control that?

(Peggy takes a breath and for a moment seems to grow larger. Then she looks around, blinking, like someone waking up – and we realize it is now Sybil who is present, taking in the room and broken window.)

SYBIL: What happened? Did I do that? I’ll pay for it, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

(Doctor Wilbur is almost too astonished for words.)

DOCTOR WILBUR: No, that’s all right, Sybil. Have you broken glass before?

SYBIL (near tears): I do it all the time. But I don’t remember how or why –

DOCTOR WILBUR: You blacked out. It’s what we call a fugue. How long has this been going on?

SYBIL: For as long as I can remember. Oh god – you know. Now everyone will know.

(Sybil is becoming more and more upset, edging toward hysteria as her wall of defense finally crumbles.)

DOCTOR WILBUR: Don’t worry, I won’t tell. When do the blackouts happen? Are you aware of a pattern that –

SYBIL: No, no, what’s wrong, what’s wrong with me?

DOCTOR WILBUR: I don’t know, Sybil, but you and I are going to (figure this out together.)

SYBIL (fearful): You won’t hypnotize me, will you? You won’t use drugs or put me in a hospital?

DOCTOR WILBUR: No, no, of course not. I need you conscious and (alert to -)

SYBIL: I don’t want to go to a hospital.

DOCTOR WILBUR: You won’t – I promise. We’re gonna meet three times a week, more if we have to. Don’t worry about money, we’ll work that (out later -)

(Sybil holds herself close and starts rocking backwards and forwards like a traumatized child.)

SYBIL: Oh god, oh dear god, I’m losing my mind –

(Doctor Wilbur grabs her arms, stopping the rocking, speaking simply and directly:)

DOCTOR WILBUR: No. You’re not. Listen to me. You’re not losing your mind. This is a beginning. We’ve begun.

(Sybil meets the Doctor’s gaze. For the first time, tears spill from Sybil’s eyes and run down her cheeks.)

The Story

Sybil Dorset comes to Doctor Connie Wilbur with a problem, and Doctor Wilbur soon learns that there are fifteen other Sybil Dorsets she has to deal with.

The Backstory

In this new adaptation of Sybil, I tried to follow the book more closely than did the original (and still wonderful) miniseries made in the mid-70’s with Joanne Woodward and Sally Fields. We were limited to a two-hour format (translation: 89 minutes) but in that time-frame I also wanted to visit many more of the personalities than were visited in the first film. (Sybil had 16 personalities; the miniseries showed us about four; in this shorter version we meet eight.) The development process was long and slow – CBS, a year before I was brought on the project, asked producer Norman Stephens to track down the book rights. (Since the original adaptation, the author, Flora Rheta Schreiber, had died and left the rights to the children of the subject of another book she wrote.) Once I had written the script, CBS more or less sat on it for a while. It wasn’t until the very last minute that a finance deal was swung, allowing the movie to be made. (This was after the cast and director had been hired.) Joe Sargent, who directed my first TV film Choices of the Heart, directed this, and the final film turned out quite nicely. CBS, however, buried it as best they could.