The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird and His Daughter's Quest to Know Him

By Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton

Author Archive

He Wanted The Moon Survives A Fire

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On a late August evening, my daughter’s Cape Cod bedroom was consumed by fire.  Fortunately the fire was contained to her room, there was no harm to humans or canines, but she lost all her belongings, or so we thought.  Many days after this incident my daughter and her husband were going through their room one more time in order to complete a list of lost items for the insurance company.  There nestled among the ashes was a copy of He Wanted the Moon.  The face of the book was turned upwards, the words Moon and Baird were clearly visible along with my father’s eye peering over the top of the cover.  It was almost as if my father was watching out for his granddaughter, assuring her that everything would be alright. 

The discovery of He Wanted The Moon in my daughter’s fire ravaged room is another example of survival, a theme that runs through our book.  My father endured multiple harsh treatments in mental hospitals but he wrote about them in his manuscript. Over the years the manuscript was somehow preserved against all odds, and I was able to discover it and have it published. Now his words have resisted a fire in his granddaughter’s room.  My father wanted to help break the silence regarding mental illness, thus reduce the stigma of this disease. His story was meant to be told.    

He Wanted The Moon book survives a fire

Mimi to Speak at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

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On June 16th, Mimi spoke at DHMC about He Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him. 

Book Club Appearances & Prompts

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Shelves of Books

For authors Mimi and Eve, it’s such a compliment when book clubs all over the country are reading and discussing He Wanted the Moon. Thankfully, they’ve been able to attend a few this past week! On Monday the 23rd, Eve was the guest at a 15-year-old book club based in Brooklyn, NY. On Tuesday, Mimi joined the Pi Phi Virtual Book Club over phone (the club has 760 members). Then on Wednesday the 25th, Mimi met with another long-standing book club, “Eight is Enough,” in Woodstock, VT.

Mimi has two more book club appearances scheduled in June:

Monday, June 13th; Woodstock, VT: “Sharp Readers”

Friday, June 24th; Gloucester, MA: Laney Makin

For those of you who are planning to read He Wanted the Moon in your book club, here are seven useful prompts:

  1. Dr. Baird’s manuscript opens in 1944 and yet his story, and the story of his manuscript, spans over a century (including his father’s breakdown in 1913 and the publication of He Wanted the Moon in 2015). Taking into consideration Dr. Baird’s descriptions of his experience being institutionalized, in what ways do you think the stigma of mental illness has and hasn’t changed over time?
  2. Consider the use of Dr. Baird’s manuscript interwoven with his daughter’s own pursuit of his story. How does this style affect the way you take in the story? How do you think the reading experience would differ if this were told exclusively in Mimi’s voice, or exclusively in her father’s voice?
  3. Early in the manuscript, Dr. Baird references Mimi Baird as a child. Later, Mimi reflects on seeing her own name in his story. If you were the author, how would you react to seeing yourself in print from an estranged parent’s point of view?
  4. Discuss Mimi’s mother, Gretta, and how she dealt with her grief. Do you feel compassion for her? Does your understanding of her change as you read about her from Dr. Baird’s point of view? From Mimi’s? Do you become more sympathetic toward her over the course of the book?
  5. Dr. Baird has moments of intense clarity and yet, in many ways, his illness makes him an unreliable narrator, which we see evidence of through medical reports. How do you think this propels his memoir forward? Did you find yourself calling into question his perspective? Did you trust what the doctors reported?
  6. Straightjackets are a common trope in depictions of individuals suffering from mental illness. On page thirty-one, Dr. Baird describes part of his ordeal in one: “I lay still for a while, trying to adjust myself to this new and most barbaric treatment. . . . Slowly and methodically I went from knot to knot, untying all kinds of knots, and soon I was almost free. Just as I was about to roll over and free myself entirely, three attendants entered and tied me down again, this time much more securely, leaving me little motion.” How does this first-­person description affect your view of how individuals with mental illnesses were treated during the 1940s and 1950s? Do you think straightjackets, and the other extreme treatments Dr. Baird went through, were a necessary evil or perhaps a damaging measure?
  7. A painful revelation for Mimi is that Dr. Baird himself believed his illness had a biochemical cause—something that researchers didn’t take into account until much later in the century. Moreover, if he had been born just a few years later, he would have benefitted from lithium treatments and Mimi might not have lost her father at such a young age. At the same time, his medical background affords him close relationships with colleagues who possessed an intimate knowledge of his illness. How do you think his stature as a doctor helped and/or hindered him?


Happy reading!

Film News for He Wanted the Moon

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Discover the latest announcements regarding the film adaptation of He Wanted the Moon

Since the He Wanted the Moon was published (in hardcopy last year and paperback in February), there’s been exciting news regarding its film adaptation. For those who have been following the book’s success, here’s a quick recap of the recent film news, including the latest details regarding a certain Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright:

Brad Pitt | He Wanted the Moon | Plan B

Brad Pitt/Photo © Joe Seer/Shutterstock

November 2015: Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B options the book! At the end of an interview with Vulture, Pitt reports, “It’s a gorgeous book, and especially about mental illness.”

February 2016: Only two days after the paperback version of the book is released on the 16th, Variety announces that Tony Kushner, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, is teaming up with Pitt to develop the “medical research drama.” The article also announces that the making of the film will be a “co-production with Cross Creek’s Brian Oliver and Tyler Thompson producing with Plan B,” and that both companies have officially “acquired movie rights to the memoir.”

Tony Kushner | He Wanted the MoonMarch 2016: Page Six’s Cindy Adams gets the details of how Tony Kushner was invited on board, as well as his creative process thus far. Kushner says Pitt “liked my writing, and we’ve talked of a few things. So he asked if I’d read this and would I consider adapting it. The tragic story moved me.”

After admitting his last screenplay for Steven Spielberg-directed Lincoln took a bit too long to research—seven years to be exact—Kushner says he “can’t do that again,” especially when his first draft is due in mid-May!

Additional Links:

  1. Signature Reads
  2. Deadline
  3. Playbill
  4. Hollywood Reporter
  5. Entertainment Weekly


Stay tuned for more news when you like the book on Facebook!

Brad Pitt to Adapt “He Wanted the Moon”

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This article originally appeared in Word & Film on December 11, 2015 by Kristin Fritz.

Brad Pitt Photo with He Wanted the Moon

Brad Pitt/Photo © Joe Seer/Shutterstock

Earlier this year, Mimi Baird published He Wanted the Moon, the true story of her father, Dr. Perry Baird, and her quest to get to know him fifty years following his death. That heartbreaking, enthralling story, compiled by Mimi from her memories, the stories of those around her, and a recovered manuscript written by Dr. Baird while he was institutionalized for depression, has been optioned for the big screen by Brad Pitt. Pitt said, “It’s a gorgeous story, and especially about mental illness.”

Dr. Baird, born in Texas and educated at Harvard, began his career ascent in the 1920s in the field of medicine. Over time, he grew more and more interested in the cause of manic depression. Remember, of course, that this was the 1920s and 1930s – an exciting and terrifying time in the world of medicine, and certainly not a time when depression was well researched or understood. Indeed, Dr. Baird was ahead of his time. And sadly, he was also a victim of the disease that so fascinated him.

As a child, Mimi Baird didn’t fully know her father. He was most often absent, in and out of institutions, and ultimately stripped of his medical license. Dr. Baird met his fate following a lobotomy. Fifty years later, Mimi set out to understand her father and to share his story and to bring to light his achievements.

Actor/director/producer Brad Pitt has in recent years attached himself to projects that help unearth incredible stories that haven’t received much fanfare. See: “12 Years a Slave” and “Moneyball,” for example. “He Wanted the Moon” will be an exceptional addition to his canon. We can’t wait to see it all unfold.

See the original article here.

Another trip to Countway

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A note from Mimi Baird on her second trip to the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine at Harvard Medical Library. (Her first trip occurred in the 1990s when the author was conducting research for the book).

The original manuscript of my father’s work is a tall stack of thin, onionskin pages covered in his slanted, penciled handwriting. It is at once heavy, sturdy, omnipotent—and yet so delicate and fragile, the pencil subject to smudge, the pages susceptible to tear. It is the piece of my father I treasure most.

Shortly after He Wanted the Moon was released on February 17, 2015, I told my two children that Harvard Medical Library’s Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine was where my father’s original work should reside. Not only did my father attend Harvard Medical School, but the Countway Library’s very mission is to inform contemporary medicine and society through their vast collection of rare books, manuscripts, and archival collections. It seemed a natural and perfect fit.

So when I received a letter from the acquisitions archivist at the Countway Library inquiring if I would consider donating my father’s manuscript, it was with great pleasure that I answered in the affirmative.

FullSizeRender_1On September 2, 2015, I, along with my son and grandson, arrived at Countway. The archivist who had contacted me, Carolyn Hayes, joined us, as did Kate Bradley, the woman who had transcribed the entire manuscript in January of 2013.

After taking photographs outside Countway, we entered the massive and august building. Surrounding us were paintings, portraits, and a multitude of significant images and exhibits associated with the world of medicine. Starting down the long corridor leading to the Center for the History of Medicine’s offices, I noticed two large portraits on either side. The one on the left was Paul Dudley White, the famous cardiologist who treated President Dwight D. Eisenhower. When my mother remarried, we moved into Dr. White’s former home. His library was my bedroom and is described in He Wanted the Moon when I last saw my father.

Seeing Dr. White’s image was awfully exciting, but then as the others walked ahead, I checked out the portrait on the right: J. Howard Means, my father’s mentor. I have two huge folders of correspondence between Dr. Means and my father that I obtained from Countway years ago. I never knew what he looked like. I was stunned. What a kind and benevolent man he was—the ideal doctor. One of the most gripping scenes in the book is when he and my mother visit my father at Westborough in the winter of 1944. In gazing at Dr. Means’ portrait, it seemed to me that he had been waiting for us to arrive.

We proceeded along the corridor, through a maze of offices and a research area, and finally entered an impressive board room. The walls were lined on two sides by locked cases that contained books which had been produced before the Guttenberg Bible, the advent of the type set. We settled at the long wooden table and opened the box containing my father’s work.

Kate had never seen my father’s original writings. At the time she transcribed his work, these many pieces of paper were lodged in a large safe deposit box at my bank in Woodstock, and she had worked from my son’s Xeroxed copy. She took out the papers and put them into three piles. On the top of one group was a page showing an example of his handwriting in saner times, while the second pile’s top paper showed his manic, angry side. The piece on the top of the third group was a page that showed the following phrase: “Somehow I cling to a feeling of confidence in the belief that my own personal destiny has some strange meaning beyond that which I can see in the past or predict for the future.” We all agreed there was a presence in this room.

After discussing the care and use of my father’s manuscript in the years to come, I signed a document indicating the work was being left at Countway. This simple swipe of a pen means these papers will be safe forever. Carolyn stated that whenever we need to see the document again, all we need to do is just let them know when we are coming.

Carolyn also indicated that the library would like to have all my research work. In other words, there will be a Perry C. Baird, Jr., MD and Mimi Baird Collection at Countway.

After saying our good‐byes and leaving the building, a wave of emotion swept over me. My father’s wish had come true. Always the teacher, he wanted to defray the stigma of mental illness through education. His work will be researched for many years to come and will, in the process, help bring mental illness out of the dark and into the light.

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