01/14/2008 02:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Britney Spears and Frances Farmer

I never imagined I would write about Britney Spears, but while waiting in the checkout at the grocery yesterday, I noticed a group of women circling their leader who was holding a magazine. What is all the commotion about, I asked. They recognized me and immediately began a diatribe of assaults on the little girl in the picture. I looked over their shoulders. It was Britney Spears. She was in a hospital bed-- arms shackled so she could not hurt herself after a suicide attempt. I immediately lost my appetite.

"Oh you've got to be kidding me -- that brat -- she's addicted to attention," the queen bee in the tennis outfit said. "She's got brown hair now -- that looks nice," another one said. "Only she would wear black lace in a hospital room," another lady spewed and shook her head. They all looked like mothers themselves as they hovered around the magazine. I looked at the wild, bewildered and drugged face of the girl in the bed. "Why would she continue to act like this? She's just an idiot," they said. Their lack of compassion for a girl most likely their daughter's age was sobering.

My first thought was shame on the paparazzi who took the picture. Perhaps someone from her own family took it. After all, when admitted to the hospital, Britney's mother says she called Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil? That's a family that is either clueless or wants more attention. Whoever took the picture, and those who published it, should be thrown in jail.

Actress Frances Farmer came to my mind as I was driving home. She was a famous actress in the '30s and '40s and she was haunted by how cruel the tabloid press could be. She was an easy target. Like Britney, Francis Farmer was drawn to alcohol and drugs and therefore prone to mental illness and self destruction. Farmer had a mother who used her and betrayed her according to her sister's biography. Farmer was in and out of mental institutions her whole life. The tabloid-Hollywood-press loved her tirades and pictures of her often alcohol induced inappropriate behavior garnered top dollar.

What kind of people use the personal carnage of another for entertainment without a thimble full of sympathy? We have devolved into a strange fruit indeed. During one famous episode when Frances Farmer was taken away in hand cuffs, she yelled at the police, "Haven't you ever had a broken heart?" Clearly some part of Britney's heart is broken.

Julia Roberts was recently quoted as saying she knows what it's like to be hounded by paparazzi. Regarding Britney she said, "I just want to hug her." Apparently Britney threw Dr. Phil out of the hospital room 10 minutes after his arrival. So Julia and anyone else with a heart that Britney might listen to, now is the time for the hugs.