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January 29, 2016


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I'm a screenwriter researching a script about Emperor Norton. It would be easy to tell his tale as a grand pageant of colorful San Francisco characters, but I would really rather make it as small a story as I can. I would like to tell the story from his point of view, as much as possible, and I hope to speak to the audience from within his madness.

By googling "Emperor Norton psychology" yours was the first site returned. As a practicing psychologist, would you care to venture into the details of his personality and mental conditions? The more details I collect the greater a chance I have of populating the world with believability. Norton was reported sane and lucid, except in the matter of his emperor's rank. Does this correlate to a condition more clinically descriptive than "delusions of grandeur?"

In reading William Drury's biography, "Emperor Norton," I saw the author expend a tremendous amount of energy discounting rumors that Bummer and Lazarus were Norton's dogs. His greatest evidence was a speech Norton gave after the fact where he denounced dogs as beneath him. The author tells us this proves Norton couldn't have had the dogs. What I would like to know is if delusionals are so consistent. There are so many different myths and legends and embellishments around so many of the Emperor's deeds that I can understand the author's desire to prune back all the brush, but would someone with Norton's syptoms be so easily understood at a distance?

Any thoughts or projections you would care to share would be greatly appreciated. I know that once I can hear his voice in my head I'll be able to bring this world to life.



Romeo  Vitelli

Unfortunately, there's not enough real information on Joseph Norton to make a proper diagnosis at this time. Whatever his mental state was, he was stable over time with no change in his presentation or insistence on using his title. He certainly knew how to work a crowd and not to push his luck which suggests that he was far more alert than he seemed. It may be that he was just a borderline psychotic who found that playing a madman was an effective strategy for coping with the world.

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