Joan Crawford

This article is about the actress. For the basketball player, see Joan Crawford (basketball). For the song by Blue Öyster Cult, see Joan Crawford (song).
Joan Crawford

in 1936 photo by George Hurrell
Born Lucille Fay LeSueur
March 23; the year is disputed (ƒ 1903–1908)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Died May 10, 1977
New York City, New York, U.S.
Resting place Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York, U.S.
Occupation Actress
Years active 1925–1972
Children 4, including Christina Crawford
Parent(s) Thomas E. LeSueur
Anna Bell Johnson
Relatives Hal LeSueur (brother)

Joan Crawford (born Lucille Fay LeSueur; March 23, c. 1904[Note 1] – May 10, 1977) was an American film and television actress who began her career as a dancer and stage showgirl. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Crawford tenth on their list of the greatest female stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.

Beginning her career as a dancer in traveling theatrical companies, before debuting as a chorus girl on Broadway, Crawford signed a motion picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925. In the 1930s, Crawford's fame rivaled, and later outlasted, MGM colleagues Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo. Crawford often played hard-working young women who find romance and success. These stories were well received by Depression-era audiences and were popular with women. Crawford became one of Hollywood's most prominent movie stars and one of the highest paid women in the United States, but her films began losing money, and, by the end of the 1930s, she was labelled "Box Office Poison". But her career gradually improved in the early 1940s, and she made a major comeback in 1945 by starring in Mildred Pierce, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She would go on to receive Best Actress nominations for Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952).

In 1955, she became involved with the Pepsi-Cola Company through her marriage to company Chairman Alfred Steele. After his death in 1959, Crawford was elected to fill his vacancy on the board of directors but was forcibly retired in 1973. She continued acting in film and television regularly through the 1960s, when her performances became fewer; after the release of the British horror film Trog in 1970, Crawford retired from the screen. Following a public appearance in 1974, after which unflattering photographs were published, Crawford withdrew from public life and became increasingly reclusive until her death in 1977.

Crawford married four times. Her first three marriages ended in divorce; the last ended with the death of husband Alfred Steele. She adopted five children, one of whom was reclaimed by his birth mother. Crawford's relationships with her two older children, Christina and Christopher, were acrimonious. Crawford disinherited the two, and, after Crawford's death, Christina wrote a "tell-all" memoir titled, Mommie Dearest.

Early life

Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, on March 23; the year is disputed, with 1904, 1905, and 1906 the most likely estimates, all cited in varying sources,[Note 2] the third child of Thomas E. LeSueur (died January 1, 1938), a laundry laborer, and Anna Bell Johnson (died August 15, 1958), neither of whose years of birth can be conclusively established. Anna Bell Johnson was of English, French Huguenot, Swedish, and Irish ancestry.[9] Her elder siblings were Daisy LeSueur (ƒ 1902), who apparently died before Lucille's birth, and Hal LeSueur (born either 1901 or 1903).

Thomas LeSueur abandoned the family a few months before Crawford's birth but reappeared in Abilene, Texas, in 1930 as a reportedly 62-year-old construction laborer. However, after his death on January 1, 1938, his age was given as 71. Crawford's mother subsequently married Henry J. Cassin (died October 25, 1922). This marriage is listed in census records as Crawford's mother's first marriage, calling into question whether Thomas LeSueur and Anna Bell Johnson were ever legally wed.[10]

The family lived in Lawton, Oklahoma, where Cassin, a minor impresario, ran the Ramsey Opera House. Despite his own relatively minor status as an impresario, Cassin managed to get such diverse and noted performers as Anna Pavlova and Eva Tanguay during his career. Young Lucille was reportedly unaware that Cassin, whom she called "Daddy", was not her biological father until her brother Hal told her.[11] Lucille preferred the nickname "Billie" as a child and she loved watching vaudeville acts perform on the stage of her stepfather's theatre. The instability of her family life affected her education and her schooling never formally progressed beyond elementary school.[12]

Her ambition was to be a dancer. However, one day, in an attempt to escape piano lessons to play with friends, she leapt from the front porch of her home and cut her foot deeply on a broken milk bottle.[13] She had three operations and was unable to attend elementary school for 18 months.[13] She eventually fully recovered and returned to dancing.

Cassin was accused of embezzlement and although acquitted in court, was blacklisted in Lawton, and the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri, around 1916.[10] Cassin was first listed in the City Directory in 1917, living at 403 East Ninth Street. A Catholic, Cassin placed Crawford at St. Agnes Academy in Kansas City. After her mother and stepfather broke up, she stayed on at St. Agnes as a work student, where she spent far more time working, primarily cooking and cleaning, than studying.[14]

Later, she went to Rockingham Academy, also as a work student.[14] While attending Rockingham she began dating and had her first serious relationship, with a trumpet player named Ray Sterling, who reportedly inspired her to begin challenging herself academically.[15]

In 1922, she registered at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, giving her year of birth as 1906.[16] She attended Stephens for only a few months before withdrawing after she realized she was not prepared for college.[17]


Early career

Upper body studio shot of a young Crawford in a sleeveless dress, with accented eye make-up, coiffed hair. She is staring into the camera.
Joan Crawford in 1928

Under the name Lucille LeSueur, Crawford began dancing in the choruses of traveling revues and was spotted dancing in Detroit by producer Jacob J. Shubert.[12][18] Shubert put her in the chorus line for his 1924 show, Innocent Eyes, at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway in New York City. While appearing in Innocent Eyes Crawford met a saxophone player named James Welton. The two were allegedly married in 1924 and lived together for several months, although this supposed marriage was never mentioned in later life by Crawford.[19]

Crawford wanted additional work and approached Loews Theaters publicist Nils Granlund. Granlund secured a position for her with producer Harry Richmond's act and arranged for her to do a screen test which he sent to producer Harry Rapf in Hollywood.[20] (Stories have persisted that Crawford further supplemented her income by appearing in one or more stag, or soft-core pornographic, films,[19] although this has been disputed.[21])

Rapf notified Granlund on December 24, 1924 that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (or MGM for short) had offered Crawford a contract at $75 a week. Granlund immediately wired LeSueur – who had returned to her mother's home in Kansas City – with the news; she borrowed $400 for travel expenses.[22] She departed Kansas City on December 26 and arrived in Culver City, California on January 1, 1925.

Credited as Lucille LeSueur, her first film was Lady of the Night in 1925, as the body double for MGM's most-popular female star, Norma Shearer. She also appeared in The Circle and Pretty Ladies (both 1925), starring comedian ZaSu Pitts. This was soon followed by equally small and unbilled roles in two other 1925 successes, The Only Thing and The Merry Widow.

MGM publicity head Pete Smith recognized her ability to become a major star, but felt her name sounded fake; he told studio head Louis B. Mayer that her last name—LeSueur—reminded him of a sewer. Smith organized a contest called "Name the Star" in Movie Weekly to allow readers to select her new stage name. The initial choice was "Joan Arden" but, after another actress was found to have prior claim to that name, the alternate surname "Crawford" became the choice. Crawford later said that she wanted her first name to be pronounced "Jo-Anne", and that she hated the name Crawford because it sounded like "craw fish", but also admitted she "liked the security" that went with the name.[23]

Self-promotion and early successes

Growing increasingly frustrated over the size and quality of the parts she was given, Crawford embarked on a campaign of self-promotion. As MGM screenwriter Frederica Sagor Maas recalled, "No one decided to make Joan Crawford a star. Joan Crawford became a star because Joan Crawford decided to become a star."[24] She began attending dances in the afternoons and evenings at hotels around Hollywood, where she often won dance competitions with her performances of the Charleston and the Black Bottom.[25]

With John Gilbert in a 1928 film, Four Walls

Her strategy worked, and MGM cast her in the film where she first made an impression on audiences, Edmund Goulding's Sally, Irene and Mary (1925). From the beginning of her career, Crawford considered Norma Shearer—the studio's most-popular actress—her professional nemesis. Since Shearer was married to MGM Head of Production Irving Thalberg, she had the first choice of scripts and had more control than other stars in what films she would and would not make. Crawford was quoted to have said, "How can I compete with Norma? She sleeps with the boss!"

In 1926, Crawford was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars along with Mary Astor, Dolores del Río, Janet Gaynor, and Fay Wray among others. That same year, she starred in Paris, co-starring Charles Ray. Within a few years, she became the romantic female lead to many of MGM's top male stars, including Ramón Novarro, John Gilbert, William Haines, and Tim McCoy.

Crawford appeared in The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney, Sr. who played a carnival knife thrower with no arms. Crawford played his skimpily-clad young carnival assistant whom he hopes to marry. She stated that she learned more about acting from watching Chaney work than from anyone else in her career. "It was then," she said, "I became aware for the first time of the difference between standing in front of a camera, and acting." Also in 1927, she appeared alongside her close friend, William Haines, in Spring Fever, which was the first of three movies the duo made together.[26][27]

In 1928, Crawford starred opposite Ramón Novarro in Across to Singapore, but it was her role as Diana Medford in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) that catapulted her to stardom. The role established her as a symbol of modern 1920s-style femininity which rivaled Clara Bow, the original It girl, then Hollywood's foremost flapper. A stream of hits followed Our Dancing Daughters, including two more flapper-themed movies, in which Crawford embodied for her legion of fans (many of whom were women) an idealized vision of the free-spirited, all-American girl.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of Crawford:[28]

Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of the flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living.

On June 3, 1929, Crawford married Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. at Saint Malachy's Roman Catholic Church (known as "The Actors' Chapel" due to its proximity to Broadway theatres) in Manhattan, although neither was Catholic.[29] Fairbanks was the son of Douglas Fairbanks and the stepson of Mary Pickford, who were considered Hollywood royalty. Fairbanks Sr. and Pickford were opposed to the marriage and did not invite the couple to their home, Pickfair, for eight months after the marriage.

The relationship between Crawford and Fairbanks, Sr. eventually warmed; she called him "Uncle Doug" and he called her "Billie", her old childhood nickname.[30] Following that first invitation, Crawford and Fairbanks, Jr. became more frequent guests, which was hard on Crawford. While the Fairbanks men played golf together, Crawford was left either with Pickford or alone.[31]

To rid herself of her Southwestern accent, Crawford tirelessly practiced diction and elocution. She said:[32]

If I were to speak lines, it would be a good idea, I thought, to read aloud to myself, listen carefully to my voice quality and enunciation, and try to learn in that manner. I would lock myself in my room and read newspapers, magazines and books aloud. At my elbow I kept a dictionary. When I came to a word I did not know how to pronounce, I looked it up and repeated it correctly fifteen times.

Transition to sound and continued success

Crawford in 1932

After the release of The Jazz Singer in 1927—the first major Hollywood movie with synchronized sound—sound films, or talkies as they became nicknamed, were all the rage. The transition from silent to sound panicked many—if not all—involved with the film industry; many silent film stars found themselves unemployable because of their undesirable voices and hard-to-understand accents or simply because of their refusal to make the transition to talkies. Many studios and stars avoided making the transition as long as possible, especially MGM, which was the last studio to switch over to sound. The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) was one of the studio's first all-sound films, and their first attempt to showcase their stars' ability to make the transition from silent to sound. Crawford was among the dozen or more MGM stars included in the movie; she sang the song "Got a Feeling for You" during the film's first act.

Crawford made a successful transition to talkies. Her first starring role in an all-sound feature-length film was in Untamed in 1929, co-starring Robert Montgomery. Despite the success of the film at the box office, it received mixed reviews from critics, who noted that while Crawford seemed nervous at making the transition to sound, also noted that she had become one of the most popular actresses in the world.[33]

Montana Moon (1930), an uneasy mix of Western clichés and music, teamed her with John Mack Brown and Ricardo Cortez. Although the film had problems with censors, it was a major success at the time of its release. Our Blushing Brides (1930), co-starring Robert Montgomery and Anita Page, was the final installment in the so-called Our Dancing Daughters franchise. It was a greater successboth critically and financiallythan her previous talkies, and became one of her personal favorites.

Her next movie, Paid (1930), paired her with Robert Armstrong and was another success. During the early sound era, MGM began to place Crawford in more sophisticated roles, rather than continuing to promote her flapper-inspired persona of the silent era.[34]

In 1931, MGM cast Crawford in five films. Three of them teamed her opposite the studio's biggest male star and King of Hollywood, Clark Gable. Dance, Fools, Dance, released in February 1931, was the first pairing of Crawford and Gable. Their second movie together, Laughing Sinners, released in May 1931, was directed by Harry Beaumont and also co-starred Neil Hamilton. Possessed, their third film together, released in October, was directed by Clarence Brown.

These films were immensely popular with audiences, and were generally well received by critics, stapling Crawford's position as one of MGM's top female stars of the decade, along with Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, and Jean Harlow. Her only other notable film of 1931, This Modern Age, was released in August, and despite unfavorable reviews, was a moderate success.

With Wallace Beery in Grand Hotel (1932)

MGM next cast her in the film Grand Hotel, directed by Edmund Goulding. As the studio's first all-star production, Crawford co-starred opposite Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore, and Wallace Beery among others. Receiving third billing, she played the middle-class stenographer to Beery's controlling general director. Crawford later admitted to being nervous during the filming of the movie because she was working with "very big stars", and that she was disappointed that she had no scenes with the "divine Garbo". Grand Hotel was released in April 1932 to critical and commercial success. It was the highest-grossing movie of the year, and won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

Crawford achieved continued success in Letty Lynton (1932). Soon after this movie's release, a plagiarism suit forced MGM to withdraw it. For many years it was never shown on television nor made available on home video and is therefore considered the "lost" Crawford film. The gown with large ruffled sleeves, designed by Adrian, which Crawford wore in the movie, became a popular style that same year, and was even copied by Macy's.

On a loan out to United Artists, she played prostitute Sadie Thompson in Rain (1932), a film version of John Colton's 1923 play. Actress Jeanne Eagels played the role on stage and Gloria Swanson had originated the part on screen in the 1928 film version. Crawford's performance was panned and the film was not a success.

Despite the failure of Rain, in 1932 the publishing of the first "Top Ten Money Making Stars Poll" placed Crawford third in popularity at the box office, behind only Marie Dressler and Janet Gaynor. She remained on the list for the next several years, last appearing on it in 1936.

In May 1933, Crawford divorced Fairbanks. Crawford cited "grievous mental cruelty", claiming Fairbanks had "a jealous and suspicious attitude" toward her friends and that they had "loud arguments about the most trivial subjects" lasting "far into the night".[35]

Following her divorce, she was again teamed with Clark Gable, along with Franchot Tone and Fred Astaire, in the hit Dancing Lady (1933), in which she received top billing. She next played the title role in Sadie McKee (1934) opposite Tone and Gene Raymond. She was paired with Gable for the fifth time in Chained (1934) and for the sixth time in Forsaking All Others (1934). Crawford's films of this era were some of the most-popular and highest-grossing films of the mid-1930s.

In 1935, Crawford married Franchot Tone, a stage actor from New York who planned to use his film earnings to finance his theatre group. The couple built a small theatre at Crawford's Brentwood home and put on productions of classic plays for select groups of friends.[36] Tone and Crawford had first appeared together in Today We Live (1933) but Crawford was hesitant about entering into another romance so soon after her split from Fairbanks.[37]

Before and during their marriage, Crawford worked to promote Tone's Hollywood career, but Tone was ultimately not interested in being a movie star and Crawford eventually wearied of the effort.[38] After Tone reportedly began drinking and becoming physically abusive, she filed for divorce, which was granted in 1939.[39] Crawford and Tone much later rekindled their friendship and Tone even proposed in 1964 that they remarry. When he died in 1968, Crawford arranged for him to be cremated and his ashes scattered at Muskoka Lakes, Canada.[40]

Crawford continued her reign as a popular movie actress well into the mid-1930s. No More Ladies (1935) co-starred Robert Montgomery and then-husband Franchot Tone, and was a success. Crawford had long pleaded with MGM's head Louis B. Mayer to cast her in more dramatic roles, and although he was reluctant, he cast her in the sophisticated comedy-drama I Live My Life (1935), directed by W.S. Van Dyke. It was well received by critics and made a larger profit than the studio had expected.

She next starred in The Gorgeous Hussy (1936), opposite Robert Taylor and Lionel Barrymore as well as Tone, a critical and box office success, become one of Crawford's biggest hits of the decade. Love on the Run (1936), a romantic comedy directed by W.S. Van Dyke, was her seventh film co-starring Clark Gable. It was, at the time of its release, called "a lot of happy nonsense" by critics, but a financial success nonetheless.

Box Office Poison

Even though Crawford remained a respected MGM actress and her films still earned profits, her popularity declined in the late 1930s. In 1937, Crawford was proclaimed the first "Queen of the Movies" by Life magazine. She unexpectedly slipped from seventh to sixteenth place at the box office that year, and her public popularity also began to wane.[41] Richard Boleslawski's comedy-drama The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937) teamed her opposite William Powell in their sole screen pairing. The film was also Crawford's last box-office success before the onset of her "Box-Office Poison" period.

She co-starred opposite Franchot Tone for the seventh and final time in The Bride Wore Red (1937). The film was generally unfavorably reviewed by the majority of critics, with one critic calling it the "same ole rags-to-riches story" Crawford had been making for years. It also ran a financial loss, becoming one of MGM's biggest failures of the year. Mannequin did, as the New York Times stated, "restore Crawford to her throne as queen of the working girls". Most other reviews were positive, and the film managed to generate a minor profit, but it did not resurrect Crawford's popularity.[41]

On May 3, 1938, Crawford — along with Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, Luise Rainer, and John Barrymore, Katharine Hepburn, Fred Astaire, Dolores del Río and others — was dubbed "Box Office Poison" in an open letter in the Independent Film Journal. The list was submitted by Harry Brandt, president of the Independent Theatre Owners Association of America. Brandt stated that while these stars had "unquestioned" dramatic abilities, their high salaries did not reflect in their ticket sales, thus hurting the movie exhibitors involved. Her follow-up movie, The Shining Hour (1938), co-starring Margaret Sullavan and Melvyn Douglas, was well received by critics, but a box office flop.[42]

She made a comeback in 1939 with her role as home-wrecker Crystal Allen in The Women opposite her professional nemesis, Norma Shearer. A year later, she played against type, playing the unglamorous role of Julie in Strange Cargo (1940), her eighth and final film with Clark Gable. She later starred as a facially disfigured blackmailer in A Woman's Face (1941), a remake of the Swedish film En kvinnas ansikte which had starred Ingrid Bergman in the lead role three years earlier. While the film was only a moderate box office success, her performance was hailed by many critics.

Crawford adopted her first child, a daughter, in 1940. Because she was single, California law prevented her from adopting within the state so she arranged the adoption through an agency in Las Vegas. The child was temporarily called Joan until Crawford changed her name to Christina. Crawford married actor Phillip Terry on July 21, 1942 after a six-month courtship.[43] Together the couple adopted a son whom they named Christopher, but his birth mother reclaimed the child. The couple adopted another boy, whom they named Phillip Terry, Jr. After the marriage ended in 1946, Crawford changed the child's name to Christopher Crawford.

After eighteen years, Crawford's contract with MGM was terminated by mutual consent on June 29, 1943. In lieu of the last film remaining under her contract, MGM bought her out for $100,000. During World War II she was a member of American Women's Voluntary Services.[44]

Move to Warner Brothers

For $500,000, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers for a three movie deal and was placed on the payroll on July 1, 1943. Her first film for the studio was Hollywood Canteen (1944), an all-star morale-booster film that teamed her with several other top movie stars at the time. Crawford said one of the main reasons she signed with Warner Brothers was because she wanted to play the character "Mattie" in a proposed 1944 film version of Edith Wharton's novel Ethan Frome (1911).

Crawford in the trailer for Mildred Pierce (1945)

She wanted to play the title role in Mildred Pierce (1945), but Bette Davis was the studio's first choice. However, Davis turned the role down. Director Michael Curtiz did not want Crawford to play the part, and he instead lobbied for the casting of Barbara Stanwyck. Warners went against Curtiz, however, and cast Crawford in the film. Throughout the entire production of the movie, Curtiz criticized Crawford. He has been quoted as having told Jack Warner, "She comes over here with her high-hat airs and her goddamn shoulder pads... why should I waste my time directing a has-been?"[45] Curtiz demanded Crawford prove her suitability by taking a screen test. After the test, Curtiz agreed to Crawford's casting. Mildred Pierce was a resounding critical and commercial success. It epitomized the lush visual style and the hard-boiled film noir sensibility that defined Warner Bros. movies of the late forties, earning Crawford the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.[46]

The success of Mildred Pierce revived Crawford's movie career. For several years, she starred in what were called "a series of first-rate melodramas". Her next film was Humoresque (1946), co-starring John Garfield, a romantic drama about a love affair between an older woman and a younger man. She starred alongside Van Heflin in Possessed (1947), for which she received a second Academy Award nomination, although she did not win. In Daisy Kenyon (1947), she appeared opposite Dana Andrews and Henry Fonda, and in Flamingo Road (1949) she played a carnival dancer opposite Zachary Scott and David Brian. She made a cameo appearance in It's a Great Feeling (1949), poking fun at her own screen image. In 1950, she starred in the film noir, The Damned Don't Cry!, and starred in Harriet Craig.

After the completion of This Woman Is Dangerous (1952), a film Crawford called her "worst", she asked to be released from her Warner Brothers contract. By this time she felt Warners was losing interest in her and she decided it was time to move on. Later that same year, she received her third and final Academy Award nomination for Sudden Fear for RKO Radio Pictures. In 1953, she appeared in her final film for MGM, Torch Song. The movie received favorable reviews and moderate success at the box office.

Crawford adopted two more children in 1947, identical twins whom she named Cindy and Cathy.[47]

Radio and television

Crawford worked in the radio series The Screen Guild Theater on January 8, 1939; Good News; Baby, broadcast March 2, 1940 on Arch Oboler's Lights Out; The Word on Everyman's Theater (1941); Chained on the Lux Radio Theater and Norman Corwin's Document A/777 (1948). She appeared in episodes of anthology television series in the 1950s and, in 1959, made a pilot for her series, The Joan Crawford Show.

Al Steele and Pepsi Cola Company

Crawford married her fourth and final husband, Alfred Steele, at the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas on May 10, 1955.[48] Crawford and Steele met at a party in 1950 when Steele was an executive at PepsiCo. They renewed their acquaintance at a New Year's Eve party in 1954. Steele by that time had become President of Pepsi Cola.[49] Alfred Steele would later be named Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of Pepsi Cola. She traveled extensively on behalf of Pepsi following the marriage. She estimated that she traveled over 100,000 miles for the company.[50]

Steele died of a heart attack in April 1959. Crawford was initially advised that her services were no longer required. After she told the story to Louella Parsons, Pepsi reversed its position and Crawford was elected to fill the vacant seat on the board of directors.[51]

Crawford received the sixth annual "Pally Award", which was in the shape of a bronze Pepsi bottle. It was awarded to the employee making the most significant contribution to company sales. In 1973, Crawford was forced to retire from the company at the behest of company executive Don Kendall, whom Crawford had referred to for years as "Fang".[52]

Later career

After her Academy Award nominated performance in 1952's Sudden Fear, Crawford continued to work steadily throughout the rest of the decade. In 1954, she starred in Johnny Guitar, a camp western film, co-starring Sterling Hayden and Mercedes McCambridge. She also starred in Female on the Beach (1955) with Jeff Chandler, and in Queen Bee (1955) alongside John Ireland. The following year, she starred opposite a young Cliff Robertson in Autumn Leaves (1956) and filmed a leading role in The Story of Esther Costello (1957), co-starring Rossano Brazzi. Crawford, who had been left near-penniless following Alfred Steele's death[53] accepted a small role in The Best of Everything (1959). Although she was not the star of the film, she received positive reviews. Crawford would later name the role as being one of her personal favorites. However, by the early 1960s, Crawford's status in motion pictures had declined considerably.

Crawford starred as Blanche Hudson, an old, wheelchair-bound former A-list movie star in conflict with her psychotic sister, in the highly successful psychological thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). Despite the actresses' earlier tensions, Crawford reportedly suggested Bette Davis for the role of Jane. The two stars maintained publicly that there was no feud between them. The director, Robert Aldrich, explained that Davis and Crawford were each aware of how important the film was to their respective careers and commented, "It's proper to say that they really detested each other, but they behaved absolutely perfectly."[54]

After filming was completed, their public comments against each other propelled their animosity into a lifelong feud. The film was a huge success, recouping its costs within 11 days of its nationwide release, and temporarily revived Crawford's career. Davis was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Jane Hudson. Crawford secretly contacted each of the other Oscar nominees in the category (Katharine Hepburn, Lee Remick, Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, all East Coast-based actresses), to let them know that if they could not attend the ceremony, she would be happy to accept the Oscar on their behalf; all agreed. Both Davis and Crawford were backstage when the absent Anne Bancroft was announced as the winner, and Crawford accepted the award on her behalf. Davis claimed for the rest of her life that Crawford had campaigned against her, a charge Crawford denied.

That same year, Crawford starred as Lucy Harbin in William Castle's horror mystery Strait-Jacket (1964). Robert Aldrich cast Crawford and Davis in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). After a purported campaign of harassment by Davis on location in Louisiana, Crawford returned to Hollywood and entered a hospital. After a prolonged absence, during which Crawford was accused of feigning illness, Aldrich was forced to replace her with Olivia de Havilland. Crawford claimed to be devastated, saying "I heard the news of my replacement over the radio, lying in my hospital bed ... I cried for 9 hours."[55] Crawford nursed grudges against Davis and Aldrich for the rest of her life, saying of Aldrich, "He is a man who loves evil, horrendous, vile things", to which Aldrich replied, "If the shoe fits, wear it, and I am very fond of Miss Crawford."[56]

In 1965 she played Amy Nelson in I Saw What You Did (1965), another William Castle vehicle. She starred as Monica Rivers in Herman Cohen's horror thriller film Berserk! (1967). After the film's release, Crawford guest-starred as herself on The Lucy Show. The episode, "Lucy and the Lost Star", first aired on February 26, 1968. Crawford struggled during rehearsals and drank heavily on-set, leading series star Lucille Ball to suggest replacing her with Gloria Swanson. However, Crawford was letter-perfect the day of the show, which included dancing the Charleston, and received two standing ovations from the studio audience.[57]

In October 1968, Crawford's 29-year-old daughter, Christina (who was then acting in New York on the CBS soap opera The Secret Storm), needed immediate medical attention for a ruptured ovarian tumor. Despite the fact that Christina's character was a 28-year-old and Crawford was in her sixties, Crawford offered to play her role until Christina was well enough to return, to which producer Gloria Monty readily agreed.[58] Although Crawford did well in rehearsal, she lost her composure while taping and the director and producer were left to struggle to piece together the necessary footage.[59]

Crawford's appearance in the 1969 television film Night Gallery (which served as pilot to the series that followed), marked one of Steven Spielberg's earliest directing jobs. She made a cameo appearance as herself in the first episode of the situation comedy The Tim Conway Show, which aired on January 30, 1970. She starred on the big screen one final time, playing Dr. Brockton in Herman Cohen's science fiction horror film Trog (1970), rounding out a career spanning 45 years and more than eighty motion pictures. Crawford made three more television appearances, as Stephanie White in a 1970 episode ("The Nightmare") of The Virginian[60] and as Joan Fairchild (her final performance) in a 1972 episode ("Dear Joan: We're Going to Scare You to Death") of The Sixth Sense.[61]

Final years

In 1970, Crawford was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award by John Wayne at the Golden Globes, which was telecast from the Coconut Grove at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. She also spoke at Stephens College, which she had attended for four months in 1922.

Crawford published her autobiography, A Portrait of Joan, co-written with Jane Kesner Ardmore, in 1962 through Doubleday. Crawford's next book, My Way of Life, was published in 1971 by Simon & Schuster. Those expecting a racy tell-all were disappointed, although Crawford's meticulous ways were revealed in her advice on grooming, wardrobe, exercise, and even food storage. Upon her death there were found in her apartment photographs of John F. Kennedy, for whom she had reportedly voted in the 1960 presidential election.[62]

In September 1973, Crawford moved from apartment 22-G to a smaller apartment next door (22-H) at the Imperial House. Her last public appearance was September 23, 1974, at a party honoring her old friend Rosalind Russell at New York's Rainbow Room. Russell was suffering from breast cancer and arthritis at the time. When Crawford saw the unflattering photos that appeared in the papers the next day, she said, "If that's how I look, then they won't see me anymore."[63] Crawford cancelled all public appearances, began declining interviews and left her apartment less and less. Dental-related issues, including surgery which left her needing round-the-clock nursing care, plagued her from 1972 until mid-1975. While on antibiotics for this problem in October 1974, her drinking caused her to pass out, slip and strike her face. The incident scared her enough to give up drinking, although she insisted it was because of her return to Christian Science. The incident is recorded in a series of letters sent to her insurance company held in the stack files on the 3rd floor of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts; it is also documented by Carl Johnnes in his biography of the actress, Joan Crawford: The Last Years.[64]

Death and legacy

On May 8, 1977, Crawford gave away her beloved Shih Tzu, "Princess Lotus Blossom," being too weak to care for it.[65] She died two days later at her New York apartment from a heart attack.[50] A funeral was held at Campbell Funeral Home, New York, on May 13, 1977. In her will, which was signed October 28, 1976, Crawford bequeathed to her two youngest children, Cindy and Cathy, $77,500 each from her $2,000,000 estate. She explicitly disinherited the two eldest, Christina and Christopher, writing, "It is my intention to make no provision herein for my son, Christopher, or my daughter, Christina, for reasons which are well known to them." She also bequeathed nothing to her niece, Joan Lowe (1933-1999; born Joan Crawford LeSueur, the only child of her estranged brother, Hal). Crawford left money to her favorite charities: the U.S.O. of New York, the Motion Picture Home, the American Cancer Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the American Heart Association, and the Wiltwyck School for Boys.[66]

A memorial service was held for Crawford at All Souls' Unitarian Church on Lexington Avenue in New York on May 16, 1977, and was attended by, among others, her old Hollywood friend Myrna Loy. Another memorial service, organized by George Cukor, was held on June 24 in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Crawford was cremated and her ashes were placed in a crypt with her fourth and final husband, Alfred Steele, in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.[67]

Joan Crawford's handprints and footprints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood.[68] She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street. Playboy listed Crawford as #84 of the "100 Sexiest Women of the 20th century".[69] Crawford was also voted the tenth greatest female star of the classic American cinema by the American Film Institute.[70]

Joan Crawford's grave at Ferncliff Cemetery and Mausoleum

Mommie Dearest

Main article: Mommie Dearest

In November 1978, Christina Crawford published Mommie Dearest, which contained allegations that her late adoptive mother was emotionally and physically abusive to Christina and her brother Christopher because she was only interested in her career instead of being a mother. Many of Crawford's friends and co-workers, including Van Johnson, Ann Blyth, Marlene Dietrich, Myrna Loy, Katharine Hepburn, Cesar Romero, Gary Gray, Betty Barker (Joan's secretary for nearly fifty years), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Crawford's first husband), and Crawford's two other younger daughters—Cathy and Cindy—denounced the book, categorically denying any abuse.[71] But others, including Betty Hutton, Helen Hayes,[72] James MacArthur (Hayes' son),[73][74] June Allyson,[75] Liz Smith,[73] Rex Reed,[73] and Vincent Sherman[76] stated they had witnessed some form of abusive behavior. Crawford's secretary, Jeri Binder Smith, confirmed Christina's account.[77] Mommie Dearest became a bestseller and was made into the 1981 biography film Mommie Dearest, starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford.


Radio appearances

Date Program Episode/source
July 27, 1936 Lux Radio Theatre Chained
May 10, 1937 Lux Radio Theatre Mary of Scotland (film)
June 6, 1938 Lux Radio Theatre A Doll's House
January 15, 1951 Hollywood Star Playhouse Statement in Full
October 6, 1951 Stars over Hollywood I Knew This Woman[78]
March 1, 1952 Stars over Hollywood When the Police Arrive[79]



  1. Other sources list 1903, 1905, 1906 or 1908[Note 2]
  2. 1 2 Crawford's year of birth is uncertain as there are no official records. The 1910 census gave her age in April 1910 as five years old.[1] Crawford herself claimed 1908 (the date on her tombstone), but most modern biographers cite 1904, 1905 and 1906 as the most likely years.[2][3][4][5][6][7] Crawford's daughter Christina, in the 1978 biography Mommie Dearest, firmly states 1904 twice:
    Publicly her birth date was reported as March 23, 1908, but Grandmother told me that she was actually born in 1904.[8]:20
    My mother was born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, in 1904, although when she came to Hollywood she lied about her age and changed the year to 1908.[8]:66


  1. 1910 United States Federal Census,
  2. Thomas S. Hischak (2008). The Oxford Companion to the American Musical:Theatre, Film, and Television: Theatre, Film, and Television. Oxford University Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-19-533533-0.
  3. Mark Knowles (2009). The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. McFarland. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-7864-3708-5.
  4. Liz Sonneborn (2002). A to Z of American Women in the Performing Arts. Infobase Publishing. p. 43. ISBN 978-1-4381-0790-5.
  5. Lawrence J. Quirk; William Schoell (2002). Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography. University Press of Kentucky. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-8131-2254-0.
  6. James Robert Parish (2011). The Hollywood Book of Extravagance: The Totally Infamous, Mostly Disastrous, and Always Compelling Excesses of America's Film and TV Idols. John Wiley & Sons. p. 72. ISBN 978-1-118-03902-1.
  7. Time Magazine (June 23, 1947). LIFE. Time-Life Inc. p. 45. ISSN 0024-3019.
  8. 1 2 Christina Crawford (1979). Mommie Dearest. Berkley. ISBN 978-0-425-04444-5.
  9. David Bret (2009). Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr. Da Capo Press, Incorporated. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-7867-3236-4.
  10. 1 2 Spoto, Donald (2010). Possessed - the Life of Joan Crawford. Harper Collins. pp. 6–14. ISBN 978-0-06-185600-6.
  11. Newquist, pg. 25
  12. 1 2 Denby, David, "Escape Artist, The Case for Joan Crawford", The New Yorker, January 3, 2011.
  13. 1 2 Mark Knowles (2009). The Wicked Waltz and Other Scandalous Dances: Outrage at Couple Dancing in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries. McFarland. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-7864-5360-3.
  14. 1 2 Lawrence J. Quirk; William Schoell (2013). Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography. University Press of Kentucky. p. 3. ISBN 0-8131-4411-6.
  15. Thomas, pgs. 23–24
  16. Lawrence O. Christensen; William E. Foley; Gary Kremer (1999). Dictionary of Missouri Biography. University of Missouri Press. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-8262-6016-1.
  17. Time Inc (June 23, 1947). LIFE. p. 45. ISSN 0024-3019.
  18. Thomas, pg. 30
  19. 1 2 Considine, pg. 12
  20. Granlund, pg. 147
  21. Thomas, pg. 106
  22. Granlund, pg. 135
  23. Crawford, quoted in Newquist, pg. 31
  24. Maas, quoted in LaSalle, pg. 123
  25. Thompson, pg. 47
  26. Crawford, quoted in LaSalle, pg. 120
  27. Crawford, quoted in Skal, pg. 73
  28. Fitzgerald, quoted in Thomas, pg. vii
  29. "Joan Crawford Weds in the East". Jefferson City MO Daily Capital News. June 4, 1929.
  30. Thomas, pg. 80
  31. Thomas, pg. 63
  32. Crawford, quoted in Thomas, pg. 65
  33. Háy, Peter (1991), MGM: When the Lion Roars, Atlanta: Turner Publishing, Inc., p. 72, ISBN 1-878685-04-X
  34. Leese, pg. 18
  35. "Time Magazine". March 8, 1933. Retrieved February 10, 2009.
  36. Considine, pgs. 91–92
  37. Thomas, pg. 94
  38. Thomas, pg. 114
  39. Considine, pgs. 97–98
  40. Thomas, pg. 241
  41. 1 2 Thomas, pg. 113
  42. Thomas, pg. 115
  43. "Joan Crawford Weds Actor Phillip Terry". Lubbock (TX) Morning Avalanche. UP. July 22, 1942. p. 11.
  44. Quirk, Lawrence J. (2002). Joan Crawford: the essential biography. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-8131-2254-6.
  45. Curtiz, quoted in Thomas, pg. 136
  46. Miller, Julie (September 26, 2012). "The Academy Award That Joan Crawford Accepted in Bed Sells; Can You Guess for How Much?". Vanity Fair. Retrieved December 23, 2014.
  47. Day, Elizabeth (May 25, 2008). "I'll never forgive Mommie". Guardian UK. London. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
  48. "Joan Crawford Is Wed in Las Vegas to Businessman". Moberly (MO) Monitor-Index and Democrat. Associated Press. May 10, 1955. p. 8.
  49. Thomas, pg. 190
  50. 1 2 "Joan Crawford Dies at Home; Joan Crawford, Screen Star, Dies in Manhattan Home". New York Times. May 11, 1977. Retrieved August 21, 2007.
  51. Considine, pg. 286
  52. Quirk, Lawrence; Schoell (2002). Joan Crawford: the essential biography. Twenty-First Century Books. p. 312. ISBN 0-8131-2254-6.
  53. "I'm Broke, Says Joan Crawford". Jefferson City (MO) Post-Tribune. Associated Press. June 1, 1959. p. 1.
  54. Considine, ibid.
  55. Thomas, pg. 225
  56. Considine, pg. 363
  57. Thomas, pg. 231
  58. Joan Crawford Takes Daughter's Soap Opera Role
  59. Thomas, pgs. 238–39
  60. "Joan Crawford In "The Virginian" Part 1 of 8". YouTube. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  61. "Joan Crawford on The Sixth Sense". YouTube. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  62. Cowie, Peter. Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star (Rizzoli Universe Promotional Books, March 8, 2011), pp. 204–205
  63. Considine, pg. 396
  64. Carl Johnnes. Joan Crawford: The Last Years. Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-440-11536-1.
  65. Thomas, pg. 266
  66. "Daughter Dearest", stated in March 2008 Vanity Fair, pg. 2
  67. Crawford, Joan. "Joan Crawford's Final resting Place". Find A Grave. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  68. Time Inc (March 1, 1937). LIFE. p. 49. ISSN 0024-3019.
  69. "Playboy Ranks 100 Sexiest Stars of the Century in January Issue". Playboy Enterprises. Retrieved March 11, 2012.
  70. Susan Ware (2004). Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Harvard University Press. p. 142. ISBN 978-0-674-01488-6.
  71. Considine, pg. 412
  72. Hayes, Helen; Hatch, Katherine (1990). My Life in Three Acts. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-163695-8.
  73. 1 2 3 Redbook v. 165, Redbook Publishing, Inc. p. 25. OCLC 1763595.
  74. Strouse, Jean (1978). "Mommie Monster" Newsweek: Volume 92, Issues 10–18. p. 134.
  75. Allyson, June; Leighton, Frances Spatz (1983). June Allyson. New York: Berkley. pp. 77–84. ISBN 0-425-06251-1.
  76. Sherman, Vincent (1996). Studio Affairs: My Life As a Film Director. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 209–213. ISBN 0813119758.
  77. "Mysteries and Scandals: Joan Crawford". E! Entertainment. November 9, 1998. 20 minutes in.
  78. "Radio's Golden Age". Nostalgia Digest. 41 (2): 40–41. Spring 2015.
  79. "Those Were The Days". Nostalgia Digest. 40 (1): 32–39. Winter 2014.


  • Considine, Shaun (1989). Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud. New York, E. P. Dutton, a division of Penguin Books. ISBN 0-525-24770-X.
  • Bret, David (2006). Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr. Robson. ISBN 1-86105-931-0.
  • Granlund, Nils T. (1957). Blondes, Brunettes, and Bullets. New York, David McKay Company.
  • Hoefling, Larry J. (2008). Nils Thor Granlund: The Swedish Showman Who Invented American Entertainment. Inlandia Press. ISBN 0-9822313-0-X.
  • LaSalle, Mick (2000). Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. New York, Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-25207-2.
  • Dunaway, Faye (1998). Looking For Gatsby. Pocket. ISBN 0-671-67526-5.
  • Leese, Elizabeth (1991). Costume Design in the Movies. Dover Books. ISBN 0-486-26548-X.
  • Newquist, Roy, with introduction by John Springer (1980). Conversations with Joan Crawford. New Jersey, Citadel Press, a division of Lyle Stuart, Inc. ISBN 0-8065-0720-9.
  • Skal, David J. (1993). The Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-024002-0.
  • Thomas, Bob (1978). Joan Crawford: A Biography. New York, Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-12942-2.

Further reading

  • Carr, Larry (1970). Four Fabulous Faces:The Evolution and Metamorphosis of Swanson, Garbo, Crawford and Dietrich. Doubleday and Company. ISBN 0-87000-108-6. 
  • Just Joan: A Joan Crawford Appreciation by Donna Marie Nowak. Albany, BearManor Media 2010. ISBN 978-1-59393-542-9.

External links

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