Mommie Dearest

For the 1981 movie adaptation, see Mommie Dearest (film).
Mommie Dearest
Author Christina Crawford
Country United States
Language English
Genre Memoir
Publisher William Morrow & Co.
Publication date
October 2, 1978
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 286 pp
ISBN 0-688-03386-5
OCLC 4114625
791.43/028/0924 B
LC Class PN2287.C67C7

Mommie Dearest is a memoir and exposé written by Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of actress Joan Crawford. The book, published in 1978, depicts Christina's childhood and her relationship with her mother.

Christina Crawford's claims

In the book, Christina Crawford claims that she was a victim of child abuse during her mother's battle with alcoholism and that her mother was more concerned about being famous than with a family, suggesting she may have adopted children as a publicity stunt to support her career. She implies Joan had a long list of affairs with men whom Christina was required to call "Uncle" and rarely "Daddy", and claims Joan also had many affairs with women. Christina suggests that as she grew older and more difficult to control, Joan found excuses to remove Christina from the home by sending her to various boarding schools and strict religious academies, often insuring in her instructions that Christina be allowed no contact with the outside world. Often these schools were used as a means of retribution for Christina defying her mother or fighting back against abusive behavior.

Christina recounts several evenings where Joan's behavior was unbalanced, and at least one encounter with her mother where Crawford attempted to strangle her. In another encounter, Joan reportedly discovered Christina's clothes hanging in a closet on wire hangers, instead of higher-quality padded hangers, and reprimanded her harshly. In an incident in which Christina refused to eat very rare beef, Crawford ordered the meat returned to the refrigerator and refused to allow Christina any other food for several days until she finished the meal (though Christina managed to hold out until her mother gave up and allowed her regular meals again). Joan allegedly disposed of her children's possessions to punish them for minor transgressions. Joan also supposedly strapped Christina's younger adopted brother Christopher to his bed each night until he was twelve, ostensibly to control his sleepwalking.

Christina reported that Joan's controlling and erratic behavior continued throughout Christina's adulthood. She purports that Joan was jealous of her daughter's burgeoning acting career, to the point of taking over Christina's role in the soap opera The Secret Storm while Christina was in the hospital recovering from an ovarian cyst. (Christina's character was twenty-eight years old; Joan was, at this time, in her sixties.) She also used money to control adult Christina's behavior, taking her out for expensive meals and paying for taxis while refusing to give Christina money for basic living expenses. This behavior culminated when Christina learned that she and her brother Christopher had been left out of Joan's will even though Christina believed that they had reconciled with their mother.

Reaction to the book

The book's publication in 1978 created an enormous amount of attention. Mommie Dearest was one of the first celebrity "tell all" books.

Some of Joan Crawford's friends disputed the version of events presented in Mommie Dearest. Among them Van Johnson, Cesar Romero, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Guilaroff, Ann Blyth, Gary Gray, and in particular Myrna Loy,[1] Joan's friend since 1925. While acknowledging that Joan Crawford was highly ambitious and an alcoholic for much of her life, critics have suggested that Christina embellished her story. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Crawford's first husband, described the book by stating, "The Joan Crawford that I've heard about in Mommie Dearest is not the Joan Crawford I knew back then." The two younger Crawford children, Cindy and Cathy, born 1947, have stated categorically many times that they did not witness or experience any events that were described in the book. However, their brother Christopher always staunchly defended Christina's claims, saying of their mother in 1978, "I honestly to this day do not believe that she ever cared for me."[2]

Liz Smith, writing in the Baltimore Sun, said: "I was inclined to believe Joan was misguided in her attempts to 'mold' her children—and was vain and self-absorbed like most great stars—but the stories of beatings and near-madness were over the top."[3] Crawford's secretary for nearly fifty years, Betty Barker, also stated that, while Joan was strict, Christina and Christopher were never abused.[4]

However, Joan's friends Helen Hayes,[5] James MacArthur,[6] June Allyson,[7] Rex Reed,[6] and Betty Hutton[8] have verified some of the stories in Christina's book and claimed they also witnessed some of the abuse firsthand. Hutton had previously lived near Crawford's Brentwood, California, home and has stated that she saw the children during or after various moments of abuse.[8] Hutton stated she would often encourage her own children to play with Christina and Christopher to draw them away from their challenges at home.[8] Crawford's Mildred Pierce co-star, actress Eve Arden, sided with Christina about Crawford's parenting abilities, saying that Crawford suffered from bipolar disorder; a good woman in many ways but, as an alcoholic with a violent temper, simply unfit to be a mother. In the book Understanding the Borderline Mother, author Christine Ann Lawson suggests that Joan Crawford may have had borderline personality disorder (BPD),[9] along with an obsessive compulsion with cleanliness.


The last pages of Christina's book suggest that Christina was not about to let her mother have the "last word" by omitting her daughter from her will. Later biographers[10] have reported that Christina began writing her book before Crawford's death, and they have suggested that Joan's knowledge of its contents may have been a factor in Joan Crawford cutting her daughter from her will.[10] However, Christina claimed that a lawyer who examined the will stated that the portion specifying Christina's disinheritance had remained unchanged since the 1960s even though other portions had been amended up to the end of Joan's life, indicating that Joan had always intended to leave out Christina.

Christina Crawford has stood by her story and later released a "20th Anniversary Edition" which includes 100 pages of new material and omits about 50 pages of original material. The second edition names certain individuals not named in the original book, and focuses more on Christina's relationship with her mother from her high school graduation until the 1970s. It also reveals what became of her brother and describes several incidents involving him.

The author's promotion of the second edition, which was put out by a smaller publishing company, included some unconventional methods. This included appearing at presentations of the film based on the book where Christina lectured about the new edition. Christina also appeared at readings with drag entertainer Lypsinka, who has made numerous appearances as Joan Crawford during stage acts.[11]



  1. "... if ever there was a girl who needed a good whack it was spoiled, horrible Christina. Believe me, there were many times I wanted to smack her myself." - Myrna Loy in: Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography By Lawrence J. Quirk, William Schoel. University Press of Kentucky.
  2. Parker, Jerry (October 1, 1978). "Like Daughter, Like Son Chris". Newsday.
  3. Smith, Liz (February 6, 2008). "New book gives another view of Joan Crawford as a `Mommie'". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  4. Day, Elizabeth (May 25, 2008). "I'll never forgive Mommie: Joan Crawford's daughter gives first interview in 10 years". The Observer. Guardian. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  5. Hayes, Helen; Hatch, Katherine (1990). My Life in Three Acts. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-163695-8.
  6. 1 2 Redbook v. 165, Redbook Publishing, Inc. p. 25. OCLC 1763595.
  7. Allyson, June; Leighton, Frances Spatz (1983). June Allyson. New York: Berkley. pp. 77–84. ISBN 0-425-06251-1.
  8. 1 2 3 Meredy. "Joan Crawford - Movie Star - Biography". Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  9. Lawson, Christine Ann. Understanding the borderline mother: helping her children transcend the intense, unpredictable, and volatile relationship, (Jason Aronson, 2002), p. 5 (at Google Books). ISBN 0-7657-0331-9, ISBN 978-0-7657-0331-6 Accessed March 28, 2012.
  10. 1 2 Guiles, Fred Laurence. Joan Crawford: The Last Word, Carol Publishing Corporation (1995), ISBN 1-55972-269-X
  11. "Lypsinka Dearest: John Epperson, as icon Lypsinka, recreates Hollywood legend, Joan Crawford, at Studio Theatre". February 8, 2007. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
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