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Joan Crawford – PRE-“Mommie Dearest”

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  • Morgan Henard
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    #70620

    I have seen several posts over the years mentioning Mommie Dearest, with some loving it, some hating it, and most loving to hate it. But I was given an assignment on an “old Hollywood” star I didn’t know too much about and when it came to my proposal, it occurred to me, “Hey, Joan Crawford was dead before her book was published. What was her legacy?”

    So, I guess this pertains to those who were alive before her death in May 1977. When she died, what was the reaction? Of course some were saddened, I understand that. But what did the headlines have her remembered as? She was an Oscar winner for Mildred Pierce, was that her biggest claim to fame? Did she have any famous stories of being a diva or hard to work with? Had their been rumbles of her being an abusive mother?

    One of the questions I’m asking myself and diving in research to answer is did her daughter’s book-turned-film permanently tarnish the working-legacy left behind by Crawford. When I mentioned her in my class, instantaneously a student shouted out, “No more wire hangers,” to which I replied, “Exactly! Thank you for that!” It’s not, “Who?” It’s not “Oh yeah, the original Mildred Pierce.” It’s the crazy lady from the Faye Dunaway film who nearly strangled her daughter.

    On the note of the film, what was the reaction? I don’t mean in terms of the reviews or killing Faye Dunaway’s career (the irony being it killed Crawford’s legacy while halting Dunaway’s), but in terms of the reaction to what she was being accused of. This was a time of few tabloids. No TMZ, Perez Hilton, etc. Was it, “Oh yeah…Everyone knew she hated those children,” or “I’ve never heard anything like this, and everyone knew her daughter was just jealous of her,” etc. etc. etc.

    I debated whether or not I should post this. The last thing I want is a reaction of “Oh great…Another Mommie Dearest thread.” This is a thread devoted to the career Crawford had up until the day her daughter released the book. I think it’s fair to say this will always be front-and-center in new generations’ minds with the mention of Joan Crawford. It’s both a positive and negative.

    For me, a modern day example (sort of) is Lindsay Lohan. In that if ever asked what was she like when she first came on, I can say, “Everyone loved her and saw potential. She was great in The Parent Trap, disappeared a few years then came back strongly with Freaky Friday and Mean Girls. But then, she tarnished it with a life of partying, drugs, arrests, etc. The different between Lohan and Crawford is Lohan sabataged her own career and is completely responsible for the events occurring as we speak; Crawford, on the other hand, had been dead for a year and wasn’t alive to speak of what Christine had written.

    Even still, mentions of Mommie Dearest are cool and won’t be shot down. That’s one of the reasons I took this on; because I too thought of her as “the crazy actress that Faye Dunaway played in that crazy film.” Thus far, I’ve discovered so much more about her to admire, regardless if what she’s “known” for is true or not. 

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    tonorlo
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    #70622

    There was a flurry of retrospectives and front-page headlines along the lines of “Oscar winner Joan Crawford Dies” in 1977; pretty par for the course for a doyenne of the “Golden Age of Hollywood” at the time. Crawford had, up until the last year and a half of her life (when she was unable to take care of herself any longer), remained faithful to answering fan mail, and pitching in with PSAs for several charities of note (among them, the American Cancer Society, which are online today). She was duly noted for those things upon her passing, as well as her body of film work.

    Crawford is probably best described as a “complex” personality. During her lifetime, she secured the devotion of many of her colleagues and co-workers while simultaneously polarizing just as many others. During the last decade of her life, Crawford didn’t especially endear herself to industry insiders; she was reportedly increasingly erratic on sets (during her heydey, she was often celebrated as the soul of professionalism). She clearly had issues with alcohol throughout her life that surfaced badly on a number of occasions during the last decade of her life, as well… Her rare television appearances and final film, the execrable “Trog,” were personal failures, albeit ones that, to my memory, provoked sympathy for the fact that the lady’s glory days were clearly behind her rather than provoking people to snicker at “how the mighty had fallen” ala Lohan (though I don’t think that there’s a strong enough parallel in Lindsay Lohan for you to make with Crawford). What happened with Crawford was the industry gently tried to retire her, and she would have none of it; she was not a potential-filled starlet who simply decided to derail her career by indulging in self-destructive behavior and waste the opportunities she was given. Crawford did not shy away from the opportunities she was given during her final years, and she was also a profligate spender; she frankly needed the work provided by the subpar vehicles that made up her career post-“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”. When she died, there was certainly a sense that she had kept going longer than she probably should have, but there was such a wealth of solid work behind her that her legacy should have been able to withstand the dregs of her final professional years.

    For better or worse, it’s also important to keep in perspective just what a bombshell “Mommie Dearest” (the book) was when it arrived on the scene. The Hollywood expose’ had been in vogue in one way or another since- well, the inception of Hollywood as film capital of the world, and unflattering portrayals of film greats, ditto. But the child abuse aspect of “Mommie Dearest” was what catapulted it far above and beyond its niche market as a Hollywood expose’. The book did indeed do a great deal to bring child abuse to national consciousness, and the fact is, this was accomplished at great damage to Crawford’s reputation. As you correctly note, it is “Mommie Dearest” that remains the preeminent Crawford trigger for younger generations, rather than her body of work. And again, Crawford was a complex person. Her devotees, professional and fan-based, decried the allegations of the book, while a lot of Crawford’s contemporaries came forward and verified that they had witnessed unfortunate incidents between Crawford and her eldest children. Those who hail Crawford as a paragon of charity and as a dangerous parent all have credible testimony to back them up.

    It’s well known that Crawford worked very, very hard from the time she was a young starlet to be image-conscious, and it’s not surprising that over the years, she would present different sides of herself to different people. But no one could maintain the standard Crawford (and, in no small sense, MGM) set for herself, and she was a volatile, mercurial woman who might have managed to carve out an admirable career for herself and would be celebrated for that today had she simply not made the decision to become a mother. 

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    Pavel Romanov
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    #70623

    Tonorlo’s post is an excellent response.

    I’ll add only that it is quite unfair that Joan Crawford is only remembered nowadays as the crazy, shoulder-pad wearing, crazy lady who hated wire hangers. “Mommie Dearest” and the subsequent movie tarnished her reputation were Joan Crawford is now just a punch-line to many people. (Bette Davis’ daughter, BD, relesased a similar book in the 1980s, when it looked like Bette was going to die, but Bette pulled through and defended herself on TV (including a notable appearance on Phil Donahue) and wroter her own book where she slammed her ungrateful and greedy daughter who tried to cash in on her mother). 

    She was perhaps the top female star in the early to mid 1930s – playing quite a few “pulled up by her own boot straps”  kind of roles. But her work at Warner Brothers in the 1940s was fabulous beyond Mildred Pierce. Humoresque, Possessed, Flamingo Road were all stellar vehicles for her.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #70624

    I’ll add only that it is quite unfair that Joan Crawford is only remembered nowadays as the crazy, shoulder-pad wearing, crazy lady who hated wire hangers.

    Is it unfair that Joan Crawford is remembered as the adoptive mother who savagely beat her child with a wire hangar?

    Only if you think child abuse is no big deal. Do you like to beat children?

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    Jake
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    #70625

    She had great charisma and learned her craft by experience, her dedication to the roles covered any possible technical limitations. Private life aside, it’s amazing that she was able to have a career from mid 1920s to early 1970s – longer than any other actor who started in silent movies. I liked her in everything I saw her in (“Sudden Fear” is my favorite). “Mommie Dearest” probably destroyed her image and all but, when all is said and done, over 100 years after her birthday she is still remembered. Hard to tell what really happened behind closed doors. If I can guess I’d believe Christina but private life is one thing and filmography is another. 

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    Pavel Romanov
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    #70626

    [quote=”GloFish”]I’ll add only that it is quite unfair that Joan Crawford is only remembered nowadays as the crazy, shoulder-pad wearing, crazy lady who hated wire hangers.

    Is it unfair that Joan Crawford is remembered as the adoptive mother who savagely beat her child with a wire hangar?

    Only if you think child abuse is no big deal. Do you like to beat children?[/quote]

    I would never endorse child abuse. My original post was defnitely not that. I was just saying how Crawford is only remembered as a carciature.

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    babypook
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    #70627

    There was a flurry of retrospectives and front-page headlines along the lines of “Oscar winner Joan Crawford Dies” in 1977; pretty par for the course for a doyenne of the “Golden Age of Hollywood” at the time. Crawford had, up until the last year and a half of her life (when she was unable to take care of herself any longer), remained faithful to answering fan mail, and pitching in with PSAs for several charities of note (among them, the American Cancer Society, which are online today). She was duly noted for those things upon her passing, as well as her body of film work.

    Crawford is probably best described as a “complex” personality. During her lifetime, she secured the devotion of many of her colleagues and co-workers while simultaneously polarizing just as many others. During the last decade of her life, Crawford didn’t especially endear herself to industry insiders; she was reportedly increasingly erratic on sets (during her heydey, she was often celebrated as the soul of professionalism). She clearly had issues with alcohol throughout her life that surfaced badly on a number of occasions during the last decade of her life, as well… Her rare television appearances and final film, the execrable “Trog,” were personal failures, albeit ones that, to my memory, provoked sympathy for the fact that the lady’s glory days were clearly behind her rather than provoking people to snicker at “how the mighty had fallen” ala Lohan (though I don’t think that there’s a strong enough parallel in Lindsay Lohan for you to make with Crawford). What happened with Crawford was the industry gently tried to retire her, and she would have none of it; she was not a potential-filled starlet who simply decided to derail her career by indulging in self-destructive behavior and waste the opportunities she was given. Crawford did not shy away from the opportunities she was given during her final years, and she was also a profligate spender; she frankly needed the work provided by the subpar vehicles that made up her career post-“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”. When she died, there was certainly a sense that she had kept going longer than she probably should have, but there was such a wealth of solid work behind her that her legacy should have been able to withstand the dregs of her final professional years.

    For better or worse, it’s also important to keep in perspective just what a bombshell “Mommie Dearest” (the book) was when it arrived on the scene. The Hollywood expose’ had been in vogue in one way or another since- well, the inception of Hollywood as film capital of the world, and unflattering portrayals of film greats, ditto. But the child abuse aspect of “Mommie Dearest” was what catapulted it far above and beyond its niche market as a Hollywood expose’. The book did indeed do a great deal to bring child abuse to national consciousness, and the fact is, this was accomplished at great damage to Crawford’s reputation. As you correctly note, it is “Mommie Dearest” that remains the preeminent Crawford trigger for younger generations, rather than her body of work. And again, Crawford was a complex person. Her devotees, professional and fan-based, decried the allegations of the book, while a lot of Crawford’s contemporaries came forward and verified that they had witnessed unfortunate incidents between Crawford and her eldest children. Those who hail Crawford as a paragon of charity and as a dangerous parent all have credible testimony to back them up.

    It’s well known that Crawford worked very, very hard from the time she was a young starlet to be image-conscious, and it’s not surprising that over the years, she would present different sides of herself to different people. But no one could maintain the standard Crawford (and, in no small sense, MGM) set for herself, and she was a volatile, mercurial woman who might have managed to carve out an admirable career for herself and would be celebrated for that today had she simply not made the decision to become a mother. 

    This.

    Crawford reminds me of so many strong charismatic women throughout history. If you wont take any crap, and have a forceful personality, then you must be a man/crazy/harridan/unnatural/bitch.
    I remember everyone around me talking about this book and Joan Crawford. General consensus? Joan was the definition of ‘star’, who could act, and also run a billion dollar industry.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #70628

    [quote=”Poubelle”][quote=”GloFish”]I’ll add only that it is quite unfair that Joan Crawford is only remembered nowadays as the crazy, shoulder-pad wearing, crazy lady who hated wire hangers.

    Is it unfair that Joan Crawford is remembered as the adoptive mother who savagely beat her child with a wire hangar?

    Only if you think child abuse is no big deal. Do you like to beat children?[/quote]

    I would never endorse child abuse. My original post was defnitely not that. I was just saying how Crawford is only remembered as a carciature.[/quote]

    You have to separate the idealized persona you love in the movies and the monster they were in real life. Joan Crawford gave good face and really could deliver a line–she is one of my favorite screen stars. But you can’t pretend that the screen image is the real person.

    An adult should never raise a fist against a child, period, except in self-defense. And that makes me dislike Crawford personally.

    Ironically, there’s a scene in MILDRED PIERCE when Joan as Mildred slaps her bitch daughter Veda and then says most convincingly, “I’m sorry I did that… I’d’ve rather cut off my hand!” Now that’s acting, and that’s why Crawford won the Oscar!

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    babypook
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    #70629

    Charlize Theron’s mother beat her with a clothes-hanger as well. I’m not entirely convinced that Joan did the same thing. When Joan was on screen, she was doing her JOB. And she did a great job. She may not have been perfect, but neither am I. She isnt around to defend herself regardless.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #70630

    ^Well, I am not perfect either, but then again I don’t beat children. My vices don’t come anywhere near. Are we keeping things in perspective?

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    Miss Frost
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    #70631

    My lord I hate this woman. What a disgrace. I agree with Poubelle on this one.

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    babypook
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    #70632

    ^@Pou
    Well good for you! You’re not a parent though, are you. Have you ever raised a child? If  not, then perhaps you dont really know what that can be like.
    Is there any excuse for ‘beating’ a child?  C’mon. And especially not in our culture or times. But I have wanted to strangle and choke the children I’ve raised, and I sympathize with ALL parents who do the best they can.

    If we are to believe the author and daughter, then Joan was loopy at best. But then, she had her own motivations for writing that book, I’ve looked at both sides. And dont try accusing me of being pro-child beating. I fish bugs out of water to save them from drowning, never mind striking a child and with an implement.

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #70633

    Believe me, I have earned the right to judge, if not Joan herself, then people in general who hit their children. I am sure Joan’s not the ONLY bad mother ever in Brentwood. (Maybe they should make movies about ALL of them?)

    I think many people make unfit parents–it’s not an easy job. Children don’t come with an owner’s manual. But Joan went out of her way to adopt children as a publicity stunt. Joan, who reigned as one of the Queens of Melodrama, may have appreciated the irony of being remembered as a villain.

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    Scottferguson
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    #70634

    Bing Crosby beat his sons far worse than Joan Crawford did her daughter. Should we ban White Christmas, or condemn him everytime we hear the song?

    Silly me, I prefer to judge creative people by their creative work. Since I don’t idolize any of them, and am not in a position to know the truth about their personal lives, and since all of us have done shameful things in our lives to some degree, what Joan Crawford did as a parent is irrelevant to me.  

    Pablo Picasso was by most accounts an awful horrible person, physically and psychologically abusive to all the women in his life, terrible with his many children. So what?

    (So it’s clear – if one is writing a bio of a creative person, or doing a biofilm, purposely omitting negative things in an attempt to whitewash a life is a different thing. Since it’s being discussed elsewhere, Edith Piaf was a great singer; but telling her life story but ignoring her ingratiating herself to Nazi occupiers is dishonest. But it makes her no less talented).     

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    Carbon Based Lifeform
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    #70635

    Bing Crosby beat his sons far worse than Joan Crawford did her daughter. Should we ban White Christmas, or condemn him everytime we hear the song?

    Silly me, I prefer to judge creative people by their creative work. Since I don’t idolize any of them, and am not in a position to know the truth about their personal lives, and since all of us have done shameful things in our lives to some degree, what Joan Crawford did as a parent is irrelevant to me.  

    Pablo Picasso was by most accounts an awful horrible person, physically and psychologically abusive to all the women in his life, terrible with his many children. So what?

    (So it’s clear – if one is writing a bio of a creative person, or doing a biofilm, purposely omitting negative things in an attempt to whitewash a life is a different thing. Since it’s being discussed elsewhere, Edith Piaf was a great singer; but telling her life story but ignoring her ingratiating herself to Nazi occupiers is dishonest. But it makes her no less talented).     

    Seanflynn say “Beat your children if they disobey? I will look the other way!”

    You won’t be winning any medals for moral philosophy, seanflynn.

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