JC FAST FACTS
Academy Award for Best Actress
Golden Globe Awards
Joan Crawford (born Lucille Fay LeSueur; (March 23, 1905 – May 10, 1977) was an Academy Award-winning American actress. The American Film Institute named Crawford among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time, ranking her at number 10.
Starting as a dancer, Crawford was signed to a motion picture contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in 1925 and played in small parts. By the end of the '20s, as her popularity grew, she became famous as a youthful flapper. At the beginning of the 1930s, Crawford's fame rivaled that of fellow MGM colleagues Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo. She was often cast in movies in which she played hardworking young women who eventually found romance and financial success. These "rags to riches" stories were well-received by Depression-era audiences. Women, particularly, seemed to identify with her characters' struggles. By the end of the decade, Crawford remained one of Hollywood's most prominent movie stars, and one of the highest paid women in the U.S.
Moving to Warner Bros. in 1943, Crawford won an Academy Award for her performance in Mildred Pierce and achieved some of the best reviews of her career in the following years. In 1955, she became involved with PepsiCo, the company run by her last husband, Alfred Steele. Crawford was elected to fill his vacancy on the board of directors after his death in 1959, but was forcibly retired in 1973. She continued acting regularly into the 1960s, when her performances became fewer, and retired from the screen in 1970 after the release of the horror film Trog leaving behind an acting legacy that has inspired many to seek performing lessons from companies like Takelessons.
Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, the third child of Tennessee-born Thomas E. LeSueur (1868–1938) and Anna Bell Johnson (1884–1958). Her older siblings were Daisy LeSueur, who died very young, and Hal LeSueur. Although Crawford was of mostly English descent, her surname originated from her great-great-great-great grandparents, David LeSueur and Elizabeth Chastain, French Huguenots who immigrated from London in the early 1700s to Virginia, where they lived for several generations.
Crawford's father was said to have abandoned the family in Texas; Crawford later said she had been only a few months old when her father left. Her mother later married Henry J. Cassin. The family lived in Lawton, Oklahoma, where Cassin ran a movie theater. The 1910 Comanche County, Oklahoma, Federal Census, enumerated on April 20, showed Henry and Anna living at 910 "D" Street in Lawton. Crawford was listed as five years old at the time of the census, thus showing that 1905 was her likely year of birth. However, the state of Texas did not require the filing of birth certificates until 1908, allowing Crawford to later shave some years off and claim she was born in 1908.
Growing up, Crawford preferred the nickname "Billie," and she loved watching vaudeville acts perform on the stage of her stepfather's theater. Her ambition was to be a dancer. Unfortunately, she cut her foot deeply on a broken milk bottle when she leapt from the front porch of her home in an attempt to escape piano lessons and run and play with friends. Crawford was unable to attend elementary school for a year and a half and ultimately had three operations on her foot. She eventually overcame the injury and returned not only to walking normally, but to dancing as well.
Around 1916, Crawford's family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Cassin was first listed in the City Directory in 1917, living at 403 East Ninth Street. While still in elementary school, Crawford was placed in St. Agnes Academy, a Catholic school in Kansas City. Later, after her mother and stepfather broke up, she stayed on at St. Agnes as a work student. She then went to Rockingham Academy as a work student. In 1922, Crawford registered at the posh Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, and gave her year of birth as 1906. She attended Stephens for less than a year, however, as she recognized that she was not academically prepared for college.
Crawford began as a dancer in a chorus line under the name Lucille LeSueur, eventually making her way to New York City. While dancing in the chorus line at the Winter Gardens on Broadway, she approached Loew's Theaters publicist Nils Granlund about additional work. Granlund secured LeSueur a position with producer Harry Richmond's act, and arranged a screen test which he sent to producer Harry Rapf in Hollywood. Rapf notified Granlund on December 24, 1924 that a contract would be offered by MGM, and Granlund immediately wired LeSueur - who had returned to her mother's home in Kansas City - with the news and $400 for travel expenses. She left Kansas City the night after Christmas, and arrived in Culver City, California.
Crawford started out in silent films. As Lucille LeSueur, her first film was Pretty Ladies in 1925, which starred ZaSu Pitts. Pretty Ladies was the first and only time Crawford used her birth name professionally. In the book, Stardust and Shadows: Canadians in Early Hollywood, Crawford is quoted as saying that it was Sam De Grasse who said that her name LeSueur sounded too much like "sewer." A contest in the fan magazine, Movie Weekly, became the source of her well-known stage name. The female contestant who entered the name Joan Crawford was awarded $500. Though Crawford reportedly detested the name at first, saying it sounded like "crawfish" - and also requested that Joan be pronounced the same as "Joanne" - she eventually became used to the name. Her friend, actor William Haines, quipped, "You're lucky. They could have called you 'Cranberry' and served you up with a turkey!"
Crawford first made an impression on audiences in Edmund Goulding's Sally, Irene and Mary (1925), in which she played Irene, a struggling chorus girl who meets a tragic end. In the same year, Crawford worked on Lady of the Night, starring Norma Shearer. Crawford's face was seen briefly, as she was made up and used as a double for Shearer. It was also during this time that Crawford grew to resent Shearer because of how well she was treated compared to herself. The following year, she was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars, along with Mary Astor, Mary Brian, Dolores Costello, Dolores Del Rio, Janet Gaynor and Fay Wray. For the next two years, Crawford consolidated on these gains, appearing in increasingly important movies. In 1926, she made Paris, where she was able to show her sex appeal. It was also during this time that she was the romantic interest for some of MGM's leading male stars, among them Ramon Novarro, William Haines, John Gilbert and Tim McCoy.
Crawford's most unusual movie from this period was The Unknown (1927), starring Lon Chaney, Sr. as Alonzo, a carnival knife thrower with no arms. Crawford played his skimpily clad young carnival assistant, Nanon Zanzi, who he hopes to marry. She stated that she learned more about acting from watching Chaney work in this movie than from anything else in her long career.
In 1928, Crawford starred opposite Ramon Novarro, as Priscilla Crowninshield in Across to Singapore, but it was her role as Diana Medford in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) that catapulted her to stardom. The role also established her as a symbol of modern 1920s-style femininity that rivalled the image of Clara Bow, who was 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.
Crawford tirelessly studied diction and elocution to rid herself of her Southwestern accent. Her first talkie was Untamed (1929), opposite Robert Montgomery, which was a box office success. The movie proved to be an important milestone for the durable star, as she made an effective transition to sound movies. One critic wrote, "Miss Crawford sings appealingly and dances thrillingly as usual; her voice is alluring and her dramatic efforts in the difficult role she portrays are at all times convincing."
During the early 1930s, Crawford modified her image to better fit the hard-scrabble conditions of Depression-era America. In this new role, she played a glamorized version of the working girl, who relied on her intelligence, looks and sheer determination to get ahead in life. This persona was fully realized in Possessed (1931), where Crawford was teamed with Clark Gable. During production, the two stars began an affair that resulted in an ultimatum from studio chief Louis B. Mayer to Gable that the affair end. Gable chose his career over the relationship, although their affair would resume spasmodically and secretly for many years. Upon release, Possessed was an enormous hit.
An indication of Crawford's superstar-status was the studio's decision to cast her in its most prestigious movie of 1932, the all-star extravaganza, Grand Hotel. She also starred as Sadie Thompson in a version of W. Somerset Maugham's Rain, a film which many feel looks better today than it did upon its initial release.
Crawford achieved continued success with Letty Lynton (1932), now considered the "lost" Crawford film due to a plagiarism case that forced MGM to withdraw it soon after release. As a result, it has never since been shown theatrically, on television, or made available on VHS/DVD. The film is mostly remembered today because of the Letty Lynton dress, designed by Adrian: a white cotton organdy gown with large mutton sleeves, puffed at the shoulder. It was with this gown that Crawford's broad shoulders began to be accentuated by costume; this would become a trademark for the actress along with, later in her career, emphasized eyebrows and ankle strap shoes. When the Letty Lynton dress was copied by Macy's in 1932, it sold over 500,000 replicas nationwide.
Following the success of Possessed, Gable was starred in a series of steamy pairings opposite Crawford, in which they established themselves as a formidable romantic duo of the 1930s. Their rollicking smash hit Dancing Lady (1933), in which Crawford received top billing over Gable, was the only movie to feature Robert Benchley, Nelson Eddy, Fred Astaire and the Three Stooges all together in one movie. Crawford's next two movies with Gable, Chained (1934) and Forsaking All Others (also 1934), were both big hits, being among the top money makers of the mid-1930s, and marked Crawford's peak at MGM as a popular star at the box office.
By the end of the decade, Crawford had adopted a more sophisticated image in which her characters seemed to be defined as much by their glamorous clothing, beautiful accessories, and carefully styled hair and make-up as by any meaningful character trait. However, fans soon grew tired of this remote "clothes horse" persona and eventually Crawford's movies began to lose money. In 1938, she was one of the unfortunate stars to be labeled "box-office poison," along with Katharine Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Mae West and Fred Astaire.
Crawford somewhat rectified her position at MGM through a fruitful collaboration with director George Cukor. She first played bitchy home-wrecker Crystal Allen in Cukor's comedy The Women (1939), then capitalized on this success in two more movies under his direction, Susan and God (1940) and A Woman's Face (1941).
Eager to promote their new generation of female stars (among them Greer Garson, Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Hedy Lamarr and the resurgent Katharine Hepburn), the management at MGM began to view Crawford as a bad investment. After 18 years at the studio, Crawford's contract was terminated by mutual consent on June 29, 1943. In lieu of one more movie owed under her contract, MGM bought out her contract for $100,000. That same day, the studio had already cleared out her bungalow.
Move to Warner Brothers
Upon leaving MGM, Crawford signed with Warner Bros. for $500,000 for three movies and was placed on the payroll on July 1, 1943. She appeared as herself in the star-studded production Hollywood Canteen (1944). She was also cast in the title role of Mildred Pierce (1945), in which she played opposite Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth and Butterfly McQueen. Director Michael Curtiz and producer Jerry Wald developed the property from the popular James M. Cain novel, which was adapted for the screen by Ranald MacDougall. Crawford was not, in fact, first choice for the role of Mildred Pierce, even though it would become the defining role of her career. Bette Davis was the studio's first choice and was offered first refusal. Davis turned the role down, as she did not want to play the mother of a 17-year-old daughter - Ann Blyth. Curtiz also didn't want Crawford; he refused to work with her, telling Jack Warner, "With her high-hat airs and her goddamn shoulder pads, she's a has-been." His first choice was Barbara Stanwyck, following her success in Double Indemnity (1944). Curtiz only agreed to Crawford being cast as Mildred Pierce after she took a voluntary screen test to prove her suitability for the part, during which she had to endure Curtiz bellowing at her down his megaphone, "Okay, start shooting that no-good motherf***ker washerwoman's daughter!"
The final product of Mildred Pierce was a commercial and artistic triumph. It epitomized the lush visual style and the hard-boiled film noir sensibility that defined Warner Bros. movies of the late 1940s. Crawford earned the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance.
On the strength of Mildred Pierce, Crawford established herself as the chief leading lady at Warner Bros., effectively stealing the limelight from the former queen of the studio, Bette Davis, and apparently sowing the seeds for the future conflict and discord Crawford endured with Davis on two films. There were opportunities at Warner Bros. for collaborative roles alongside Davis, which Crawford both sought and in some cases was offered. These were the following:
Ethan Frome (1944) - Warner Bros. owned the rights to this picture in 1943, which Crawford said was "one of the main reasons" she signed with the studio after almost 20 years with MGM. Crawford approached Jack Warner regarding Ethan Frome as a joint venture with Davis and Gary Cooper. Both Davis and Warner agreed that Cooper would be perfect in the role of Edith Wharton's tragic hero. The problem was that Crawford wanted to play Mattie, the servant girl Ethan falls for - and for Davis to be cast as his nagging, harridan wife. Crawford said, "That was my dream. When I brought it up to Jack Warner, he suggested I move slowly, because Miss Davis had her heart set on the property, but in the younger role." Warner dissmissed the whole idea when Davis declared that if she did the film, she would be playing Mattie, telling Warner, "Joan's far too old, and besides, she can't act!" A film version of Ethan Frome was not made until 1993.
Time To Sing (1947) - This was the story of two retired stage actresses who team up for a tour of summerstock theatres. A similar story to RKO's Stage Door (1937), starring Katharine Hepburn and Ginger Rogers. The project was intended to team Crawford with Davis, however, it was never made.
Caged (1950) - A prison drama based on the novel, Women Without Men, by Virginia Kellogg. The story surrounded a female prison warden who attempts to rehabilitate a prisoner before she becomes a hardened criminal. In 1973, Crawford said, "I knew of a women's prison picture; it was written by Virginia Kellogg and later became Caged  with Eleanor Parker and Agnes Moorehead." This too was intended to pair Crawford with Davis - who made it clear that she would not be starring in any "dyke movie."
Crawford and Davis would not appear in a motion picture together until the 1962 film, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?.
From 1945-1952, Crawford reigned as a top star and respected actress, appearing in such roles as Helen Wright in Humoresque (1946), Louise Howell Graham in Possessed (1947, for which she was nominated for a second Oscar as Best Actress) and the title role in Daisy Kenyon (also 1947).
Crawford's other movie roles of the era include Lane Bellamy in Flamingo Road (1949), a dual role in the film noir The Damned Don't Cry (1950) and her performance in the title role of Harriet Craig (1950) at Columbia Pictures. After filming This Woman Is Dangerous (1952), Crawford asked to be released from her Warner Bros. contract. As she had done so before, Crawford triumphed as Myra Hudson in Sudden Fear (1952) at RKO, which was also the movie that introduced her co-star, Jack Palance, to the screen and earned Crawford a third and final Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
Besides acting in motion pictures, Crawford also worked in radio and television. She appeared numerous times in episodes of anthology TV shows in the 1950s and, in 1959, made a pilot for her own series, The Joan Crawford Show. However, the show was never picked up by a network.
Work at Pepsi
Besides her work as an actress, from 1955 to 1973, Crawford traveled extensively on behalf of husband Al Steele's company, Pepsi Cola Company. Two days after Steele's death in 1959, Crawford was elected to fill his vacancy on the board of directors.
Crawford was the recipient of 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 retired from the company at the behest of company executive Don Kendall, whom Crawford had referred to for years as "Fang."
After her triumph in RKO's Sudden Fear (1952), Crawford continued to star in films that ranged from the cult western Johnny Guitar (1954) to the drama Autumn Leaves (1956), opposite a young Cliff Robertson. By the early 1960s, however, Crawford's status in motion pictures had diminished significantly.
Crawford's career rebounded when she accepted the role of "Blanche Hudson" in the highly successful thriller, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962), directed by Robert Aldrich. She played the part of a physically disabled woman, a former A-list movie star in conflict with her psychotic sister. Despite the actresses' earlier tensions, Crawford suggested Bette Davis for the role of Jane. The movie was completed and became a blockbuster.
Crawford went on to play Lucretia Terry in the United Artists movie The Caretakers (1963). Davis was nominated for an Academy Award that year for her performance as "Baby Jane" in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? which led to Crawford aggressively, but secretly, campaigning against her. Unbeknown to Davis, Crawford had contacted all of the Oscar nominees beforehand to tell them that she would be happy to accept the Oscar on their behalf if they were unable to attend the ceremony. Both Davis and Crawford were backstage when the absent Anne Bancroft was announced as the winner. Crawford reportedly elbowed her way past Davis and said, "Excuse me, I have an Oscar to accept." That same year, Crawford went on to star as Lucy Harbin in William Castle's horror/mystery Strait-Jacket (1964).
Aldrich cast Crawford and Davis to work together again in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), but Crawford soon entered a hospital with an illness that was reportedly feigned in order to get out of the commitment reportedly due to a campaign of harassment by Davis. After a prolonged absence, Aldrich was forced to replace Crawford with Olivia de Havilland. There is a long shot in the beginning of the movie, when Miriam gets out of the taxi upon her arrival at the Hollis plantation, that actually shows the back of Joan Crawford's head and not de Havilland's. "When the taxi pulls up with cousin Miriam inside and stops at the foot of the steps, if you look closely before Miriam gets out you can just for a split moment see it is fact Joan Crawford in the back and not Olivia de Havilland. You can't see Crawford's face but you can tell it's her by the black dress and dark sunglasses that she is wearing. When de Haviland as Miriam is seen in the taxi before she arrives she is wearing a white hat and her clothing is light colored."
Upon her release from the hospital after her Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte debacle, Crawford played the role as Amy Nelson in I Saw What You Did (1965), another William Castle vehicle. She next starred as Monica Rivers in Herman Cohen's horror/thriller Berserk! (1968). After the film's release, Crawford then guest-starred as herself on The Lucy Show. The episode, "Lucy and the Lost Star," caused much celebrity fodder as title star Lucille Ball had a very public feud with Crawford during filming. According to Ball, Crawford was often drunk on the set and could not memorize her lines. Ball was said to have requested several times to replace Crawford with Gloria Swanson, who was supposed to have originally filled the role, but bowed out at the last minute. When asked during an interview how she had liked working with Ball, Crawford's response was, "And they call me a bitch!"
In October 1968, Crawford's 29-year-old daughter, Christina (who was then acting in New York on the TV soap opera The Secret Storm), fell ill due to a ruptured ovarian tumor and needed immediate medical attention. Crawford offered to fill in for her and play her daughter's role until she was well enough to return, which the producer readily agreed to. The implausibility of Crawford (then 63) playing a 28-year-old woman was coupled by her apparent state of intoxication on the live telecast. Christina was fired from the role the following year. In her memoir, Mommie Dearest, Christina claimed her mother's behavior contributed to her firing.
Crawford's appearance in a 1969 episode of Night Gallery, entitled, "Eyes," marked one of Steven Spielberg's earliest directing jobs.
Crawford starred on the big screen one final time, playing Dr. Brockton in Herman Cohen's sci-fi/horror Trog (1970), rounding out a career spanning 45 years and over 80 motion pictures.
Crawford made four more TV appearances, as Stephanie White in an episode of The Virginian (1970), entitled "The Nightmare"; as a board member in an episode of The Name of the Game (1971), entitled "Los Angeles"; as Allison Hayes in the made-for-TV movie Beyond the Water's Edge (1972); and as Joan Fairchild (her final screen performance) on an episode of the television series, The Sixth Sense, entitled, "Dear Joan: We're Going To Scare You To Death" (1972).
Marriages and residences
In 1929, at the time she wed Douglas Fairbanks Jr. at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, Crawford purchased a mansion at 426 North Bristol Avenue in Brentwood, located midway between Beverly Hills and the Pacific Ocean. The home would be her primary residence for the next 26 years. During that period, Crawford had her home decorated and redecorated by William Haines, her former silent movie co-star and lifelong friend, who was much in demand as an interior designer after receiving Crawford's recommendation.
Crawford had four husbands: actors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (married June 3, 1929 in New York-divorced 1933); Franchot Tone (married October 11, 1935 in New Jersey-divorced 1939); Phillip Terry (married July 21, 1942 at Hidden Valley Ranch in Ventura County, California-divorced 1946); and Pepsi-Cola president Alfred N. Steele (married May 10, 1955 in Las Vegas, Nevada-his death 1959). (A rumored first marriage to musician James Welton between 1923-1924 has never been confirmed).
Crawford moved to a lavish penthouse apartment at 2 East 70th St. with her last husband, Alfred Steele. He died there on April 19, 1959. Crawford then sold her Brentwood mansion and stayed in New York, moving to a smaller apartment, number 22-G in the Imperial House. She later moved to a smaller apartment in the same building (Apt.# 22-H) where she died, aged 72. She kept a small apartment in Los Angeles for her frequent trips there. Crawford was well-known for her relationship with her fans, often sending thousands of handwritten replies to fan letters each month. She also worked tirelessly with her official fan club, which disappeared after her death. It re-established in 2007.
Crawford adopted five children, though she raised only four.
The first was Christina (born June 11, 1939), whom Crawford adopted in 1940 while a single, divorced woman.
The second was a boy she named Christopher (born April 1941), whom Crawford adopted in June of that year. In 1942, his biological mother discovered his whereabouts and reclaimed the child.
The third child was Christopher Terry (born 1943). Crawford and Philip Terry adopted him that same year but she changed his name to Christopher Crawford after she and Terry divorced. According to Christina, Crawford changed his birth date because she was afraid he would also be taken away. He died of cancer on September 22, 2006 in Greenport, New York.
The fourth and fifth children were twin girls Cynthia "Cindy" Crawford and Cathy Crawford (born January 13, 1947). Crawford adopted them in June of that year while she was a single, divorced woman. They were born in Dyersburg, Tennessee, to an unwed mother who died seven days after their birth. It was said that Crawford was afraid that their biological parents might try to reclaim them and therefore claimed that they were not twins. Their version is consistent with newspaper reports at the time of their adoption. Cynthia died on October 14, 2007 in Fort Worth, Texas from complications following a liver transplant.
Crawford was raised Catholic by her stepfather, Henry Cassin, a Roman Catholic (although he and Crawford's mother ultimately divorced). Crawford insisted on marrying Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who was not Catholic, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
By the late 1930s, Crawford attended The Church of Christ, Scientist. She would bring her adopted children to that church regularly, but not always weekly. Although Crawford practiced Christian Science, she sought medical care for herself and her children when necessary. She regarded the Christian Scientist doctrine as an ideal, not a practical reality, according to Mommie Dearest.
Christina Crawford attended the Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy For Girls for her junior and senior years of high school, along with the daughters of non-Catholic actresses Virginia Field and Lana Turner. Christina Crawford stated in her memoir, Mommie Dearest, that the Catholic doctrines she was taught came as a shock following her experiences with Christian Science. Christina also stated in Mommie Dearest that Crawford considered herself a Catholic despite the fact that she had stopped practicing the faith nearly 50 years before her death.
Final years and death
In 1970, Crawford was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award by John Wayne on the Golden Globes, which was telecast from the Coconut Grove at The Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. She also spoke at her alma mater, Stephens College, from which she never graduated.
A Portrait of Joan, an autobiography written with Jane Kesner Ardmore, was published in 1962 by Doubleday. Crawford's next book, My Way of Life, was published in 1971 by Simon and 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.
In September 1973, Crawford moved from apartment 22-G to the smaller apartment 22-H in 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 battling breast cancer at the time and died two years later in 1976. On May 8, 1977, Crawford gave away her beloved Shih Tzu "Princess Lotus Blossom," which signaled to her close friends that the end was near.
Crawford died two days later at her New York apartment from a heart attack, while also ill with pancreatic cancer. According to her daughter Christina, Crawford's alleged last words were "Damn it...Don't you dare ask God to help me," which were directed at her housekeeper, who had begun to pray out loud. However, other sources indicate that Crawford was found dead on the bedroom floor by her housemaid. A funeral was held at Campbell Funeral Home, New York, on May 10, 1977. All four of her adopted children attended, as did her niece, Joan Crawford LeSueur (aka Joan Lowe), who was the daughter of her late brother, Hal LeSueur (died in 1963). 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. However, she explicitly disinherited the two eldest, Christina and Christopher. In the last paragraph of the will, she wrote, "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."
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, California.
Crawford was cremated and her ashes placed in a crypt with her last husband, Al Steele, in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.
Crawford's hand and footprints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. She also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street. In 1999, Playboy listed Crawford as one of the "100 Sexiest Women of the 20th century," ranking her #84.
A year and a half after Crawford's death, Christina published a bestseller exposé entitled, Mommie Dearest, which contained allegations that Crawford was emotionally and physically abusive to her and her brother Christopher. Though many of Crawford's friends, as well as her other two daughters, harshly criticized and disputed the book's claims, some believed in the book, and her reputation was somewhat tarnished. The book was later made into the 1981 film Mommie Dearest, starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford. It has been said that this movie was the beginning of the end of Dunaway's career, who enjoyed a massive success in the '70s appearing in such classics as Network. Dunaway has stated that this was indeed the film that killed her career, and therefore refused to promote its re-releases, now marketed as "a camp classic" by the studio. In the year of its release, Mommie Dearest won 5 of the 9 Razzies (Golden Raspberry Award, given to "the very worst of film") it was nominated for, including Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor and Worst Supporting Actress. The movie is now regarded as one of the "campiest films of all time."
There is some debate regarding the actual year of Crawford's birth. Many sources give 1906 or 1908, but 1904 is cited most often and by those references generally most reliable, although government records indicate 1908.
Crawford was one of MGM's biggest stars of the 1930s. She placed third on the first annual exhibitors' poll of top box office stars in 1932, and later placed tenth in 1933, sixth in 1934, fifth in 1935 and seventh in 1936. Her box office appeal plummeted for a time in the late '30s, leading her to be one of the stars dubbed "box office poison" in an exhibitors' poll. The most durable star of them all, though, Crawford, still a star three decades later, could look back at it all and laugh.
She was elected a fellow of Brandeis University, Waltham, Massachusetts
Designated as the first "Woman of the Year" by the United Service Organizations of New York for her qualities as "an actress, an executive, and a humanitarian" (1965).
Quit Stephens College, a posh university for women in Columbia, Missouri, in the early 1920s.
Worked as an elevator operator at Harzfeld's department store in downtown Kansas City, Missouri.
Each time Crawford married, she changed the name of her Brentwood estate and installed all new toilet seats.
Interred at Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York, USA.
Was asked to take over Carole Lombard's role in They All Kissed the Bride (1942) after she died in a air crash during a war bond tour. She then donated all of her salary to the Red Cross who found Lombard's body, and promptly fired her agent for taking his usual 10%.
She was so dedicated to her fans that she always personally responded to her fan mail by typing them responses on blue paper and autographing it. A great deal of her spare time and weekends were spent doing this.
After her friend Steven Spielberg hit it big, Joan sent him periodic notes of congratulations. The last one came two weeks before her death.
She taught director Steven Spielberg how to belch while filming their episode of Night Gallery (1969).
Cartoonist Milton Caniff claimed he created the character of "Dragon Lady" for his popular Terry and the Pirates comic strip based on Joan Crawford.
At the time of her death, the only photographs displayed in her apartment were of Barbara Stanwyck and President John F. Kennedy.
Born at 10:00 pm.
She had a cleanliness obsession. She used to wash her hands every ten minutes and follow guests around her house wiping everything they touched, especially doorknobs and pieces from her china set.
She would never smoke a cigarette unless she opened the pack herself and would never use another cigarette out of that pack if someone else had touched it.
Always slept in white pajamas.
Was forced by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer to drop her real name Lucille LeSueur because it sounded too much like "sewer."
Her 1933 contract with MGM was so detailed and binding, it even had a clause in it indicating what time she was expected to be in bed each night.
She was named as "the other woman" in at least two divorces.
Was born Catholic but converted to Christian Science in later years.
Whenever she stayed in a hotel, no matter how good and well-reputed it was, Joan always scrubbed the bathroom herself before using it.
In the early 1930s, tired of playing fun-loving flappers, Joan wanted to change her image. Thin lips would not do for her, she wanted big lips. Ignoring Crawford's natural lip contours, Max Factor ran a smear of color across her upper and lower lips; it was just what she wanted. To Max, the Crawford look, which became her trademark, was always "the smear." To the public, it became known as "Hunter's Bow Lips." Crawford is often credited as helping to rout America's prejudice against lipstick.
After hearing that a plumber had used a toilet after installing it in her Brentwood home, she immediately had the fixture and pipes ripped out and replaced.
Her cleanliness obsession lead her to prefer showers to tubs, as she abhorred sitting in her own bathwater.
Despite being a big star, Crawford really didn't appear in that many film classics. One she missed out on was From Here to Eternity (1953). When the domineering actress insisted that her costumes be designed by Sheila O'Brien, studio head Harry Cohn replaced her with Deborah Kerr.
In her final years at MGM, Crawford was handed weak scripts in the hopes that she'd break her contract. Two films she hungered to appear in were Random Harvest (1942) and Madame Curie (1943). Both films went to bright new star Greer Garson instead, and Crawford left the studio soon after.
"Joan Arden" was chosen as the young star's screen name after a write-in contest was held in the pages of Movie Weekly magazine, but a bit player came forward and said she was already using it. Mrs. Marie M. Tisdale, a crippled woman living in Albany, New York, won $500 for submitting the runner-up name "Joan Crawford." She disliked her "new" name and initially encouraged others to pronounce it "Jo-Anne Crawford." In private, she liked to be referred to as "Billie."
It was recently learned from an excellent, detailed and objective TV biography of her (including information from Christina Crawford) that Joan Crawford's hatred of wire hangers derived from her poverty as a child and her experiences working with her mother in what must have been a grim job in a laundry.
Joan always considered The Unknown (1927) a big turning point for her. She said it wasn't until working with Lon Chaney in this film that she learned the difference between standing in front of a camera and acting in front of a camera. She said that was all due to Lon Chaney and his intense concentration, and after that experience she said she worked much harder to become a better actress.
Because Joan was bullied and shunned at Stephens College by the other students due to her poor home life, she answered every single piece of fan mail she received in her lifetime except those from former classmates at Stephens.
Decided to adopt children after suffering a series of miscarriages with her husbands and being told by doctors that she would never be able to have a baby.
Drank excessively and smoked until she began practicing Christian Science, at which time she abruptly quit doing both.
During her later years, Crawford was drinking up to a quart of vodka a day.
When her daughter Christina Crawford decided to become an actress, Joan demanded that she change her last name, so it wouldn't appear that Christina was using it to further her career. Christina refused.
Joan adopted all of her children except Christopher Crawford while she was unmarried. Since the state of California did not allow single men and women to adopt children at that time, Joan had to search for agencies in the eastern United States. The agency in charge of the adoption of Christina Crawford was later uncovered as part of a black market baby ring.
As a child, Joan was playing in the front yard of her home in Texas when she got a large piece of glass lodged in her foot. After it was removed, doctors told her she would likely never walk again without a limp. Joan was determined to be a dancer, so she practiced walking and dancing every day for over six months until she was able to walk without pain. Not only did she make a full recovery, she also fulfilled her dream of becoming a chorus dancer.
Joan was dancing in a chorus line in 1925 when she was spotted by MGM and offered a screen test. Joan, who wanted more than anything to continue dancing, turned down the offer at first. But another chorus girl pursuaded Joan to try the test, and a few weeks later she was put under contract.
When Joan adopted her eldest daughter, Christina Crawford, she first named her "Joan, Jr." Baby pictures from the book Mommie Dearest show baby Christina lying on a towel with "Joan, Jr." monogrammed on it. Later, for reasons that can only be speculated, Joan changed the baby's name to Christina. Joan did the same thing to her adopted son, who was named "Phillip Terry, Jr.," after the man that Joan was married to at the time he was adopted. After her divorce to Phillip Terry was finalized, Joan changed the boy's name to Christopher.
Joan adopted another son in the early 1940s, but during a magazine interview, she disclosed the location of his birth, and his biological mother showed up at her Brentwood home wanting the baby back. Thinking that a fight would hurt the well-being of the child, Joan gave him back to his mother, who then sold him to another family.
Joan never liked the name "Crawford," saying to friend, actor William Haines, that it sounded too much like "Crawfish." He replied that it was much better than "Cranberry," which became the nickname he used for Crawford for over 50 years.
Blue Öyster Cult wrote a song about her titled "Joan Crawford."
Adopted four children: Christina, Christopher, and twins Cynthia and Cathy.
Measurements: 35-25-35 (as model 1930), 35-25 1/2-37 (precise studio stats, 1937) (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)
Wore size 4C shoes. (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)
Her little tap dancing in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) was the first audible tap dance on the screen.
Her Oscar statuette for Mildred Pierce (1945) went on auction after her death and sold for $68,000. The auction house had predicted a top bid of $15,000.
Her popularity grew so quickly after her name was changed to Joan Crawford that two films in which she was still billed as Lucille Le Sueur: Old Clothes (1925) and The Only Thing (1925) were recalled, and the billings were altered.
WAMPAS Baby of 1926
She was a favorite model of Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks for their early experiments in animation.
Met her biological father only once when he visited her on the set of Chained (1934). She would never see him again.
One of the original MGM Contract Stars from the studio's early period.
She was voted the 47th Greatest Movie Star of All Time by Entertainment Weekly.
After she was signed to MGM, someone attempted to extort money from the studio by claiming they had a porn film that featured a young Crawford. The attempt failed when MGM pointed out they could not definitely prove the actress in the film was Crawford. The incident was mentioned in a couple of biographies.
Was approached twice by the producers of the Airport disaster movie series. She was offered two different roles in both Airport 1975 (1974) and Airport '77 (1977), but refused.
Comedic actress Betty Hutton, who lived near Crawford for a time, stated that she seen some of the abuse claimed by Joan's daughter Christina Crawford. Hutton would often encourage her own children to spend some time with "those poor children," as she felt they needed some fun in their lives.
After Alfred Steele died, she still continued to set a place for him at the dinner table.
Although Crawford claimed her youngest daughters Cathy and Cindy were twins, most sources, including her two older children, claim they were just two babies born about a month apart. Her two older children claimed they couldn't be twins because they looked nothing alike. In the early 1990s, Cathy found their birth certificate, which proved that they were indeed twins, born on January 13, 1947. The fact that they were fraternal twins, rather than identical, can account for the fact that they did not look alike. The twins eventually met their birth father and other biological relatives. They found out that their birth mother had died of kidney failure soon after birth and that their father, who had not been married to their mother, did not find out about them until after it was too late. They were sold illegally to Joan Crawford by Tennessee Children's Home Society director Georgia Tann.
She has a granddaughter, Chrystal, from son Christopher. She has a granddaughter Carla, born c. 1970, and a grandson, Casey LaLonde, born c. 1972, from her daughter Cathy. She has eight grandchildren altogether (four from Christopher and two each from Cindy and Cathy).
She was of French descent on her father's side, and Irish/Scottish/English descent on her mother's side.
On AFI's "100 Years 100 Stars," she was ranked the #10 Female Greatest Screen Legend.
Often wore shoulder pads.
Was very close friends with William Haines and his partner Jimmy Shields.
Her performance as Mildred Pierce Beragon in Mildred Pierce (1945) is ranked #93 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
Thanked by Courtney Love in the liner notes of Hole's album "Celebrity Skin."
She was actually Fred Astaire's first on-screen dance partner. They appeared in Dancing Lady (1933).
Salary for 1941, $195,673.
Has once said that Clark Gable was the only man she had ever loved.
In 1933 she appeared in a Coca-Cola print advertisement. Some years later, in 1955, she married Pepsi-Cola board chairman Alfred N. Steele.
In 1959, just after the death of her husband Alfred Steele, Joan remained employed by Pepsi-Cola, earning $60,000 per year.
Referring to the trendsetting makeup styles Crawford initiated in the early 1930s, which replaced the genteel prettiness of the '20s with a more sculptured, mature look, Crawford remarked, "Everybody imitated my fuller mouth, my darker eyebrows. But I wouldn't copy anybody. If I can't be me, I don't want to be anybody. I was born that way."
"The most important thing a woman can have, next to her talent of course, is her hairdresser."
"I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford, the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door."
"Inactivity is one of the great indignities of life. The need to work is always there, bugging me."
"Bette and I work differently. Bette screams and I knit. While she screamed, I knitted a scarf that stretched clear to Malibu." --Joan Crawford on working with Bette Davis at a 1973 NYC appearance
"I need sex for a clear complexion, but I'd rather do it for love."
[On The Women (1939)] "Norma Shearer made me change my costume sixteen times because every one was prettier than hers. I love to play bitches and she helped me in this part."
"If you have an ounce of common sense and one good friend, you don't need an analyst."
"If you start watching the oldies, you're in trouble. I feel ancient if Grand Hotel (1932) or The Bride Wore Red (1937) comes on. I have a sneaking regard for Mildred Pierce (1945), but the others do nothing for me."
"They were all terrible, even the few I thought might be good. I made them because I needed the money or because I was bored or both. I hope they have been exhibited and withdrawn and are never heard from again." - regarding her films that followed What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).
"If I weren't a Christian Scientist, and I saw Trog (1970) advertised on a marquee across the street, I think I'd contemplate suicide."
"I realized one morning that Trog (1970) was going to be my last picture. I had to be up early for the shoot and when I looked outside at the beautiful morning sky I felt that it was time to say good-bye. I think that may have been a prophetic thought because when I arrived on the set that morning the director told me that due to budget cuts we would wrap up filming today. The last shot of that film was a one-take and it was a very emotional moment for me. When I was walking up that hill towards the sunset I was flooded with memories of the last 50 years, and when the director yelled cut, I just kept on walking. That for me was the perfect way to end my film career, however the audiences who had to sit through that picture may feel differently."
"I hate being asked to discuss those dreadful horror pictures I made the mistake of starring in. They were all just so disappointing to me, I really had high expectations for some of them. I thought that William Castle and I did our best on Strait-Jacket (1964) but the script was ludicrous and unbelievable and that destroyed that picture. I even thought that Berserk! (1968) would be good, but that was one of the worst of the lot. The other one William Castle and I did was the most wretched of them all and I just wasn't good at playing an over-the-hill nymphomaniac. Ha! Then came Trog (1970). Now you can understand why I retired from making motion pictures. Incidentally, I think at that point in my career I was doing my best work on television. Della was a good television role for me, and I really liked working on that pilot episode of Night Gallery (1969) with young Steven Spielberg. He did a great job and I am very satisfied with my performance on that show. Funny, every time a reporter asks me about my horror pictures, they never talk about that one, and it's the only one I liked!"
"Love is fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell."
"Nobody can imitate me. You can always see impersonations of Katharine Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. But not me. Because I've always drawn on myself only."
"Mother and daughter feuds make for reams in print; they also make for reams of inaccuracies: the greatest inaccuracy is the feud itself. It takes two to feud and I'm not one of them. I only wish the best for Tina." - in reference to the ongoing fued between herself and her daughter Christina
"Women's Lib? Poor little things. They always look so unhappy. Have you noticed how bitter their faces are?"
"You have to be self-reliant and strong to survive in this town. Otherwise you will be destroyed."
"Recently I heard a 'wise guy' story that I had a party at my home for twenty-five men. It's an interesting story, but I don't know twenty-five men I'd want to invite to a party."
"Look, there's nothing wrong with my tits, but I don't go around throwing them in people's faces!" (Crawford, criticizing Marilyn Monroe).
"Send me flowers while I'm alive. They won't do me a damn bit of good after I'm dead."
"Not that anyone cares, but there's a right and wrong way to clean a house."
There was a saying around MGM, "Norma Shearer got the productions, Greta Garbo supplied the art, and Joan Crawford made the money to pay for both."
"Of all the actresses ... to me, only Faye Dunaway has the talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star."
"I'd like to think every director I've worked with has fallen in love with me, I know Dorothy Arzner did."
"You're right. She was cheap and an exhibitionist. She was never professional, and that irritated the hell out of people. But for God's sake, she needed help. She had all these people on her payroll. Where they hell were they when she needed them? Why in the hell did she have to die alone?" (Speaking to director George Cukor after learning of Marilyn Monroe's death)
"I love playing bitches. There's a lot of bitch in every woman - a lot in every man."
"Hollywood is like life, you face it with the sum total of your equipment."
"If you've earned a position, be proud of it. Don't hide it. I want to be recognized. When I hear people say, 'Joan Crawford!' I turn around and say, 'Hi! How are you?'"
(On director George Cukor)-- Mr. Cukor is a hard task-master, a fine director, and he took me over the coals, giving me the roughest time I have ever had. And I am eternally grateful."
Quotes on Crawford
"The best time I ever had with her was when I pushed her downstairs in Baby Jane." --Bette Davis, referring to a scene that does not appear in the final film
"I tried to be a good listener. I decided that was what she wanted all along--not so much a friend as an audience." --June Allyson on Crawford
"She's slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie." --quote attributed to Bette Davis
"As a human being, Miss Crawford is a great actress." --quote attributed to Nicholas Ray, director of Johnny Guitar (1954)
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