A Centennial Tribute to Joan Crawford
Modern audiences know Joan Crawford mostly from her later roles, in which she often played unglamourous or unsympathetic characters, or from what she freely admitted were some bad films, done out of boredom or for the money, or both. Like Bette Davis, her features did not exactly soften as she aged, and the release of a nasty biography and a popular biopic after her death didn’t help matters, either. Her earlier films, which display her youthful beauty, are either lost or not being shown, further contributing to the fact that polls of least favorite actresses often feature Joan near the top. Most of her biographies are out of print or otherwise unavailable.
But the fact is that Joan Crawford was a star at MGM almost from the beginning, and continued to be a star for many decades, perfecting her persona as the working-class girl who broke into the ranks of the rich. It was a role that was particularly appealing to people during the Depression and war years. Recently she was voted #10 by the American Film Institute on their list of the greatest actresses of the first half of the century. She was nominated three times for Best Actress Oscars in the late 40s and early 50s, winning once, for Mildred Pierce(1945), her signature role. By most accounts, she was devoted to her fans and generous with her time and money. Even those who may find her an acquired taste have to admit that she belongs among the immortals.
Joan Crawford was born Lucille LeSuer on March 23 in either 1904, 1905 or 1908 (There are some discrepancies in her biographies, some of which list her year of birth as 1904 or 1905 and others as 1908; thus the centennial tribute in 2008) in San Antonio, Texas. Her parents separated before she was born, and one of her three step-fathers renamed her Billie Cassin. She began her entertainment career as a dancer, after winning an amateur dance contest in 1923, leading to work as a chorus girl in Chicago, Detroit, and New York.
Her movie career dates back to 1925, when she began working as an extra in silent films. She had her first actual part in Pretty Ladies that same year, and a lead role in Our Dancing Daughters in 1928. After that she was one of the top stars at MGM, successfully making the transition to talkies. In 1943 she signed with Warner Brothers, which eventually led to the Mildred Pierce role. Her success continued until the early 50s, when the good roles stopped coming as she approached 50.
She co-starred with Bette Davis in 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the high point of her post-sixties career. She was married four times, most notably to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Her last marriage, to the president of Pepsi, led to a spot on the Pepsi-Cola Board of Directors, which she held even after his death in 1959, until she was forced out in 1972, two years after her final film, the somewhat embarrassing Trog!.
Joan adopted four children, one of whom, Christina, wrote Mommie Dearest in 1978 (filmed in 1981), one year after Joan died of cancer and left nothing to Christina and brother Christopher. Her fans argue that the book and the film should therefore be taken with a grain of salt. We prefer to let her movie appearances speak for themselves.
Part I: Introduction
Part III: Movie Reviews & Where to Find Her Movies
Part IV: Photos, Art, and Posters