Joan Crawford - An Enduring Actress

Joan Crawford PictureJoan Crawford (1906-1977) was often the movie star the audiences loved to hate. A star whose career began with silents, she was the epitome of the glamomus Hollywood leading lady. Her films chronicle her hard work and ambition as much as her talent, which did not really flourish until she had been in films for nearly 20 years. Crawford proved immensely durable in Hollywood. Hers was a rags to riches story and it took toughness, shrewdness and a formidable single-mindedness to make it happen.

The story of her life reads like a B movie. Born Lucille le Sueur in San Antonio, Texas, her parents were separated before she was born and her mother married a vaudeville theater manager. They divorced in 1915, but by then Crawford was hooked - on dancing. She worked as a laundress, waitress and shopgirl, but life got better after she won a Charleston contest. Calling herself Billie Cassin, she danced her way into clubs. A stint in the chorus line of a Broadway show - Innocent Eyes - led to her screen debut as Norma Shearer's standin in Lady of the Night (25).

After a series of mediocre silents, MGM sponsored a contest for her in a fan magazine, hoping to give her a new name. The winner came up with 'Joan Crawford'. She became a symbol of the Jazz Age in Our Dancing Daughters (28), and she became a star and took over the image of 'Number One Flapper' from Clara Bow. Her first talkie was Hollywood Revue of 1929 (29), and her first dramatic role was in Paid the following year. Like Bette Davis at Warner Bros., Crawford hounded her studio (MGM) for substantial parts. And it was those parts that always pulled her out of a box office slump - The Women (39), A Woman's Face (41) and Mildred Pierce (45) (for which she won an Oscar).

In the 1940s MGM thought that she was box office poison, but she became a star at Warner Bros. playing in women's pictures, mostly soap opera stuff ignored by the critics. She became the personification of the career girl and the repressed older woman, and it was said that woman fans loved to see her suffering in mink. Crawford later worked again at MGM and at other studios, struggling to remain at the top. Columnist Hedda Hopper said of her, 'She spends 24 hours a day keeping her name in the pupil of the public eye.' She played aging femme fatales in the 1950s, and in the 1960s, with rival Bette Davis, she appeared in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (62), a psychological drama. She kept working as long as she was offered roles.

Crawford was married four times: to Douglas Fairbanks Jr, Franchot Tone, Philip Terry and Alfred Steel, the board chairman of Pepsi Cola. After Steel's death she became an active member of the company. Mommie Dearest, a 1978 biography by her daughter Christina, made her sound like a fiend, but Crawford was one of Hollywood's most glittering stars for more over four decades.

Films: Pretty Ladies (25), The Taxi Dancer (27), Rose Marie (28), Our Dancing Daughters (28), Paid (29), Hollywood Revue of 1929 (29), Laughing Sinners (31), Grand Hotel (32), Rain (32), Dancing Lady (33), The Gorgeous Hussy (36), The Women (39), Strange Cargo (40), Susan and God (40), A Woman's Face (41), Mildred Pierce (45), Humoresque (46), Possessed (47), Harriet Craig (50), Sudden Fear (52), Johnny Guitar (54), The Story of Esther Costello (57), What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (62), Trog (70).

Text from The World Almanac Who's Who of Film, Thomas G Aylesworth and John S Bowman
(c) 1987 Bison Books Corporation, ISBN 0-88687-308-8

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