Friday, March 23, 2012

Joan Crawford

Who was born on this date:

Actress Joan Crawford was one of Hollywood’s most brilliant, unforgettable, and notoriously fickle actresses. She was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1905 (some sources have the year as 1908) in San Antonio, Texas. Her parents divorced when she was very young. She and her mother then lived a transient lifestyle moving from city to city in the Midwest. Crawford did attend private school but unfortunately did not progress pass a sixth grade education. She was a talented dancer and always dreamed of becoming an entertainer. As a teenager she was able to land employment as a chorus girl in Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit. In 1924 during one of these shows Crawford was discovered by stage producer J.J. Shubert; he offered her a part in the chorus line of his Broadway play, Innocent Eyes. After several months of success in this play, Crawford was spotted by an MGM talent scout, she was offered a screen test and then was offered a bit part in the film, Pretty Ladies (1925). After several other small film roles, MGM suggested that she change her name, a public contest was held and Joan Crawford was selected. Initially, she hated the name wanting Joan to be pronounced, Jo-Anne, and thinking that Crawford sounded like crawfish but she had no choice in the matter, eventually she grew to embraced the new name and the opportunities she had been given.
In a legendary film career that would span forty-seven years (1925-1972), she would star in over eighty motion pictures. Her most famous film credits include: The Taxi Dancer (1927), Our Dancing Daughters (1928), Grand Hotel (1932), The Bride Wore Red (1937), The Shining Hour (1938), The Women (1939), Humoresque (1946), Queen Bee (1955), Autumn Leaves (1956) and The Best of Everything (1959). She won the Oscar for best actress in 1946, for her portrayal of the ambitious mother in Mildred Pierce (1945). She was not present at the ceremony because of illness and in a much staged and somewhat comical scene; she accepted the award from her bed, saying in the most theatrical way possible, “This is the greatest moment of my life.” It turned out that she had faked being sick because she was afraid of losing. Crawford was nominated for two further best actress Academy Awards, Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952). Her film roles were quite diverse ranging from chorus girls and flappers (1920’s), strong minded career woman (1930’s and 1940’s), and subdued older women (1950’s). But by the 1960’s, she was relegated to bit parts in B-movies and television appearances. She made a dramatic comeback in the thriller, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) but this revival was short lived, subsequent film roles were unsatisfactory, and she soon retired from film.

She had a very tough persona, notoriously difficult to work with and was always at odds with studio heads. In 1938, she was labeled “box-office poison” by industry insiders. By 1943, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer had enough, and fired the actress for refusal to accept roles and abide by her contract. Crawford then signed with Warner Bros. and other studios, where she got roles that were much more to her liking.
Crawford had an infamous ongoing feud with Bette Davis. The two actresses detested one another. Davis was once quoted as saying (about Crawford), “She’s slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie,” and in return, Crawford replied, “I don’t hate Bette Davis even though the press wants me to. I resent her. I don’t see how she (Davis) built a career out of a set of mannerisms, instead of real acting ability. Take away the pop eyes, the cigarette, and those funny clipped words and what have you got? She’s phony, but I guess the public really likes that.” Ironically, the two archrivals would appear together to revive their careers in 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Crawford would say that working with Davis in this motion picture was the greatest challenge of her career.
Her personal life was filled with heart ache and turmoil. She married five times, divorced four husbands, and adopted four children, one of which, Christina, wrote a tell all biography, “Mommie Dearest,” in which Crawford was portrayed as being neurotic, obsessive and abusive. Because she saw this book as the ultimate betrayal, Crawford left her daughter completely out of her will and in the last paragraph of this infamous will, Crawford 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.” In 1955, Crawford married Pepsi Cola Company Chief Executive, Alfred Steele; she became a goodwill ambassador for the company and traveled around the globe promoting Pepsi. When Steele died in 1959, she was elected to fill his spot on the board of directors and held this position until 1973, when she was forced out.
Due to her advancing age and ill health, the last years of her life were spent secluded in her upper Eastside Manhattan, New York apartment. On May 10, 1977, Crawford died from a heart attack. She had been suffering from pancreatic cancer and was in a weakened state at the time of her death. Crawford’s alleged last words, spoken to her housekeeper (who had begun to pray out loud) were “Damin it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me.” Upon hearing of the death of her long time rival, Bette Davis said, “You should never say bad things about the dead; you should only say good things…Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”
Crawford was a devote Christian Scientist and her remains were cremated, a brief service was held on May 13, 1977 in which one hundred and fifty friends and family attended. A memorial service was held at the All Souls Unitarian Church in New York on May 16th in attendance were many Hollywood dignitaries that included good friend actress, Myrna Loy. Crawford’s ashes are interred with that of her late husband, Albert Steele, in the family crypt at the Ferncliff Cemetery mausoleum, Westchester County, Hartsdale, New York.

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