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Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography

LAWRENCE J. QUIRK
WILLIAM SCHOELL
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 312
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jcr8z
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    Joan Crawford
    Book Description:

    " Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography explores the life and career of one of Hollywood's great dames. She was a leading film personality for more than fifty years, from her beginnings as a dancer in silent films of the 1920s, to her portrayals of working-class shop girls in the Depression thirties, to her Oscar-winning performances in classic films such as Mildred Pierce. Crawford's legacy has become somewhat tarnished in the wake of her daughter Christina's memoir, Mommie Dearest, which turned her into a national joke. Today, many picture Crawford only as a wire hanger-wielding shrew rather than the personification of Hollywood glamour. This new biography of Crawford sets the record straight, going beyond the gossip to find the truth about the legendary actress. The authors knew Crawford well and conducted scores of interviews with her and many of her friends and co-stars, including Frank Capra, George Cukor, Nicholas Ray, and Sidney Greenstreet. Far from a whitewash -- Crawford was indeed a colorful and difficult character -- Joan Crawford corrects many lies and tells the story of one of Hollywood's most influential stars, complete with on-set anecdotes and other movie lore. Through extensive interviews, in-depth analysis, and evaluation of her films and performances -- both successes and failures -- Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell present Crawford's story as both an appreciation and a reevaluation of her extraordinary life and career. Filled with new interviews, Joan Crawford tells the behind-the-scenes story of the Hollywood icon. Lawrence J. Quirk is the author of many books on film, including Bob Hope: The Road Well-Traveled. William Schoell is the author of several entertainment-related books, including Martini Man: The Life of Dean Martin.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4410-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
  5. Chapter One CHILDHOOD’S END
    (pp. 1-11)

    On March 23, 1904, in San Antonio, Texas, Anna Bell Johnson LeSueur gave birth to a little girl, whom she and her husband, Thomas, named Lucille Fay. Lucille was the couple’s third child; another daughter, Daisy, had died in infancy, and Lucille’s brother, Hal, had been born the previous year. (Many years later, when little Lucille was the famous woman known to the world as Joan Crawford, the year of her birth would mysteriously change to 1906 or 1908.) Tom LeSueur was of French-Canadian extraction; he worked as a contractor, and his assignments frequently took him out of San Antonio....

  6. Chapter Two PRETTY LADY
    (pp. 13-23)

    Lucille’s first appearance in front of a movie camera—unbilled—was inLady of the Night(1925), in which star Norma Shearer played a dual role. When Shearer was playing one part, Lucille would double for the other one, shot from behind or in profile from a distance. Lucille knew that Shearer was going places—she was dating Irving Thalberg, for one thing—and Shearer was what Lucille wanted to be: a star. So Lucille studied her carefully. For her part, Shearer acted as if Lucille hardly existed, something Lucille wouldn’t forget when they worked together many years later.

    Billed...

  7. Chapter Three WINDOW DRESSING
    (pp. 25-35)

    Joan had kept in touch with her mother and brother, if for no other reason than to let them know that despite their dire predictions, she had amounted to something after all. To say that she was not thrilled to see them in Hollywood, though, would be a supreme understatement. Nevertheless, they were her closest relatives and she couldn’t bring herself to turn her back on them. In later years, she would wish that she had done just that.

    Brash Hal showed up first—out of the blue, insisting that if little Lucille could make it in the movies, then...

  8. Chapter Four LIFE AT EL JODO
    (pp. 37-49)

    Just before starting work onRose-Marie,Joan went with Paul Bern to seeYoung Woodleyat the Vine Street Playhouse. The star of the play was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the son of the macho silent action star, Douglas Fairbanks by his first wife, Beth Sully. Young Doug was trying to carve out a career of his own without slavishly imitating his father, with whom he had an essentially sterile relationship. Joan had met Doug Jr. briefly at the studio, and found him stuffy, but she so admired his sensitive performance inYoung Woodleythat she sent him a congratulatory telegram....

  9. Chapter Five TWO OF A KIND
    (pp. 51-65)

    It was a year after Joan and Doug Jr. were married that they were finally invited to Pickfair. “I was so desperate to go,” Joan remembered. “But by the time we finally got the summons I felt like telling them what they could do with it.” Spending frequent days at Pickfair, Joan watched as Doug and his father grew closer than they had ever been before. Unfortunately, she never became close to Doug’s stepmother. During the remaining years of her marriage to Doug Jr., Mary Pickford hardly ever deigned to speak to Joan, and when she did it was always...

  10. Chapter Six SKIN TONE
    (pp. 67-81)

    Whether or not Joan had fallen in love with Clark Gable, her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was probably doomed from the start. In many ways Doug was a spoiled, isolated child of privilege who had married a comparatively sophisticated older woman who had pulled herself up by her bootstraps. For all his charm and levity, Fairbanks was, emotionally speaking, a boy who’d had everything handed to him at birth—by contrast, Joan had had to struggle for the same things. “Looking back,” Joan remembered, “it would probably be unfair of me to say Doug was superficial and I was...

  11. Chapter Seven LOVE ON THE RUN
    (pp. 83-95)

    The Crawford-Tone combination still had a couple of years to self-destruct, but Joan did her best to concentrate on her work and avoid the sullen Tone when he was drinking. Things seemed to be looking up a bit when both were cast in another film together, with the added attraction of Clark Gable. Tempting as it might have been for Joan to seek shelter in the arms of Gable, she was wise enough to know that doing so would only make a bad situation worse. She still hoped her marriage to Tone would magically improve; his becoming as big a...

  12. Chapter Eight JUNGLE RED
    (pp. 97-107)

    Considering the hit-or-miss quality of the films that came before, it is perhaps not surprising that Joan wound up inIce Follies of 1939with Jimmy Stewart, who’d had a bit part inThe Gorgeous Hussy,instead ofGone With the Wind. (“Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous!” commented Joan.) The two leads had very different styles, but they played well together as Mary McKay and Larry Hall, an ice-skating duo who break up when Mary becomes a movie star. By now, Stewart was a major player in his own right. The two are at their best...

  13. Chapter Nine SCARRED
    (pp. 109-121)

    A Woman’s Face(1941) turned out to be one of Joan’s best movies. She played Anna Holm, scarred in childhood by a fire caused by her alcoholic father. Reactions to her disfigured face have made her cold and bitter, although deep down she still desires love and pretty things. She owns a roadhouse, from which she and a gang of confederates blackmail the indiscreet. When some love letters written by a married woman named Vera Segert (Osa Massen) fall into Anna’s hands, she goes to her home to demand payment for their return, but winds up being treated by Vera’s...

  14. Chapter Ten MILDRED
    (pp. 123-137)

    By 1942 Joan was so dismayed with her assignments at MGM that she felt she would do better as a free agent or at another studio. Despite fine performances in films likeA Woman’s Face,the studio was no longer giving her the kind of buildup and support that she knew she deserved. She never blamed Mayer for this. She knew there were higher-ups who felt that she was simply getting too old to maintain her hold on Hollywood stardom and remain a profitable performer for the studio. She’d had a good run; now they wanted to put their money...

  15. Chapter Eleven POSSESSED
    (pp. 139-151)

    Possessed(1947) contained the best performance I ever gave,” Joan told Lawrence Quirk in 1956. “I put so much of myself into it!” She added that she always regretted not fighting the Warner Bros. front office harder when they came up with the titlePossessed,as it was the same as her 1931 film for MGM. “I wanted to call itThe Secret,but they overruled me. Since the main character was supposed, mentally, to be ‘possessed’ by devils, that seemed the more logical title to them.”

    Louise Howell (Joan) is a nurse to a neurotic, bedridden woman who wrongly...

  16. Photographs
    (pp. None)
  17. Chapter Twelve VICTIM
    (pp. 153-167)

    Joan’s next script was originally entitledThe Victimand was based on the life of gangster’s moll Virginia Hill, who had been involved with such famous criminals as Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel. The director, Vincent Sherman, was concerned that, at forty-six, Joan was too old to play a young girl at the beginning of the picture, but he thought it would work if she played a woman just a couple of years younger than she actually was. He felt that women in middle age still had ambitions and romantic dreams and that Joan’s own romanticism and desperation...

  18. Chapter Thirteen THE BITCH IS BACK
    (pp. 169-187)

    Joan had signed on for a major role inFrom Here to Eternity,even though director Fred Zinnemann didn’t want to use her. Her chief defender in this project was Columbia Pictures studio boss Harry Cohn. But even Cohn turned against Joan when she made it known that she hated her wardrobe forEternityand demanded that her personal designer, Sheila O’Brien, be assigned to the picture. After all, O’Brien knew best how Joan should look and how to achieve that look. This was too much for Cohn, who fired Joan and replaced her with Deborah Kerr. So Joan never...

  19. Chapter Fourteen THE QUEEN OF PEPSI-COLA
    (pp. 189-203)

    Alfred Steele, who would become Joan’s fourth husband, was the person most responsible for turning Pepsi-Cola from a small soda company into Coca-Cola’s chief competition. This was partly because he had worked for Coca-Cola for so many years and absorbed a number of trade secrets before jumping ship to Pepsi with another executive and friend named Mitchell Cox. Steele was stimulated by the challenge of taking the rival cola company and turning it into a genuine challenge to Coca-Cola’s supremacy. Within a year he was made chairman of the board at Pepsi-Cola, whose profits had increased about 300 percent since...

  20. Chapter Fifteen TEEN IDOL
    (pp. 205-217)

    Bette Davis once said of working with Joan onWhat Ever Happened to Baby Jane?:

    We were polite to each other—all the social amenities, “Good morning, Joan” and “Good morning, Bette” crap—and thank God we weren’t playing roles where we had to like each other! But people forget that our big scenes were alone—just the camera was on me or her. No actresses on earth are as different as we are, all the way down the line. Yet what we do works. It’s so strange, this acting business. It comes from inside. She was always so damn...

  21. Chapter Sixteen WAR OF NERVES
    (pp. 219-231)

    Bette Davis did not want Joan as her costar inWhat Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?That was the title of Robert Aldrich’s follow up toBaby Janefor the same studio, and Joan pretty much felt the same way. Still, despite her reservations about working with Davis, she didn’t want to be left out of the party and the possible profits it might accrue. She knew thatBaby Janehad done a lot to keep her in the public eye and to attract a younger generation of fans, andCousin Charlottemight be even more successful. Davis tried to...

  22. Chapter Seventeen SECRET STORMS
    (pp. 233-243)

    In 1968, Lawrence J. Quirk came out with his bookThe Films of Joan Crawford,which provided synopses for all of Joan’s movies, sample reviews, a mini-biography, and lots of exclusive photographs. Joan was enthusiastic about the project from the outset, saying that Quirk knew more about her films than anyone. She got MGM to lend him stills of her pictures from their New York photo archive. This saved Quirk a great deal of money, as it would have been expensive to track down and pay for the hundreds of stills needed. Of course, Joan wasn’t being entirely selfless, as...

  23. Chapter Eighteen END OF AN ICON
    (pp. 245-251)

    Around 1972, Joan learned that the Imperial House was going co-op. For less than $100,000 she bought a two-bedroom apartment in the same building and moved from the nine-bedroom apartment she had happily occupied for several years. This move was not as traumatic as the one seven years earlier, as she would not be leaving the neighborhood or even the building, and for both economic and health reasons she was ready to simplify her life. She was surprised when, some months later,Architectural Digestexpressed interest in photographing the “tiny” apartment, but her name still had a certain cachet that...

  24. Chapter Nineteen SERPENT’S TOOTH
    (pp. 253-267)

    “For reasons that are well known to them.”

    With these words did Joan Crawford cut her first two adopted children, Christina and Christopher, out of her will. Their mother had just been buried next to her last husband, Alfred Steele, in Westchester. Now at the Drake Hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Christina and her brother were getting the bad news. Cathy and Cindy were to receive about $80,000 apiece, and another million was to be divided among several charities.

    Christina immediately raced into action. She hired an aggressive lawyer who tried several strategies to contest her mother’s...

  25. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 269-270)

    In October 1981, the month that the filmMommie Dearestwas released, an item in the “Page Six” column by Richard Johnson of theNew York Postquoted Lawrence J. Quirk on some of the good things Joan had done for people down on their luck: the hospital beds she had endowed; the checks she sent her former co-worker, the down-and-out Marie Prevost, among many others; her fight (in a much less tolerant era) to get pal William Haines established as an interior decorator after his homosexuality effectively ended his acting career; and so on. Way back in 1934, Joan...

  26. FILMOGRAPHY
    (pp. 271-274)
  27. NOTES
    (pp. 275-282)
  28. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 283-284)
  29. INDEX
    (pp. 285-294)