Creator / Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford (March 23, 1904 – May 10, 1977) was an Academy Award-winning American film and television actress who rose to stardom during The Golden Age of Hollywood, and was best known for her commanding box office presence and sordid love life.

Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur in 1904 in San Antonio, Texas, and worked to overcome her upbringing in a broken home (where her mother constantly remarried and she never met her birth father). At the age of 12, she enrolled in Rockingham Academy in Kansas City, and claimed she was beaten by a headmaster who made her work more than study. As a young adult, LeSueur began performing in dance contests and chorus lines, and was approached by a producer in Detroit who gave her more work in New York City, which eventually led to her getting the chance to screentest for a role with an MGM film. Subsequently, LeSueur was given a contract to work for MGM, and arrived in California in 1925.

From that point on, she appeared in a number of silent films over the next three years. At the same time, MGM held a contest to select a new Stage Name for her - the winning entry was Joan Crawford. Newly rechristened, Crawford garnered larger and larger roles until her breakout role as Diana Medford in the 1928 film Our Dancing Daughters. From that point on, Crawford went on to become a superstar, and was known for her flapperesque personality traits (later transitioning into a sophisticated persona) and commanding screen presence.

During her peak, Crawford was also involved in several high-profile marriages and affairs. She first began a Romance on the Set with Clark Gable on the set of 1931's Possessed (and continued it, even after MGM told her to stop). At the same time, she married the actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (the son of Hollywood royalty) and divorced him four years later amid accusations of verbal and mental abuse. She married another actor, Franchot Tone, in 1935, and divorced him five years later after he physically abused her. Two further marriages followed (to actor Phillip Terry and soft-drink company executive Alfred Steele), and it was during this time that she chose to adopt several children after being informed that she wouldn't be able to bear children.

From 1925 to 1937, Crawford starred in a minimum of three films a year, and amassed a total of over 200 roles by the time she died in 1977. Most modern audiences, however, likely know of Crawford through her portrayal in the 1978 book and 1981 film Mommie Dearest. The book, which was written by her adopted daughter Christina, characterized Crawford as an alcoholic and sometimes mentally unbalanced mother who beat her children for minor things, had them do gardening chores in the middle of the night and was easily prone to angry outbursts. This account was later denied by two younger children, but supported by several other film stars who had known Crawford.

Selected filmography:

Tropes embodied by Crawford and her work include:

  • Actor Allusion: invoked In Rain, Joan's character, Sadie Thompson, says that she's from Kansas (the same place Crawford was born).
  • Adam Westing: In It's A Great Feeling, Joan plays a character who makes a point of repeatedly slapping the main characters - the same thing she does in most of her films from the 40's and 50's.
  • All-Star Cast: Several times. invoked
    • With virtually everyone under contract to MGM in The Hollywood Revue of 1929.
    • With Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton and many others in The Stolen Jools, a short film which raised money for National Variety Artists' tuberculosis sanatarium.
    • With Greta Garbo, John and Lionel Barrymore and Wallace Beery in 1932's Grand Hotel, which starred the most famous MGM stars of the 30's.
    • With Norma Shearer, Joan Fontaine and Rosalind Russell (among others) in 1939's The Women.
    • With Bette Davis, Robert Hutton, Jack Carson and almost every other Warner Bros. star of the '40s in Hollywood Canteen.
  • As Herself:
    • In Hollywood Canteen, a story about two soldiers on sick leave who visit a local canteen featuring lots of celebrities.
    • In The Stolen Jools, when a pair of detectives looking for a set of stolen jewels visit her for information.
  • Canada, Eh?: The 1928 film adaptation of Rose-Marie, where she plays a French-Canadian woman who moves to the Rockies and falls in love with a miner...and yes, it has all the stereotypes you'd expect from a play of this era.
  • Celebrity Endorsement: Crawford's final marriage was to Alfred Steele, the former chairman of Pepsi Co., and she accepted an offer to become the director of the board upon his death in 1959. This led to an early form of the Cola Wars when, after Crawford appeared in many advertisements endorsing the beverage, Bette Davis started to support Coke - and would constantly rag on Crawford for her association with a rival brand.
  • Creator Backlash: invoked Hated the name 'Crawford', thinking it sounded too much like 'crawfish'.
  • Dawson Casting: invoked Quite possibly the most extreme case of this trope. In 1968 in the soap opera The Secret Storm, the 64-year old Crawford played the role of a 28-year old (a role that was originally intended for her daughter).
  • Evil Cripple: Blanche in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
  • Hollywood Hype Machine: In 1926, Crawford was named as a WAMPAS Baby Star (listing actresses on the cusp of stardom), and received increasingly larger roles as a result.
  • Missing Episode: invoked Several of Crawford's early works, including several silent films from the mid-20's, are considered lost.
  • Money, Dear Boy: invoked
    • Especially in her later films, which were a far cry from the days when she earned thousands per week as an in-demand actress.
      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.
    • Crawford referred to her experience working on This Woman Is Dangerous regarding this:
      I must have been awfully hungry. The kids were in school (and) the house had a mortgage. And so I did this awful picture that had a shoddy story, a cliche script and no direction to speak of...I suppose I could have made it better, but it was one of those times when I was so disgusted with everything that I just shrugged and went along with it.
  • Old Shame: invoked
    • She also thought Trog (the last film she starred in) was a complete piece of shit:
      If I weren't a Christian Scientist, and I saw Trog advertised on a marquee across the street, I think I'd contemplate suicide.
    • She also apologized to her fans for the film Rain, which was critically panned at the time.
  • One Steve Limit: A quasi-aversion. She was initially renamed "Joan Arden" by the studio but then they realised they already had an actress called Joan Arden. So they changed her last name to Crawford instead.
  • Playing Against Type: invoked As a facially-disfigured woman who turns to blackmail in A Woman's Face.
  • Product Placement: After she got a seat on the board of directors for Pepsi, she ensured that product placement of it would show up in all her films, beginning with The Story of Esther Costello in 1957.
  • Retroactive Recognition: invoked She showed up as an extra in the original Ben Hur in 1925, years before she became famous.
  • Sexy Secretary: Flaemmchen in Grand Hotel.
  • She Also Did:
    • She also served as the model for a few early Disney shorts, when Walt was experimenting with animation.
    • She was also responsible for the "It's A Small World" ride at Disneyland. She approached Walt at the 1964 World Fair with the idea of creating a ride dedicated to the children of the world. Two years later the ride opened in the park, with Crawford in attendance.
  • Star-Making Role: invoked Our Dancing Daughters, which proved that Crawford could make the jump from silent films to "talkies".
  • Took the Bad Film Seriously: invoked Crawford started to act like this towards the end of her career. After What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, she starred in a string of B-horror films that included Strait Jacket (playing a psycho ex-wife), Berserk (as a circus ring-mistress accused of murder), TV anthology shows, and her final film Trog, which had Crawford playing a researcher who discovers a man (running around in a ratty ape suit) that's supposed to be the missing link between man and ape - reportedly, she only did this final film as a favor to a director friend. However, she still acts as though she's doing Mildred Pierce or The Women, and indeed, eyewitnesses remember her promoting Trog as a piece exploring humanity towards nature. She would later admit how awful her horror films were.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: She wore several dresses in her MGM films, and her dressing room in MGM was impressively large, with others comparing it to a studio's wardrobe department, to the point that it was reported that if a friend ever asked to borrow an item of clothing, Joan would go into her vast wardrobe to find exactly the right one for her.
  • Urban Legend of Zelda: invoked Rumors have persisted for decades that Crawford starred in a porn film when she was a young woman, and that MGM obtained the master copies of the films and burned them to prevent anything from leaking out. At the time, she was feuding with MGM over her salary, and someone tried to extort money by claiming they had a film of her - which MGM viewed and said was not her. It has also been rumored that she took part in a "peepshow" vignette (where she danced naked) in 1923 to earn enough money to pay for a trip to Chicago - several near-topless photographs of her exist from this time period.
  • What Could Have Been: invoked
    • Crawford was intended to star in a reality show/anthology called The Joan Crawford Show, but none of the networks she approached were interesting in pursuing the idea.
    • She was originally set to be the lead in From Here to Eternity, but was canned by the studio after she demanded on having her costumes be designed by a certain tailor. The role went to Deborah Kerr instead.
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: As Crawford got older, she parlayed her talents into increasingly ridiculous productions in order to regain some measure of stardom. Notably, she starred in a production intended for her adopted daughter (who was a good thirty years younger than her) in a bid to get her name back in the spotlight. In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? she played a subversion - Blanche Hudson had to retire from films due to the injury that crippled her but has apparently made her peace with not being famous. Though she's still happy that she's gotten a resurge in popularity now that all her old films are being shown on television.

References in other works:

  • Blue Öyster Cult wrote a song entitled "Joan Crawford", which envisions her as a zombie that's risen from the dead to get revenge on Christina.
  • Played by Barrie Youngfellow in the 1980 film The Scarlett O'Hara War, about the making of Gone with the Wind.
  • The 1981 adaptation of Mommie Dearest starred Faye Dunaway in a scene-chewing performance as Crawford. Notably, the film was advertised as a drama, but when audiences started laughing at Dunaway's performance, it was quickly rebranded as a comedy.
  • Courtney Love thanked Crawford in the liner notes of Hole's Celebrity Skin album.
  • In Vampyres of Hollywood (a book about Hollywood stars who were secretly vampires), Crawford is referred to as an out-of-control werewolf.
  • In the book I Am America (And So Can You), Stephen Colbert claims that Crawford was originally born with the name Shprintzel Anatevkawitz.