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Creator / Joan Crawford

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"If you've earned a position, be proud of it. Don't hide it. I want to be recognized. When I hear people say, 'There's Joan Crawford!', I turn around and say, 'Hi! How are you?'"

Joan Crawford (born Lucille Fay LeSueur; March 23, 190?note  – May 10, 1977) was an Academy Award-winning American actress who rose to stardom during The Golden Age of Hollywood, and was well known both for her commanding screen presence and for her sordid offscreen love life.

Crawford was born 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 screen-test 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, but the relationship was rocky, due to Crawford trying use her own profile to boost her husband's career, something Tone felt notably awkward about, as he was not interested in being a star, merely wanting to just be an actor, and the fact that they tried for children twice, but both attempts ended in miscarriage. Tone allegedly began drinking and became physically abusive towards her, and she would file for divorce in 1939. 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. Her and Tone later rekindled their friendship, and when Tone was diagnosed with with lung cancer, Crawford would be the one who cared for him in his final years as the cancer turned terminal, and she would also be the one who supervised his funeral arrangements when he eventually passed away in 1968.

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 from a heart attack 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 her two younger children and many of her co-stars, but supported by several other stars who had known Crawford.

Crawford is portrayed by Jessica Lange in the 2017 FX series Feud: Bette and Joan, which depicts her rocky relationship with the aforementioned Bette Davis during the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.

Having appeared in many films for both Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros., the latter now owns the rights to the films she made for the former in addition to the ones she did for the latter.

As a final note, as the product of a broken home herself, while she personally deplored Marilyn Monroe's erratic and unprofessional behavior, she understood the root cause behind it, and after Monroe's suicide, was reportedly furious when reflecting on how Marilyn had fallen through the cracks of society and no one had been there to catch her.

Joan Crawford films with pages on TV Tropes:

Tropes embodied by Crawford's works include:

  • Actor Allusion: invoked
    • In Rain, Joan's character, Sadie Thompson, says that she's from Kansas (the same place Crawford grew up).
    • In Harriet Craig Harriet (Joan) gives a rant about how she was left poor and forced to drop out of a school and work in a laundry at the age of 14 when her father abandoned the family. This was more or less what happened in Real Life to Joan Crawford.
  • 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 1940s and 1950s.
  • All-Star Cast: Several times. invoked
  • 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.
  • 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". Alternately, the studio hated her birth surname because it sounded too much like "sewer".
  • Dawson Casting: invoked Quite possibly the most extreme case of this trope. In 1968 in the soap opera The Secret Storm, the 60-something 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?
  • Hate Sink: She is depicted as such by her daughter Christina in her memoir Mommie Dearest and the film adaptation. However, people are starting to see through the latter.
  • Hollywood Hype Machine: In 1926, Crawford was named as a WAMPAS Baby Star (listing actors 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-1920s, 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 actor.
      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.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Judging by many films roles in which Joan's characters were in their underwear or a swimsuit, then definitely.
  • 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.
  • Playing Against Type: invoked
    • As a facially-disfigured woman who turns to blackmail in A Woman's Face.
    • A mild version with Mildred in Mildred Pierce. Despite the gradual independence of the character, she became one in order to please her ungrateful eldest daughter.
  • 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.note 
  • Retroactive Recognition: invoked She showed up as an extra in the original Ben-Hur movie in 1925, years before she became famous.
  • Sexy Secretary: As 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".
  • The Tease: In her flapper acting days, her characters were definitely this. With the use of Double Entendre and mischievous gazes at others, Joan had fun leading men into hilarious flirtatious scenes. In one scene in Our Dancing Daughters, her character Diana says to a man named Ben that her (supposed) Innocent Blue Eyes are yearning for something from him... one of his cigarettes, to his dismay. Diana can't hide her smug grin as she puts one into her mouth.
  • Those Two Actors: invoked
    • With Clark Gable in eight films, leading to them briefly dating.
    • With Robert Montgomery in about three or four films. They remained close friends until her death.
  • 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:
    • In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? she portrayed a subversion with Blanche, who 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 re-surge in popularity now that all her old films are being shown on television.
    • In real life, 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.
  • You Are the New Trend: Crawford was notorious for wearing costumes in movies that began fashion trends or became Small Reference Pools for iconic clothing of the decade.
    • One dress she wore in a film (the Letty Lynton dress) became a high demand across the clothing stores in the US (to the point of the dress having to be remade hundreds of times to sell to the public).
    • Joan was allegedly mocked in her youth for having big "unattractive" lips, but the large layer of lipstick she wore in her films became nicknamed "The Smear", which many women tried to imitate.
    • The shoulder pad look from Mildred Pierce was said to have began the shoulder pad look in women's clothing, despite director Michael Curtiz loathing the look for going against his image of the character. Also, Mildred's high heel shoes became popular too, being the first shoes to be nicknamed "fuck me" heels.

References in other works:

  • Blue Öyster Cult wrote a song entitled Joan Crawford Has Risen From The Grave, 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.