A Look Back At The Life Of Joan Crawford
A famous Hollywood star, childhood victim, ambitious woman, abusive mother, successful actress, alcoholic, and a force to be reckoned with everywhere she went. We’re talking about Joan Crawford.
Crawford was a vastly successful actress in the Golden Age of Hollywood. She has also become infamous over the years from tales of her abusive personality, feuds with other actresses, and what she did in the bedroom.
Joan’s oldest daughter released a tell-all book about Joan after her death giving light on her rise to stardom and the messiness behind the scenes.
A Tumultuous Early Life
Joan was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas. Her father left her family at an early age and her mother remarried while she was still very young and they relocated to Oklahoma. Her stepfather ran an opera house and introduced her to many legendary performers. It was here that she began to dream about becoming a star. He also sexually abused her from age 11 until she left home to attend a Catholic boarding school.
A New Life And A New Name
When Joan finished school, she moved to Hollywood and got to work. She was credited as Lucille LeSueur in her first few roles, but producers hated the name. Pete Smith, a publicity executive at MGM, ran a contest in the paper to rename the rising star and Joan Crawford was born.
Ambition Rules the Day
In 1925, Joan landed her first film role, but once she realized it was a bit part and that the star was married to a studio head, she decided she needed to do more to get herself to the top. She began to use the “casting couch” to seduce her way into the roles she wanted. Joan chose to do what she believed necessary to get to the top without shame.
It wasn’t just behind closed doors that she worked to promote herself. She also competed in dancing competitions to gain notice. It worked and her workload increased.
Joan also worked very hard to rid herself of her Texan drawl and spent hours reading aloud changing the way she spoke. She also took voice lessons. It paid off and when movies transitioned from silent films to talkies in the late 1920s and early 1930s, she was ready to go. Many silent film actors found themselves out of work when they didn’t have the right voice. Joan got hired when they didn’t.
Joan’s career was vastly successful. She won an Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 for her role in “Mildred Pierce.” She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and her hand and footprints are memorialized outside Grauman’s Chinese Theater.
Chaos Behind The Scenes
Her professional life behind the scenes was a different story. At work, Joan often feuded with other actresses. Her longtime feud with Bette Davis is the most well-known. It began in 1933 and never ended. They were cruel to each other on set, tried to one-up each other at awards shows, and denigrated each other in the media. There were many in the business that didn’t enjoy working with Joan but did so because of her box office draw.
Abusive Personal Life
Joan’s personal life was also marked with abuse. Joan was married four times. Her first and third marriages ended in divorce. Her second marriage ended because of two miscarriages and physical abuse. Her final marriage was to Pepsi president Alfred Steele. After his death, she was on the board of directors for years even though the company wanted nothing to do with her.
Throughout the years of these marriages, Joan wanted desperately to be a mother. Her miscarriages were very difficult for her. She ended up adopting four children–three of them through illegal baby brokers and children’s homes. Her oldest daughter, Christina, who wrote the tell-all book, says that Joan was abusive to her and her brother physically and mentally.
Joan was also an alcoholic and it caused her to lose her roles in the 1960s. In 1974, her drinking led to a fall and an injury. After that, she sobered up. She died in 1977 of a heart attack in her home.
An Infamous Legacy
Joan was a force. She was an acclaimed and successful actress but she also had a complicated, difficult off-screen life with those in Hollywood and her friends and family. She will always be remembered as one of the greatest actresses of her time.