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Joan Crawford

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Joan Crawford
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Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford (March 23, 1906May 10, 1977) was an Academy Award winning American actress.

Contents

Early life

She was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, the third child of Thomas E. LeSueur (1868-1938) and Anna Bell Johnson (1884-1958). Her older sister and brother were Daisy LeSueur, who died as a very young child, and Hal LeSueur.

Her mother later married Henry J. Cassin (born 1867). The family lived in Lawton, Oklahoma, where Cassin ran a movie theater. The 1910 Comanche County, Oklahoma, Federal Census, enumerated on April 20, shows Henry and Anna Cassin living at 910 "D" Street in Lawton. Lucille was then five years of age, so she was not born in 1908 as later claimed.

Lucille preferred the nickname Billie, and she loved watching live acts of vaudeville perform on the stage of her stepfather's theater. Her ambition was to be a dancer. Unfortunately, in an effort to escape piano lessons and run and play with friends, she leapt from the front porch of her home and cut her foot deeply on a broken milk bottle. A neighbor, Don Blanding, who became a poet, carried her into the house and phoned the doctor. She was unable to attend elementary school for a year-and-a-half and eventually had three operations on her foot. But, from sheer determination, she overcame the injury.

In about 1916, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Henry Cassin was first listed in the City Directory in 1917, dwelling at 403 East Ninth Street.

While still in elementary school, she was placed in St. Agnes Academy, a Catholic school in Kansas City. Later, after her mother and stepfather broke up, she stayed on at St. Agnes as a work student. She then went to Rockingham Academy as a work student. And in 1922 she registered at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, where she attended for less than a year.

Career

Dancing

She began her career as a chorus line dancer under the name Lucille LeSueur, eventually making her way to New York. In 1925, she signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as Lucille LeSueur and arrived in Culver City, California, in January of that year.

Motion pictures

Starting out in silent movies, she worked hard to ensure that her contract with the studio would be renewed. Studio chief Louis B. Mayer was unhappy with her name, reportedly saying that "LeSueur" sounded too close to "sewer." A contest in the fan magazine Movie Weekly was the source of her well-known stage name. The female contestant who entered the name "Joan Crawford" was awarded $500.

Though she at first hated the name, saying it sounded like "crawfish," and called herself JoAnne for some time, she finally became used to it. She was named one of the WAMPAS Baby Stars in 1926, along with Mary Astor, Mary Brian, Dolores Costello, Dolores Del Rio, Janet Gaynor, and Fay Wray.

Joan tirelessly studied diction and elocution to rid herself of a Southern accent. Her first talkie was Untamed (1929). During the 1930s, she was "Queen of the MGM Lot," and was best-known for her steamy pairings opposite Clark Gable in eight movies.

Joan Crawford and Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce
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Joan Crawford and Zachary Scott in Mildred Pierce

Eventually, her movies began to lose money and she was one of the unfortunate movie stars to be labeled "Box-Office Poison." After appearing in numerous productions at MGM, Joan's contract was terminated by mutual consent on June 29, 1943. In lieu of one more movie owed under her contract, she paid the studio $100,000. That same day, she drove herself to the studio and personally cleaned out her dressing room. With a lot to prove, she signed with Warner Bros. for $500,000 for three movies and was placed on the payroll July 1.

She received the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in Mildred Pierce (1945).

Mildred Pierce was a huge hit for Warners and greatly expanded her status as a star. In the movie, Joan played opposite a stellar cast, including Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Ann Blyth, and Butterfly McQueen. Director Michael Curtiz and producer Jerry Wald developed the property specifically for Joan from the popular James M. Cain novel, which was adapted for the screen by Ranald MacDougall. In what may have been a publicity stunt, Joan was "ill" the night of the Oscar ceremony and the award was delivered to her home, where she rallied for the cameras. The now-iconic photograph of Joan holding her award from her boudoir in a negligee made the front pages of every newspaper in the U.S.

She was later nominated for Oscars for Possessed (1947), opposite Van Heflin and Raymond Massey; and for Sudden Fear (1952), the movie that introduced co-star Jack Palance.

Joan Crawford acted in 81 motion pictures over the course of her career. She also worked in radio and television.

Marriages

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Possessed.JPG
Joan Crawford in Possessed, 1947

In 1929, at the time she wed her first husband, Joan bought a mansion at 426 North Bristol Avenue in Brentwood, midway between Beverly Hills and the Pacific Ocean, which was her primary dwelling for the next twenty-six years. Over the years, Joan had her home on Bristol decorated and re-decorated by William Haines, her former silent movie co-star and lifelong friend, who was much in demand as an interior designer after receiving Joan's blessing.

She had four husbands: actors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (married June 3, 1929 in New York, divorced 1933), Franchot Tone (married October 11, 1935 in New Jersey, divorced 1939), and Phillip Terry (married July 21, 1942 at Hidden Valley Ranch in Ventura County, California, divorced 1946); and Pepsi-Cola president Alfred N. Steele (married May 10, 1955 in Las Vegas, Nevada).

Joan moved to a lavish apartment, number 22-G in the Imperial House, in New York with her last husband, Al Steele. He died there on April 19, 1959. She then sold her Brentwood mansion and stayed on in New York, although she kept a small apartment in Los Angeles for her frequent trips there.

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Photo by Yousuf Karsh, 1948

Adopted children

She adopted six children, according to L.A. Times articles from the time, though she kept only four.

The first was Christina (born June 11, 1939). Joan was a single, divorced woman when she adopted her in 1940. The second was a boy she named Christopher Crawford (born April 1941). She adopted him in June of that year. In 1942, his biological mother found out where he was and managed to get him back. The third was an eight year old boy she named Phillip Terry, Jr. (born 1935). She and Terry adopted him in April 1943, but did not keep him either. The fourth was Christopher (born October 15, 1943). She and Terry adopted him that same year, and he remained her son after she and Terry divorced. (According to Christina, Joan changed this second Christopher's birth date to October 15 because she was afraid he would also be taken away.) The fifth and sixth were twin girls Cynthia "Cindy" Crawford (born January 13, 1947) and Cathy Crawford (born January 13, 1947). Joan adopted them in June of that year, while she was a single woman. (According to Christina, Joan called them twins but they were not. Cindy and Cathy both dispute that claim. According to them, they are twins born in Dyersburg, Tennessee, to an unwed mother who died seven days after their birth. They said that Joan was afraid their biological parents might try and get them back and would therefore say they were not twins. And that is actually the way the story was reported in newspaper articles at the time she adopted them.)

Work at Pepsi

Besides her work as an actress, from 1955 to 1973, Joan Crawford traveled extensively on behalf of husband Al Steele's company, PepsiCo. Two days after Steele's death in 1959, she was elected to fill his vacancy on the board of directors. She was forcibly retired from the company in 1973 at the behest of company executive Don Kendall, whom Joan had referred to for years as "Fang."

She was the recipient of the Sixth Annual Pally Award, which was awarded to the employee making the most significant contribution to company sales. It was in the shape of a bronze Pepsi bottle. She proudly kept her Pally next to her Oscar for Mildred Pierce.

Final Years

In 1970, Joan was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award on the Golden Globes at the Cocoanut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles by John Wayne. She also spoke at her alma mater, Stephens College.

Her book, My Way of Life, was published in 1971 by Simon and Schuster.

In September 1973, she moved from apartment 22-G to the smaller apartment 22-H in the Imperial House. Her last public appearance was September 23, 1974, at a party honoring Rosalind Russell at New York's Rainbow Room.

On May 8, 1977, she gave away her Shih Tzu named Princess Lotus Blossom.

Joan Crawford died two days later at her apartment in New York of a heart attack while ill with cancer. A funeral was held at Campbell Funeral Home, New York, on May 13, 1977, at 10 a.m. All four of her adopted children attended, as did her niece, daughter of Hal LeSueur. Joan's last will and testament was read to the family that evening.

In the will, which was signed February 28, 1976, she bequeathed to the two youngest of her children, Cindy and Cathy, $77,500 each from her $2,000,000 estate. But she explicitly disinherited the eldest two, Christina and Christopher, with the phrase "...for reasons which should be well known to them."

A memorial service was held for Joan at All Soul's Unitarian Church on Lexington Avenue in New York May 16. Another memorial service, organized by George Cukor, was held June 24 in the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills.

She was cremated and her ashes placed in a crypt with her last husband, Al Steele, in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.

Legacy

After her death, the eldest of her children, Christina Crawford, published an exposé containing allegations that Joan was emotionally and physically abusive. The book was later made into a movie of the same title starring Faye Dunaway. For further detail and comment, see: Mommie Dearest.

Joan Crawford's hand and foot prints are immortalized in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1750 Vine Street.

Filmography

Television performances

Archive footage

External links

it:Joan Crawford

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