Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford starred in more than 100 films during her 45 year career. From silent films to box office queen to box office poision to Academy Award winner, Joan Crawford was of our most talented and top female actresses of the silver screen.

Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1905 in San Antonio, Texas, the third child of Thomas E. LeSueur and Anna Bell Johnson.

As a child, she was nicknamed "Billie." She loved watching vaudeville acts and desired to become a professional dancer.

Under the name Lucille LeSueur, Joan Crawford began dancing in the choruses of traveling revues and was spotted dancing in Detroit by producer Jacob J. Shubert.

Jacob Shubert put her in the chorus line for his 1924 show Innocent Eyes at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway in New York City. She was next cast in the Broadway show The Passing Show of 1924.

In 1925, as Lucille LeSueur, her first film was Pretty Ladies in 1925, which starred ZaSu Pitts.

MGM publicity head Pete Smith recognized her ability but felt that her name sounded fake. Smith organized a contest in conjunction with a fan magazine named Movie Weekly to allow readers to select her new name. Joan Crawford was born.

Joan Crawford appeared in more than 30 silent films. Her first credited role was in Sally, Irene and Mary (1925) in which she played Irene, a struggling chorus girl. However, it was her role as Diana Medford in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) that catapulted her to stardom. The role established her as a symbol of modern 1920s-style femininity.

Joan Crawford also appeared in silent films such as The Merry Widow (1925), Old Clothes (1925), Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926), The Taxi Dancer (1927) and The Unknown (1927).

In 1929, Joan Crawford appeared in The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) which was the first audible tap dance on the screen.

In 1929, Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery starred in Untamed, her first talkie.

From 1929 to 1938, Joan Crawford was one of the leading female stars of film. In 1937 she was named First Queen of the Movies.

During this period her films included Possessed (1931), Grand Hotel (1932), Rain (1932), Dancing Lady (1932), Sadie McKee (1934), No More Ladies (1935), Love on the Run (1936), The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937), and The Bride Wore Red (1937).

In 1938 the Independent Film Journal named her and several other stars (like Katharine Hepburn) as "box office poison" based on their supposed lack of popular appeal.

Joan Crawford quickly overcame this label of "box office poison." In 1939, Joan Crawford made a comeback with her role as home-wrecker Crystal Allen in director George Cukor's comedy The Women. She also broke from the label by taking the unglamorous role of Julie in Strange Cargo (1940). Joan Crawford then starred as a facially disfigured blackmailer in A Woman's Face (1941). While the film was only a moderate box office success, her performance was hailed by many critics.

In 1945, Joan Crawford starred in Mildred Pierce, earning her first Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress and her one and only Academy Award.

After Mildred Pierce, Joan Crawford was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952).

During the 1940s and 1950s, Joan Crawford appeared in films such as Humoresque (1946), Daisy Kenyon (1948), Flamingo Road (1949), Johnny Guitar (1952), Autumn Leaves (1956), and The Best of Everything (1959).

In 1962, Joan Crawford starred with long time enemy Bette Davis in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. They would appear together in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte in 1964.

In 1970, Crawford was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award.

Joan Crawford has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for motion pictures.

During World War II, Joan Crawford was active on the home front. She founded a group called America's Women's Volunteer Services which took care of children whose mothers worked in the defense factories. She also raised money to train dogs for the armed forces. She donated her entire salary from They All Kissed the Bride (1942) to the Red Cross who found Carole Lombard's body (Joan took over Carole's role after she was killed). She raised money to buy food and cots for the children left homelesss by the air raids in England. She nitted socks and scarves for soliders.

Joan Crawford was so dedicated to her fans that she always personally responded to her fan mail by typing them responses on blue paper and autographing it. A great deal of her spare time and weekends were spent doing this.

Joan Crawford died on May 10, 1977.

In November 1978, a year and a half after Joan Crawford's death, Christina published an exposé titled Mommie Dearest which contained allegations that Crawford was emotionally and physically abusive to her and her brother Christopher.

Many of Joan Crawford's friends and co-workers, including Van Johnson, Ann Blyth, Marlene Dietrich, Barbara Stanwyck, George Cukor, Robert Young, Myrna Loy, Cesar Romero and many others (including Joan Crawford's other daughters, Cathy and Cindy) denounced the book, categorically denying any abuse. An Add taken out in Variety magazine by her friends stated it was "A Disgusting Portrait of one of Hollywood's Most Generous and Most Talented People."

Although most of Hollywood stated that Mommie Dearest was fiction and revenge by Christina Crawford (who had been cut from her mother's will), some of Hollywood stated there were many truths in the book. For example, Bette Davis and Betty Hutton.

The saddest part of Mommie Dearest, is Joan Crawford never had the opportunity to defend the book. We never hear Joan's side. However, her children Cathy and Cindy and now her grandson Casey speak in support of Joan Crawford.

Unfortunately a younger generation only knows Joan Crawford as Mommie Dearest. Whether Mommie Dearest is true, false or partly true, nothing will ever change the fact that Joan Crawford was one of our most talented actresses whose films are worth watching. She was an actress with spunk and drive who provided audiences with memorable performances for over 45 years.

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