In praise of Joan Crawford
I pity the late Joan Crawford (something that I would expect would have made her angry). She had a tragic childhood, as an adult she was an alcoholic, and after she died of cancer her heirs went to town writing ugly things about her. Then came Mommy Dearest, the movie starring Faye Dunaway, where Joan was supposedly shown as a horrible mother by her adopted daughter, making the name Joan Crawford to become associated with the phrase “No more wire hangers!”.
Faye Dunaway’s carreer torpedoed right after that.
While she was alive, however, Joan Crawford had a very successful acting and dancing career, and (at least before she went for the full-shoulder, heavy-eyebrow, dark-lips look) was a beautiful woman. Once she donned the shoulderpads, eyebrows, and dark lips she became an iconic character. Doctoral dissertations have been written about Joan Crawford and The Status and Place of Working Women in the 1930s.
Joan Crawford’s acting career spanned half a century. She first acted in films in 1925. She danced with Fred Astaire before Ginger. Joan held her ground in the star-studded Grand Hotel. She was directed by Steven Spielberg in TV’s Night Gallery where she played a blind rich woman who pays someone to donate his eyes so she could see for a few hours, but there’s a blackout on the few hours she has her sight.
Women of my mother’s generation loved her films, because they knew that Joan would play a strong woman who didn’t give up. Joan’s characters knew when and how to put up a fight. Few people realize that in real life Joan Crawford was only 5′ tall, since she was clearly larger-than-life.
Turner Movie Classics had a nice short film the other day where Anne Blyth paid tribute to Joan Crawford. Ms Blyth played her daughter in Mildred Pierce, and spoke afectionately and admiringly about Joan Crawford.
Last Saturday I was reading Charles Isherwood‘s review of Lypsinka’s show ‘The Passion of the Crawford’ (which is a bad enough title for a show), where he concludes,
Miss Crawford’s own contributions to movie history will never be entirely forgotten, certainly not as long as Lypsinka is around to repackage them for consumption by new generations.
Joan Crawford’s work doesn’t need Lypsinka to stand on its own. Too bad that stage critic Isherwood doesn’t have a subscription to Netflix, or he would have realized that.
For a Joan Crawford film festival, I suggest (in chronological order) Rain, Grand Hotel, The Women, and Mildred Pierce, all available from Netflix. You’ll understand why you mom or your grandma went to see Joan Crawford movies.