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Joan Crawford

The Essential Biography

Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell

Publication Year: 2013

" Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography explores the life and career of one of Hollywood's great dames. She was a leading film personality for more than fifty years, from her beginnings as a dancer in silent films of the 1920s, to her portrayals of working-class shop girls in the Depression thirties, to her Oscar-winning performances in classic films such as Mildred Pierce. Crawford's legacy has become somewhat tarnished in the wake of her daughter Christina's memoir, Mommie Dearest, which turned her into a national joke. Today, many picture Crawford only as a wire hanger-wielding shrew rather than the personification of Hollywood glamour. This new biography of Crawford sets the record straight, going beyond the gossip to find the truth about the legendary actress. The authors knew Crawford well and conducted scores of interviews with her and many of her friends and co-stars, including Frank Capra, George Cukor, Nicholas Ray, and Sidney Greenstreet. Far from a whitewash -- Crawford was indeed a colorful and difficult character -- Joan Crawford corrects many lies and tells the story of one of Hollywood's most influential stars, complete with on-set anecdotes and other movie lore. Through extensive interviews, in-depth analysis, and evaluation of her films and performances -- both successes and failures -- Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell present Crawford's story as both an appreciation and a reevaluation of her extraordinary life and career. Filled with new interviews, Joan Crawford tells the behind-the-scenes story of the Hollywood icon. Lawrence J. Quirk is the author of many books on film, including Bob Hope: The Road Well-Traveled. William Schoell is the author of several entertainment-related books, including Martini Man: The Life of Dean Martin.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xvi

I knew Joan Crawford for thirty years.
I first met Joan in 1947, during my first trip to Hollywood, on the set of Daisy Kenyon. I was then twenty-three years old and working for Hearst's Boston Record-American. I was in Hollywood not only to do stories on stars and movies, but also to interview some friends of my uncle, James R. Quirk of Photoplay, because I had gotten the idea to ...


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pp. xvii-xviii

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1. Childhood's End

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pp. 1-12

On March 23, 1904, in San Antonio, Texas, Anna Bell Johnson LeSueur gave birth to a little girl, whom she and her husband, Thomas, named Lucille Fay. Lucille was the couple's third child; another daughter, Daisy, had died in infancy, and Lucille's brother, Hal, had been born the previ ous year. (Many years later, when little Lucille was the famous woman ...

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2. Pretty Lady

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pp. 13-24

Lucille's first appearance in front of a movie camera-unbilled-was in Lady of the Night (1925), in which star Norma Shearer played a dual role. When Shearer was playing one part, Lucille would double for the other one, shot from behind or in profile from a distance. Lucille knew that Shearer was going places-she was dating Irving Thalberg, for one ...

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3. Window Dressing

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pp. 25-36

Joan had kept in touch with her mother and brother, if for no other reason than to let them know that despite their dire predictions, she had amounted to something after all. To say that she was not thrilled to see them in Hollywood, though, would be a supreme understatement. Nevertheless, they were her closest relatives and she couldn't bring herself to turn her ...

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4. Life at El Jodo

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pp. 37-50

Just before starting work on Rose-Marie, Joan went with Paul Bern to see Young Woodley at the Vine Street Playhouse. The star of the play was Douglas Fairbanks Jr., the son of the macho silent action star, Douglas Fairbanks by his first wife, Beth Sully. Young Doug was trying to carve out a career of his own without slavishly imitating his father, with whom ...

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5. Two of a Kind

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pp. 51-66

It was a year after Joan and Doug Jr. were married that they were finally invited to Pickfair. "I was so desperate to go," Joan remembered. "But by the time we finally got the summons I felt like telling them what they could do with it." Spending frequent days at Pickfair, Joan watched as Doug and his father grew closer than they had ever been before. Unfor ...

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6. Skin Tone

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pp. 67-82

Whether or not Joan had fallen in love with Clark Gable, her marriage to Douglas Fairbanks Jr. was probably doomed from the start. In many ways Doug was a spoiled, isolated child of privilege who had married a comparatively sophisticated older woman who had pulled herself up by her bootstraps. For all his charm and levity, Fairbanks was, emotionally ...

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7. Love on the Run

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pp. 83-96

The Crawford-Tone combination still had a couple of years to self-destruct, but Joan did her best to concentrate on her work and avoid the sullen Tone when he was drinking. Things seemed to be looking up a bit when both were cast in another film together, with the added attraction of Clark Gable. Tempting as it might have been for Joan to seek shelter ...

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8. Jungle Red

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pp. 97-108

Considering the hit-or-miss quality of the films that came before, it is perhaps not surprising that Joan wound up in Ice Follies of 1939 with Jimmy Stewart, who'd had a bit part in The Gorgeous Hussy, instead of Gone With the Wind. ("Talk about going from the sublime to the ridiculous!" commented Joan.) The two leads had very different styles, but ...

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9. Scarred

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pp. 109-122

A Woman's Face (1941) turned out to be one of Joan's best movies. She played Anna Holm, scarred in childhood by a fire caused by her alcoholic father. Reactions to her disfigured face have made her cold and bitter, although deep down she still desires love and pretty things. She owns a roadhouse, from which she and a gang of confederates blackmail ...

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10. Mildred

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pp. 123-138

By 1942 Joan was so dismayed with her assignments at MGM that she felt she would do better as a free agent or at another studio. Despite fine performances in films like A Woman's Face, the studio was no longer giving her the kind of buildup and support that she knew she deserved. She never blamed Mayer for this. She knew there were higher-ups who ...

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11. Possessed

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pp. 139-152

"Possessed (1947) contained the best performance I ever gave," Joan told Lawrence Quirk in 1956. "I put so much of myself into it!" She added that she always regretted not fighting the Warner Bros. front office harder when they came up with the title Possessed, as it was the same as her 1931 film for MGM. "I wanted to call it The Secret, but they ...

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12. Victim

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pp. 153-168

Joan's next script was originally entitled The Victim and was based on the life of gangster's moll Virginia Hill, who had been involved with such famous criminals as Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, and Bugsy Siegel. The director, Vincent Sherman, was concerned that, at forty-six, Joan was too old to play a young girl at the beginning of the picture, but he thought ...

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13. The Bitch is Back

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pp. 169-188

Joan had signed on for a major role in From Here to Eternity, even though director Fred Zinnemann didn't want to use her. Her chief defender in this project was Columbia Pictures studio boss Harry Cohn. But even Cohn turned against Joan when she made it known that she hated her wardrobe for Eternity and demanded that her personal designer, Sheila ...

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14. The Queen of Pepsi-Cola

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pp. 189-204

Alfred Steele, who would become Joan's fourth husband, was the person most responsible for turning Pepsi-Cola from a small soda company into Coca-Cola's chief competition. This was partly because he had worked for Coca-Cola for so many years and absorbed a number of trade secrets before jumping ship to Pepsi with another executive and friend named ...

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15. Teen Idol

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pp. 205-218

Bette Davis once said of working with Joan on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?:
We were polite to each other-all the social amenities, "Good morning, Joan" and "Good morning, Bette" crap-and thank God we weren't playing roles where we had to like each other! But people forget that our big scenes were alone ...

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16. War of Nerves

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pp. 219-232

Bette Davis did not want Joan as her costar in What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? That was the title of Robert Aldrich's follow up to Baby Jane for the same studio, and Joan pretty much felt the same way. Still, despite her reservations about working with Davis, she didn't want to be left out of the party and the possible profits it might accrue. She ...

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17. Secret Storms

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pp. 233-244

In 1968, Lawrence J. Quirk came out with his book The Films of Joan Crawford, which provided synopses for all of Joan's movies, sample re views, a mini-biography, and lots of exclusive photographs. Joan was enthusiastic about the project from the outset, saying that Quirk knew more about her films than anyone. She got MGM to lend him stills of her ...

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18. End of an Icon

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pp. 245-252

Around 1972, Joan learned that the Imperial House was going co-op. For less than $100,000 she bought a two-bedroom apartment in the same building and moved from the nine-bedroom apartment she had happily occupied for several years. This move was not as traumatic as the one seven years earlier, as she would not be leaving the neighborhood ...

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19. Serpent's Tooth

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pp. 253-268

"For reasons that are well known to them."
With these words did Joan Crawford cut her first two adopted children, Christina and Christopher, out of her will. Their mother had just been buried next to her last husband, Alfred Steele, in Westchester. Now at the Drake Hotel on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, Christina and her brother were getting the bad news. Cathy and Cindy were to receive ...

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pp. 269-270

In October 1981, the month that the film Mommie Dearest was released, an item in the "Page Six" column by Richard Johnson of the New York Post quoted Lawrence J. Quirk on some of the good things Joan had done for people down on their luck: the hospital beds she had endowed; the checks she sent her former co-worker, the down-and-out Marie ...


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pp. 271-274


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pp. 275-282


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pp. 283-284


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pp. 285-294


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pp. 295-326

E-ISBN-13: 9780813144108
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813122540

Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2013