Famous Like Me > Singer > C > Joan Crawford
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Profile of Joan Crawford
on Famous Like Me
|Also Know As:
||Lucille Fay LeSueur
|Date of Birth:
||10th May 1905
|Place of Birth:
||San Antonio, Texas
Joan Crawford (March 23, 1905 – May 10, 1977) was an Academy Award winning American actress.
Trained as a dancer, she was signed to a contract by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios in the mid 1920s and groomed to play flappers. As her popularity grew she was cast in numerous movies in which she played hardworking young women who eventually found romance and success. These "rags to riches" stories were well-received by Depression era audiences; women, particularly, seemed to identify with her struggle. By the end of the decade she had become one of Hollywood's most prominent movie stars, and one of the highest paid women in the U.S.
Moving to Warner Bros. in the early 1940s, Crawford won an Academy Award for her performance in Mildred Pierce and achieved some of the best reviews of her career over the following years. In 1955, she became involved with PepsiCo, the company run by her last husband. After his death in 1959, she was elected to fill his vacancy on the board of directors and was forcibly retired in 1973. She continued acting regularly until the 1960s when her performances became fewer, and by the mid 1970s she became a recluse.
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 siblings were Daisy LeSueur, who died as a very young child, and Hal LeSueur. Her father, who was born in Tennessee, was of French Huguenot extraction. His ancestors immigrated from London, England, in the early 1700s to Virginia, where they lived for several generations. LeSueur was said to have abandoned the family in Texas; Crawford later said she had been only a few months old when her father left.
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 living at 910 "D" Street in Lawton. Lucille was then 5 years of age.
For most of her life, Crawford maintained that she was born in 1908. It has been generally accepted, however, that she was born earlier. Some believe she was born in 1904, but her brother, Hal, was born in September 1903, making a birth for Crawford only 6 months later impossible. As birth records for San Antonio are not available for years earlier than 1908, and in the absence of a birth certificate, her year of birth has been estimated to be 1905 based on the April 1910 census when she was 5.
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, she cut her foot deeply on a broken milk bottle when she leapt from the front porch of her home in an attempt to escape piano lessons and run and play with friends. 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. Demonstrating the steely determination that would serve her for the rest of her life, she eventually overcame the injury and returned not only to walking normally, but to dancing as well.
In about 1916, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. Henry Cassin was first listed in the City Directory in 1917, living 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, and gave her year of birth as 1906. She attended Stephens for less than a year, however, as she recognized that she was not academically prepared for college at that time.
She began her career as a dancer in a chorus line under the name Lucille LeSueur, eventually making her way to New York. In 1924, she signed a contract with MGM, and arrived in Culver City, California, in January 1925.
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 Crawford reportedly detested the name at first, saying it sounded like "crawfish," and called herself JoAnne for some time, she eventually 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.
Crawford studied diction and elocution to rid herself of her Southwestern 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.
Eventually, her movies began to lose money and she was one of the unfortunate stars to be labeled "box-office poison," along with Katharine Hepburn and Fred Astaire, among others. After appearing in numerous productions at MGM, Crawford'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. 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, Crawford 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 Crawford from the popular James M. Cain novel, which was adapted for the screen by Ranald MacDougall. In what may have been a publicity stunt, Crawford was "ill" the night of the Oscar ceremony and the award was delivered to her home, where she rallied for the cameras. A photograph of her in bed wearing a negligee, holding her award, was widely published in newspapers.
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.
In 1929, at the time she wed her first husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Crawford 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 26 years. Over the years, she had her home decorated and redecorated by William Haines, her former silent movie co-star and lifelong friend, who was much in demand as an interior designer after receiving Crawford's recommendation.
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).
Crawford moved to a lavish apartment, number 22-G in the Imperial House, in New York with her last husband, Alfred 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.
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). Crawford 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 and Cathy Crawford (both born January 13, 1947). Crawford 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 Crawford was afraid their biological parents might try and get them back and would therefore say they were not twins. Their version is consistent with newspapers reports at the time of their adoption.)
Crawford was raised Catholic; her stepfather, Henry Cassin, was said to be Catholic, although he and Anna were ultimately divorced, and Crawford insisted on marrying her first husband in the Catholic Church. She later became a Christian Scientist.
Work at Pepsi
Besides her work as an actress, from 1955 to 1973, 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 Crawford had referred to for years as "Fang."
She was the recipient of the Sixth Annual "Pally Award," which was in the shape of a bronze Pepsi bottle. It was awarded to the employee making the most significant contribution to company sales.
In 1970, Crawford was presented with the Cecil B. DeMille Award on the Golden Globes, which was telecast from the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, by John Wayne. She also spoke at her "alma mater," Stephens College, from which she never graduated.
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 dog named Princess Lotus Blossom.
Joan Crawford died two days later at her apartment in New York of a heart attack while ill with pancreatic cancer at the age of 72. 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 her late brother, Hal LeSueur. Crawford'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. However, 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 Crawford at All Souls' Unitarian Church on Lexington Avenue in New York May 16, attended by, among other, her old Hollywood friend Myrna Loy. 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, Alfred Steele, in Ferncliff Cemetery, Hartsdale, New York.
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.
Shortly after her death, the eldest of her four children, Christina, published a best selling exposé containing allegations that Crawford was emotionally and physically abusive to her and her brother, Christopher. Though it was harshly criticized by many of Crawford's friends, her reputation was severely tarnished by the claims. The book was later made into a movie of the same title starring Faye Dunaway. For further detail and comment, see: Mommie Dearest (book) and/or Mommie Dearest (motion picture).
In 2005, transcripts reportedly from Marilyn Monroe's sessions with her psychologist revealed that she allegedly had a one-night stand with Crawford. According to Monroe, Crawford enjoyed the sexual encounter and wanted to have another. Monroe claimed to have declined Crawford's offer, which made the older actress "spiteful."
In pop culture
In 1981, Blue Öyster Cult released the song "Joan Crawford" (Lyrics), on the album Fire of Unknown Origin.
- Lady of the Night (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... double for Norma Shearer
- Proud Flesh (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... bit part
- A Slave of Fashion (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... mannequin
- The Merry Widow (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... extra
- Pretty Ladies (1925) (MGM) (credited as Lucille LeSueur) ... Bobby, a showgirl
- The Circle (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... Young Lady Catherine
- The Midshipman (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... extra
- Old Clothes (1925) (MGM) (credited as Lucille LeSueur) ... Mary Riley
- The Only Thing (1925) (MGM) (uncredited) ... party guest
- Sally, Irene and Mary (1925) (MGM) (credited as Joan Crawford) ... Irene
- Tramp, Tramp, Tramp (1926) (First National) ... Betty Burton
- Paris (1926) (MGM) ... the girl
- The Boob (1926) (MGM) ... Jane
- Winners of the Wilderness (1927) (MGM) ... Renée Contrecoeur
- The Taxi Dancer (1927) (MGM) ... Joslyn Poe
- The Understanding Heart (1927) (MGM) ... Monica Dale
- The Unknown (1927) (MGM) ... Estellita or Nanon, Zanzi's Daughter
- Twelve Miles Out (1927) (MGM) ... Jane
- Spring Fever (1927) (MGM) ... Allie Monte
- Dream of Love (1928) (MGM) ... Adrienne Lecouvreur
- Our Dancing Daughters (1928) (Cosmopolitan Production/MGM) ... Diana Medford
- Four Walls (1928) (MGM) ... Frieda
- Across to Singapore (1928) (MGM) ... Priscilla Crowninshield
- Rose-Marie (1928) (MGM) ... Rose-Marie
- The Law of the Range (1928) (MGM) ... Betty Dallas
- West Point (1928) (MGM) ... Betty Channing
- Hollywood Snapshots #11 (1929) (MGM) ... Herself
- The Hollywood Revue of 1929 (1929) (MGM) ... Specialty (With sound. In color. Singing, dancing, and part of an all-star cast performing the song "Singin' In The Rain.")
- Untamed (1929) (MGM) ... Alice "Bingo" Dowling
- Our Modern Maidens (1929) (MGM) ... Billie Brown
- The Duke Steps Out (1929) (MGM) ... Susie
- Paid (1930) (MGM) ... Mary Turner
- Our Blushing Brides (1930) (MGM) ... Gerry Marsh
- Montana Moon (1930) (MGM) ... Joan "Montana" Prescott
- Possessed (1931) (MGM) ... Marian Martin
- This Modern Age (1931) (MGM) ... Valentine "Val" Winters
- Laughing Sinners (1931) (MGM) ... Ivy "Bunny" Stevens
- The Slippery Pearls (1931) ... Herself
- Dance, Fools, Dance (1931) (MGM) ... Bonnie "Bon" Jordan
- Letty Lynton (1932) (MGM) ... Letty Lynton
- Grand Hotel (1932) (MGM) ... Flaemmchen
- Rain (1932) (United Artists) ... Sadie Thompson
- Screen Snapshots (1932) ... Herself
- Today We Live (1933) (MGM) ... Diana "Ann" Boyce-Smith
- Dancing Lady (1933) (MGM) ... Janie "Duchess" Barlow
- Sadie McKee (1934) (MGM) ... Sadie McKee Brennan
- Chained (1934) (MGM) ... Diane Lovering, also called "Dinah"
- Forsaking All Others (1934) (MGM) ... Mary Clay
- No More Ladies (1935) (MGM) ... Marcia Townsend
- I Live My Life (1935) (MGM) ... Kay Bentley
- The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) (MGM) ... Margaret O'Neal "Peggy" Eaton
- Love on the Run (1936) (MGM) ... Sally Parker
- The Bride Wore Red (1937) (MGM) ... Anni Pavlovitch
- The Last of Mrs. Cheyney (1937) (MGM) ... Fay Cheyney
- Mannequin (1937) (MGM) ... Jessica Cassidy
- The Shining Hour (1938) (MGM) ... Olivia Riley
- Ice Follies of 1939 (1939) (MGM) ... Mary McKay
- The Women (1939) (MGM) ... Crystal Allen
- Strange Cargo (1940) (MGM) ... Julie
- Susan and God (1940) (MGM) ... Susan Trexel
- A Woman's Face (1941) (MGM) ... Anna Holm
- When Ladies Meet (1941) (MGM) ... Mary Howard
- They All Kissed the Bride (1942) (Columbia) ... Margaret Drew
- Reunion in France (1942) (MGM) ... Michelle de la Becque
- Above Suspicion (1943) (MGM) ... Frances Myles
- Hollywood Canteen (1944) (Warmer Bros.) ... Herself
- Mildred Pierce (1945) (Warner Bros.) ... Mildred Pierce
- Humoresque (1946) (Warner Bros.) ... Helen Wright
- Possessed (1947) (Warner Bros.) ... Louise Howell Graham
- Daisy Kenyon (1947) (20th Century Fox) ... Daisy Kenyon
- Flamingo Road (1949) (Warner Bros.) ... Lane Bellamy
- It's a Great Feeling (1949) (Warner Bros.) (uncredited) ... Herself
- The Damned Don't Cry! (1950) (Warner Bros.) ... Ethel Whitehead / Lorna Hansen Forbes
- Harriet Craig (1950) (Columbia) ... Harriet Craig
- Goodbye, My Fancy (1951) (Warner Bros.) ... Agatha Reed
- This Woman Is Dangerous (1952) (Warner Bros.) ... Beth Austin
- Sudden Fear (1952) (RKO) ... Myra Hudson
- Torch Song (1953) (MGM) ... Jenny Stewart
- Johnny Guitar (1954) (Republic) ... Vienna
- Female on the Beach (1955) (Universal) ... Lynn Markham
- Queen Bee (1955) (Columbia) ... Eva Phillips
- Autumn Leaves (1956) (William Goetz/Columbia) ... Millicent Wetherby
- The Story of Esther Costello (1957) (Valiant Films/Columbia) ... Margaret Landi
- The Best of Everything (1959) (20th Century Fox) ... Amanda Farrow
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) (Seven Arts/Warner Bros.) ... Blanche Hudson
- The Caretakers (1963) (United Artists) ... Lucretia Terry
- Strait-Jacket (1964) (Columbia) ... Lucy Harbin
- I Saw What You Did (1965) (Universal) ... Amy Nelson
- Berserk! (1968) (Columbia) ... Monica Rivers
- Trog (1970) (Warner Bros.) ... Dr. Brockton
- Revlon's Mirror Theater (1953) (CBS) Because I Love Him ... Margaret Hughes
- General Electric Theater (1954) (CBS) The Road to Edinburgh ... Mary Andrews
- General Electric Theater (1958) (CBS) Strange Witness ... Ruth
- General Electric Theater (1959) (CBS) And One Was Loyal ... Ann Howard
- The Joan Crawford Show (1959) (Pilot) Woman On The Run ... Susan Conrad
- Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater (1959) (CBS) Rebel Range ... Stella Faring
- Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theater (1961) (CBS) One Must Die ... Sarah/Melanie Davidson
- The Foxes (1961) ... Millicent Fox
- Route 66 (1963) (CBS) Same Picture, Different Frame ... Morgan Harper
- Della (1966) (TV Movie) AKA Fatal Confinement ... Della Chappell
- The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (1967) (NBC) The Karate Killers or The Five Daughters Affair ... Amanda True
- The Lucy Show (1968) (CBS) Lucy and Joan Crawford or The Lost Star ... Herself
- The Secret Storm (1968) (CBS) (daytime soap opera) ... Joan Boreman Kane #2 (temporary replacement for Christina Crawford)
- Night Gallery (1969) (NBC) Eyes ... Claudia Menlo
- The Virginian (1970) (NBC) The Nightmare ... Stephanie White
- The Name of the Game (1971) (NBC) Los Angeles ... Board Member
- Beyond the Water's Edge (1972) (TV Movie) ... Allison Hayes
- The Sixth Sense (1972) (ABC) Dear Joan: We're Going To Scare You To Death! ... Joan Fairchild (Later re-edited into the syndication package of Night Gallery.)
- Four Days in November (1964) ... Herself (signs autographs)
- MGM's Big Parade of Comedy (1964) ... AKA The Big Parade of Comedy
- That's Entertainment! (1974)
- That's Dancing! (1985)
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