Joan Crawford's Life

by David Harris

Joan Crawford was an actress who appeared mainly in American films. First known as a flapper during the Jazz Age, Crawford soon became a glamorous star of psychological melodramas. Her daughter Christina's memoir "Mommie Dearest" was a bestselling account of Crawford's cruel treatment of her children.


Joan Crawford was born to separated parents in San Antonio, Texas, in 1905 with the name Lucille Fay LeSueur. When she was 16, her stepfather gave her the name Billie Cassin. She spent many of her younger years doing chorus work in stage productions in places such as Detroit, New York City and Chicago. While performing, she caught the eye of a bigwig at MGM who wanted her to audition in Hollywood. She left for California on New Year's Day 1925.

Early Hollywood

MGM ran a contest in a magazine for her stage name, and the winner was "Joan Crawford." After a few years of bit parts, she finally received top billing in "The Taxi Dancer" in 1927. She truly became a star a year later in "Our Dancing Daughters," where her flapper character resonated with the zeitgeists of the time. She was now famous and stayed on with MGM for another 18 years, her most notable film being "The Women" in 1939. While at MGM, she had marriages to actors Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Franchot Tone and Phillip Terry, all of which ended in divorce.

Warner Years

In 1943, Crawford signed with Warner Brothers. Two years later she starred in her greatest film, "Mildred Pierce." Based on the James M. Cain novel, the film earned Crawford an Oscar for Best Actress. She would go on to act in more than 70 movies in her lifetime and marry Pepsi-Cola board chair Alfred Steele in 1955. After he died four years later, she remained a company executive for years.

Late Work

In 1962, Crawford teamed up with rival Bette Davis to film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" a popular movie bolstered by the venom the two spewed at each other in the press. Crawford continued working until 1974, when she retired. She spent her remaining three years devoted to Christian Science and drinking before succumbing to cancer in 1977. Her daughter Christina published the controversial tell-all "Mommie Dearest" a year after her death, claiming Crawford emotionally and physically abused her and her brother.

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