Joan Crawford, the legendary Oscar-winning actress who appeared in over 80 films during a remarkable 45-year Hollywood career, died on this day in history, May 10, 1977.
Born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1904, in San Antonio, Texas, Crawford reportedly grew up with little means, and was raised by her mother and stepfather in Oklahoma before relocating to Kansas City, Missouri.
Amid the jazz-age flapper movement, she was in search of a dance career until she was discovered while performing in a New York chorus line in 1925 by MGM, according to Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
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Crawford’s undeniable talent soon pushed her toward the big screen. She appeared in such memorable motion pictures as “Our Dancing Daughters” (1928), “Grand Hotel” (1932), “Mildred Pierce” (1945), “Possessed” (1947) and “Strait-Jacket” (1964), to name a few.
In 1946, while sporting pajamas in bed at her California home, she accepted the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in “Mildred Pierce” as she was reportedly fighting the flu.
News reporters lingered outside on the property waiting for the star to emerge upon her win.
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Crawford’s final movie appearance was in the science-fiction horror, “Trog” (1970).
Crawford’s first two husbands were actors Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Franchot Tone.
Her third marriage was also to an actor — Frederick Henry Kormann.
Her fourth marriage was to Alfred Steele, the CEO of Pepsi-Cola Company.
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After Steele’s death in 1959, Crawford filled his role on the board of directors — but in 1973, Pepsi forced Crawford into retirement, according to Vanity Fair.
Crawford adopted five children, one who was reportedly “reclaimed” by the birth mother, and raised her other four — Cindy, Cathy, Christina and Christopher Crawford — in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California.
It’s been reported that she was unable to bear children naturally.
“Whether the Academy voters were giving the Oscar to me, sentimentally, for ‘Mildred’ or for 200 years of effort, the hell with it – I deserved it.”
Crawford was later known for film noir — later pegged as the “psycho biddy” or “Grand Guignol” subgenre. They were creepy thrillers that arguably altered the cinematic scene of the decade upon the release of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
It was Crawford herself, reportedly, who had the idea to turn the 1960 Henry Farrell novel of the same name into a movie collaboration with longtime rival and fellow tinsel town legend, Bette Davis, TCM noted.
Directed by Robert Aldrich, “Baby Jane” tells the story of two sisters living together in Los Angeles.
They’re both former actresses, with one (Crawford) who is paralyzed and using a wheelchair while Davis’ character, Baby Jane Hudson, is an alcoholic and former vaudevillian with delusional ideas of making her Hollywood comeback.
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Despite Crawford and Davis’ tempestuous and competitive relationship, both stars agreed to sign on for the 1962 project.
Drama ensued nonetheless during production.
“Her portrayal of a good-hearted flapper in her 21st film, ‘Our Dancing Daughters’ (1928), made her a star.”
On one occasion, Davis apparently had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set to taunt Crawford, due to Crawford’s late husband Alfred Steele having served as an executive for Pepsi-Cola, IMDB reported.
In a scene in which Davis kicked Crawford in the head, it resulted in an injury requiring stitches.
“In retaliation, Crawford put weights in her pockets so that when Davis had to drag Crawford’s near-lifeless body, she strained her back,” TCM wrote.
Despite their conflict, “Baby Jane” was a hit – grossing $9 million at the box office. It was the most success that Crawford and Davis had in over a decade, according to Variety.
Their longstanding rivalry was later chronicled in a docudrama TV series created by Ryan Murphy titled, “FEUD: Bette and Joan.”
Jessica Lange starred as Crawford, while Susan Sarandon was casted as Davis.
The series received two wins and 18 nominations at the 69th Primetime Emmy Awards. It also scored a Golden Globe nomination for Best Limited Series.
Davis died at age 81 on Oct. 6, 1989, in France, after a battle with breast cancer, Biography.com noted.
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When Crawford died 12 years earlier, Davis was allegedly quoted as saying, “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good … Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”
Crawford’s relationship with Davis wasn’t the only toxic one that ended up making headlines.
In 1978, one year after Crawford’s death, Crawford’s eldest child Christina Crawford published a controversial memoir about the alleged cruel and abusive behavior she experienced at the hands of Crawford.
The number-one New York Times bestseller was titled, “Mommie Dearest.”
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There was later a 1981 film adaptation of the book of the same name, which starred Faye Dunaway — coining the catchphrase, “No wire hangers!”
Some close to Crawford disputed her daughter’s claims, and even Davis spoke out about the tell-all book.
“Davis was outraged by ‘Mommie Dearest,'” American biographer Charlotte Chandler wrote in Vanity Fair in 2008.
“She told me, ‘I was not Miss Crawford’s biggest fan, but, wisecracks to the contrary, I did and still do respect her talent. What she did not deserve was that detestable book written by her daughter. I’ve forgotten her name. Horrible.’”
Before working from home became the norm, Joan Crawford received her Academy Award for her performance in MILDRED PIERCE (’45) from the comfort of her own bed –– seen with director Michael Curtiz.
See the film tonight at 10pm ET. pic.twitter.com/9vGCdiis3A
— TCM (@tcm) March 3, 2023
Fox News Digital reached out to Open Road Integrated Media, which appears to sponsor Christina Crawford’s publications, Christina Crawford’s Facebook page and William Morrow & Co., which published “Mommie Dearest,” for comment.
On May 10, 1977, Joan Crawford died in her New York City apartment after a heart attack. She was reportedly 69.
Her funeral was held three days later at Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel on Madison Avenue.
In her will, signed a year before her death, Crawford bequeathed to her two youngest children, Cindy and Cathy, $77,500 each from her $2 million estate, as noted by James Robert Parrish, author of “The Hollywood Book of Death.”
Crawford also left money to several of her favorite charities including the USO of New York, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Wiltwyck School for Boys and the Motion Picture & Television Country House and Hospital, according to Vanity Fair.
Crawford’s final testament disinherited her two eldest children, Christina and Christopher Crawford.
The document reportedly stated, in Crawford’s words, “It is my intention to make no provision herein for my son, Christopher, or my daughter, Christina, for reasons which are well known to them.”
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