It's been a generation and a half since the last big gasp of Joan Crawford hysteria. That would be the 1981 release of the Faye Dunaway juggernaut Mommie Dearest, the bio-pic centering on Crawford's troubled relationship with her adoptive children (and from which Joan's famous tirade about wire hangers was born). Still, Crawford's star seems not to have faded much for the last two decades, cable TV networks such as Turner Classic Movies, A&E and AMC have all paid homage to her via documentaries, biographies and "Star of the Month"-type tributes.
Nonetheless, with Crawford playing such a large role in this issue of Camp, we thought that a brief run-through of her life and times might be appropriate, and even educational to those just discovering the screen legend.
She was born in San Antonio, Texas, in 1905 or so (records vary) as Lucille LeSueur. Crawford's mother relocated her and her brother Hal to Kansas City, Mo., in 1916 after two failed marriages. Here, Crawford was enrolled in the Catholic boarding school St. Agnes Academy, where she cleaned and cooked in lieu of tuition. Later, a similar situation prevailed at another boarding school, where Crawford was forced to endure humiliating treatment and a haphazard education.
She then briefly attended Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., before dropping out and returning to Kansas City, deciding that college life was not for her. As a young adult, Crawford set about auditioning as a dancer and chorus girl. She managed to gain a series of chorus jobs in traveling shows, working in Detroit, Oklahoma City and Chicago before being forced to return to Kansas City and more menial jobs.
Eventually, she caught the eye of a producer who invited her to New York, where she lived and worked for a time before gaining a Hollywood screen test with newly formed MGM Studios. And though not wildly successful, the screen test was enough to gain her a trip to Hollywood, for which she departed Kansas City the week after Christmas 1924.
Once in California, Crawford set about studying her craft and lobbying for bigger and better parts than the bit roles she had been offered. She eventually landed a starring role in the 1928 silent film Our Dancing Daughters, the movie that is generally credited with making her a star.
From there, stardom and super-stardom were helped along by the fact that, at the onset of the "talkie" era, Joan truly gave good voice to her roles, in contrast to many silent stars of the day. Roles alongside many of Hollywood's great leading men followed, most notably Clark Gable (Dancing Lady (1933), Chained and Forsaking All Others (both 1934), and Love on the Run (1936).
Also notable during this period was the all-star vehicle Grand Hotel (Crawford with Greta Garbo and the Barrymore brothers), which proved that the fresh new starlet could hold her own among some industry "biggies." The late 1930s brought MGM's movie version of the Broadway play The Women, which is one of Crawford's most revered films. Her portrayal of hard-bitten, husband-stealing shopgirl Crystal Allen is priceless.
But eventually, her relationship with MGM soured after a string of box-office disappointments, and she moved to Warner Brothers, where she signed for a much lower salary. In 1945, her time at the new studio finally bore fruit, and landed her a coveted Oscar for her infamous title role in the movie Mildred Pierce, the story of a hard-working waitress who scratches her way up to become restaurant owner.
Highlights from the era include 1946's riveting Humoresque{/I>, alongside a young John Garfield (for which she received her second Oscar nomination)

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