Joan Crawford Biography

In a career that spanned over forty years, Joan Crawford became the epitome of glamour and sophistication, hiding her personal hell.

Lucille Fay LeSueur was born on March 23, 1908, in San Antonio, Texas. The baby that would go on to become one of the most famous and envied women in the world was born poor, into a tumultuous domestic situation. Her parents separated before she was born, and the legality of their union is questionable. Little Lucille's mother cleaned other people's homes for a living, something Lucille swore she would never do. It is telling, however, that she grew up to become a "clean freak," scrubbing her own floors even after she became a wealthy star.

Lucille loved dancing, and as a teenager danced all over the Mid West, competing in contests and entertaining in nightclubs. She moved to Los Angeles in 1925, and was cast in her first role, in "Pretty Ladies," soon after. Her new name, Joan Crawford, was given to her when a fan magazine asked its readers to name the up-and-coming starlet. For a while, Joan was relegated to the chorus, but her big break came in 1928, in the film "Our Dancing Daughters." She became an overnight sensation, and a symbol of the "flapper" movement that was taking the nation by storm.

At around this time, Joan met Douglas Fairbanks Jr., son of the Hollywood legend and a popular actor in his own right. They married, but the urbane, suave Fairbanks soon found that he couldn't bear his wife's vulgarity and ambition. For her part, Crawford found Fairbanks boring, and they divorced after only a few years.

In the 1930's, Joan Crawford became one of the biggest stars at MGM, on par with Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer. Her specialty was the Cinderella story, the shopgirl who scrapes and claws her way to unbelievable riches. Depression-era women, forced to work in hard times, seemed to relate to Crawford in a personal way. Her frequent costar was Clark Gable, whom she was romantically attached to on and off for a decade. During this time, she married another of her costars, Franchot Tone, but this marriage also failed in a few years.

As the 1940's approached, Joan Crawford's star was fading. Perhaps unfortunately, she chose this time to adopt the children she had been unable to bear naturally. Christina and Christopher were followed by Cathy and Cindy, two unrelated girls whom Joan nontheless referred to as "the twins." In later life, Christina would allege that her mother was a child abuser, and contemporaries did confirm that Joan was an unusually strict and overbearing mother. During this time, Joan had yet another failed marriage, to Philip Terry.

MGM boss Louis B. Mayer had had it with Crawford's imperious manner, and considered her more trouble than she was worth. His hints that she should leave his studio were not subtle, and in the early Forties she signed with Warner Brothers. In 1945, she starred for Warner in "Mildred Pierce," playing, ironically, a mother who is devoted to a fault, and won the Best Actress Oscar of that year.

Joan worked steadily throughout the fifties, and in the early Sixties made a career comeback with her rival, Bette Davis, in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" She also finally found a man she could make a happy marriage with: Alfred Steele, chairman of PepsiCo. When Steele was felled by a heart attack, Joan continued to serve on the PepsiCo. board of directors, but she behaved as if money was always a problem for her. She made several awful low-budget films, such as "Straightjacket" and "Trog."

In retirement, Joan became a Christian Scientist, and seemed to grow a bit closer to her children. When she died on May 10, 1977, in New York City, however, she left small sums to Cathy and Cindy, and nothing to Christina and Christopher. Her estate was worth two million dollars.

© High Speed Ventures 2011