Happy 113th Birthday, Joan Crawford!

The intrepid Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur 113 years ago (or thereabouts, there’s some debate about the correct year) today in San Antonio, Texas. Here are 10 JC Did-You-Knows:

  • Crawford’s parents separated when she was very young and by her teens, she’d had three different stepfathers.
  • After working a number of menial jobs as a young women, Crawford began to take advantage of her skills as a dancer, winning a number of dance competitions and earning a living as a hoofer first in the Midwest and later on the East Coast.
  • Crawford moved to Hollywood in her mid-twenties, making her movie debut in a bit part as a showgirl in Pretty Ladies (1925). After several minor roles in pictures, she was awarded her breakout role, the part of Diana Medford in Our Dancing Daughters (1928).
  • Crawford handled with transition from silent pictures to talkies with relative ease, as her first talking picture, Untamed (1929), was a hit.
  • Soon, Crawford was one of MGM’s biggest stars, and she remained such for more than a decade. By the early ’40s, though, her standing at MGM was in decline. She decided to cut her losses and make a fresh start at Warner Brothers, where her stellar portrayal of the title character in Mildred Pierce (1945), the noirish-thriller based on the James M. Cain novel of the same same, revived her career in a big way, as well earning her the only Best Actress Oscar of her career.
  • The 1950s saw Crawford’s career on the wane. Though she made a number of pictures in that decade, they tended to have the sort of campy quality that is today associated with her, if perhaps unfairly so.
  • By the 1960s, Crawford was reduced largely to parts in low budget horror films, such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Strait-Jacket (1964), and Berserk (1967). She also appeared on various television programs, among them the soap opera The Secret Storm, The Lucy Show, and Rod Serling‘s Twilight Zone followup, Night Gallery.
  • Though she was always an imposing on-screen presence, Crawford stood just 5′ 3″.
  • Crawford was married four times; each union lasted less than five years (though, to be fair, her fourth husband passed away). Each time she remarried, she changed the name of her Brentwood estate and replaced all the toilet seats in the house.
  • Crawford made a practice of responding personally to all of her fan mail.

Happy birthday, Joan Crawford, wherever you may be!

Joan Crawford

Happy 112th Birthday, Joan Crawford!

Joan Crawford, born Lucille Fay LeSueur 112 years ago today in San Antonio, Texas, had a Hollywood career like no other. Talk about your highs and lows. She was born in a family of modest means, her parents separated before she was born and she’d had three stepfathers by the time she was in her teens.

Dancing was her ticket out. She wasn’t a trained dancer or in any sense a classical one. She was vivacious and driven and did the popular dances of the day. After winning several dance contests, she was awarded a spot in a chorus line in a touring show, and two years later, she headed west to Hollywood. She quickly started snagging bit parts in pictures, but it was Our Dancing Daughters (1928) that proved to be her big break. Having become a star just at the end of the silent era, she was now faced with the challenge of proving she was able to speak well enough for talking pictures. She was, as her work in her first talkie, Untamed (1929), demonstrated, and it was onward and upward from there.

Joan Crawford

Crawford was one of MGM‘s biggest stars in the 1930s, but by the ’40s, the studio began, as studios were wont to do, awarding the prime roles to a collection of fresh faces, so Crawford for Warner Brothers, where the title role in Mildred Pierce (1945), the noirish adaptation of James M. Cain‘s novel of the same name, gave her fading career new life. She won her only Oscar for her portrayal of the titular loving mother whose hard work and sacrifice goes unappreciated by her selfish, snotty daughter. Crawford rode the wave created by Mildred Pierce for a few years until, in the 1950s, her star again began to shine less brightly. She delivered some of her most over-the-top performances in that decade in pictures that she surely didn’t rate as highly as her earlier efforts, but today’s fans value her films of that decade greatly for the sheer campy fun of them.

Sadly, today Crawford’s remembered as much for her adopted daughter Christina’s unflattering (to put it mildly) portrait of her mother in the memoir Mommy Dearest, and the 1981 cinematic adaptation of that book, with Faye Dunaway as Joan. We may never know just how accurate Christina’s account is—many people who knew Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy among them, insist it’s vastly overblown and unfair—but it almost doesn’t matter at this point: Christina’s depiction of a controlling, easily angered, abusive Joan Crawford is now pop culture lore, and little can be done about it.

Joan Crawford’s final picture was a ridiculous offering called Trog (1970). One has to give her credit for hanging in there, but it’s one picture Crawford surely regretted making. After that, she largely disappeared from the public eye before passing away at age 72 on May 10, 1977.

Happy birthday, Ms. Crawford, wherever you may be!