The Crawford Mystique
"I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star," she once said. "If you want to see the girl next door, go next door." Of course, Crawford was more than just a screen legend. Here, for her birthday, are 20 things you may not know.
She Wasn't as Big as She Looked
In movies, Joan Crawford loomed large as one of Hollywood's most formidable leading ladies, but in reality she was only 5' 3". A freckle-faced redhead, she relied on hair coloring and makeup to turn her into the powerful-looking woman we saw on the big screen.
A Childhood Accident Nearly Crippled Her
Crawford's original ambition was not to act but to become a chorus girl. Even that once seemed like a long shot. After a childhood accident that required foot surgery, doctors told Crawford she'd never be able to dance and would forever walk with a limp. She worked hard to prove them wrong, and in 1933 Crawford became Fred Astaire's first on-screen dance partner, in the musical "Dancing Lady."
Her Name Didn't Come Cheap
When Louis B. Mayer signed a contract with the aspiring movie star in 1925, her name was Lucille LeSueur. The studio chief then devised a public contest to rename MGM's newest contract player. The winner got $1,000 for coming up with "Joan Crawford," though the star never warmed up to her new name.
There Was a Rumor She Couldn't Shake
Persistent rumors that Crawford had appeared in a stag film dogged the actress her entire life. MGM's famed "fixer" Eddie Mannix (portrayed by Josh Brolin in the Coen Brothers movie "Hail Caesar") is said to have spent years tracking down and destroying copies of "Velvet Lips," starring an underage Lucille LeSueur, now better known as Joan Crawford.
She Was Devoted to Her Fans
Though many stars paid assistants to correspond with fans, Crawford wasn't one of them. Throughout her career, she personally responded to her fan mail, typing letters herself and signing them in her own hand. In fact, Crawford wrote so many of these letters and signed so many photos through the years that her signature is considered extremely common—and therefore not valuable to memorabilia collectors.
She Got Around
Crawford—seen here with first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr.—was married four times and had affairs with some of Hollywood's leading men, including Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy. There were also rumors of her having affairs with women. In the tell-all "Mommy Dearest," Crawford's daughter Christina writes of her mother's "lesbian proclivities." And in her book "Miss D and Me: Life With the Invincible Bette Davis," Davis's longtime assistant Kathryn Sermak contends that Crawford had a crush on her boss, despite their famous feud.
Clark Gable Was in the Picture a Lot
Crawford and Gable's affair reportedly lasted for decades. They also co-starred in eight movies. In 1942, when Gable's wife Carole Lombard died in a plane crash, Crawford stepped in and took over Lombard's role in "They All Kissed the Bride." As a gesture to Gable and his late wife, Crawford donated her salary for the movie to the American Red Cross.
Her Oscar Didn't Come Easy
The filming of the 1946 film noir classic "Mildred Pierce" didn't go smoothly. Bette Davis was the studio's first choice for the title role, but she turned it down. Director Michael Curtiz complained bitterly when Crawford was cast, telling studio chief Jack Warner, "She comes over here with her high-hat airs and her goddamn shoulder pads. Why should I waste my time directing a has-been?" But Crawford triumphed in the end, winning a Best Actress Oscar for what's still considered one of her best roles.
She Adopted All Four of Her Children
Crawford adopted her first child, Christina, in 1940, when she was single and living in Hollywood. It was then illegal for an unwed woman to adopt a child in California, so Crawford used a baby broker in Las Vegas. She later adopted twin girls, also without being married, and then a boy during her brief marriage to actor Phillip Terry.
She Wasn't the Dearest Mommy
Her daughter Christina described Crawford as an alcoholic and a child abuser in her sensational 1978 memoir "Mommie Dearest," published the year after Crawford died. While some of the star's friends—including Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck and Myrna Loy—disputed the abuse charges, others confirmed them. Helen Hayes, Betty Hutton, Eve Arden and others accused Crawford of being an unfit mother, largely blaming this on her drinking.
She Was a Clean Freak
Crawford is said to have been such a germophobe that, after checking into a hotel room, she would clean the bathroom herself before using it. "I used to wash my hands every 10 minutes," she once said. "I couldn't step out of the house unless I had gloves on. I wouldn't smoke a cigarette unless I opened the pack myself, and I would never use another cigarette out of that pack if someone else had touched it."
She Hooked Up With Marilyn
According to audio tapes of sessions with Marilyn Monroe's psychiatrist obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Monroe and Crawford had a one-night stand. "Next time I saw Crawford, she said she wanted another round," Marilyn is heard telling the therapist. "I told her straight-out I didn't much enjoy doing it with a woman. After I turned her down, she became spiteful."
The Feud With Bette Davis Was No Joke
Davis actually kicked Crawford in the head while they were filming the 1962 psychological thriller "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane." Aware that Davis had a bad back, Crawford filled her own pockets with weights before they filmed a scene in which Davis had to drag her across the floor. "It's proper to say that they really detested each other," said the movie's director, Robert Aldrich.
She Sabotaged "Baby Jane"
Crawford and Davis accepted lower salaries in exchange for a piece of the movie's profits. Still, Crawford refused to appear with Davis on a publicity tour. She then lobbied against Davis winning an Oscar for the film, even though she would have benefitted financially from a Davis win. To really stick it to her co-star, Crawford reached out to the other Best Actress nominees and offered to accept the award on their behalf if they couldn't make it to the ceremony. When an absent Anne Bancroft beat Davis, it was Crawford who appeared onstage with an Oscar in hand.
She Switched From Coke to Pepsi
Back in 1933, Crawford appeared in an ad for Coca-Cola, but in 1955 her allegiance shifted when she married Pepsi-Cola chairman and CEO Alfred Steele. He died just four years later, but Crawford refused to give up her $60,000-a-year seat on the Pepsi board, holding it until 1973. Steele's death nearly ruined Crawford financially, as he had borrowed large sums of money from the company—money that Crawford had to pay back.
She Filled in on a Soap Opera
When her then-28-year-old daughter Christina was recovering from surgery in 1968, Crawford stood in for her on four episodes of the daytime soap opera "The Secret Storm." The novelty of her standing in for her young daughter helped viewership to spike. Crawford volunteered to take on the role, for free if necessary, "because I didn't want them to give the part to someone else."
She Got Religion
In retirement, Crawford became a ChristianScientist and spent her final years in seclusion at her New York apartment. Because the faith doesn'tallow medical interference with God's will, Crawford refused an aggressive formof treatment to fight the cancer that eventually killed her in 1977.
She Knew She Was Dying
Two days before she died, Crawford gave away her beloved dog, a shih tzu named Princess Lotus Blossom. She also started giving away her personal belongings. This led some to believe that Crawford might have committed suicide by taking an overdose of sleeping pills. An autopsy was not performed, and the death certificate attributes the star's death to a heart attack.
She Left Her Money to Charity
The bulk of Crawford's $2 million estate went to her favorite charities, including the U.S.O., the Motion Picture Home and the American Cancer Society. Her two youngest children, Cindy and Cathy, received $77,500 each. Her two eldest children received nothing. "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," the will read.
The biggest laugh-getters in sitcom history
Behind-the-scenes of the irresistible '80s rom-com that introduced us to Julia Roberts
Flashes of wit from legendary comedians like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor and Lily Tomlin
From Bob and Ziggy Marley to Sir Paul and Stella McCartney
What made Lucille Ball the most beloved TV star of all time
20 essential tracks from the blues-rock legend who put a piece of her heart into every song