30 September 1996
This glamorous and hugely popular actress raised herself from brutal poverty to Academy Award-winning stardom by guts, determination and hard work. During her fifty-year career, she made over eighty films. But her obsessive perfectionism led to the later caricature of coat-hanger-wielding harridan that even the adoration of fans could not counter. Still, she has endured as one of the most popular icons of the movies, an early role model to a million young women who aspired to her image of stylish magnetic power and unquestioned independence. She was born Lucille LeSueur on March 23, 1904 (or 1906) in San Antonio, Texas. Her father soon disappeared and she took the name of her stepfather, calling herself Billie Cassin. When Cassin, too, vanished, Billie did menial work to help her mother and brother survive. Ill-paid sales jobs bought dancing lessons and the clothes she needed to enter amateur contests. Then came a night-club contract as chorus girl - $25-a-week and eight routines a night. And so she made it into show-business, but the humiliations and insecurities of those early years would never entirely leave her. Spotted by an MGM scout, by 1925 she was under contract in Hollywood. She made the usual publicity appearaces and did Exhibition Dancing at night. Her vitality, charm and dancing talents earned her many admirers - including some powerful enough to advance her career, like William Haines, Paul Bern, Jackie Coogan, Sr. and Louis B. Mayer. After bit parts and a small role in the film Pretty Ladies, a studio-sponsored competition found her the name she at first hated: Joan Crawford. As Crawford's acting skills developed, she became known for her independence and her resilience despite some less-than-successful roles. Her vaguely pretty and plump early looks were soon replaced by the svelte, hard-boiled beauty of hollow-cheeks, thick brows and overpainted mouth that would be her permanent image. Her capacity to inspire and wear with flair the creations of the dress designer Adrian was legendary. But most of all, she was known for her hard work on the set. Joan Crawford's personal life was characterized equally by self-discipline and the determination to better herself, banishing forever her unhappy beginnings. Four husbands included actors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Franchot Tone, Phillip Terry and businessman Alfred Steele. Plagued by innumerable miscarriages, she adopted four children, one of whose account of Joan's unyielding perfectionism has succeded in blurring memories of the remarkable life and career of a Hollywood immortal. Among Joan Crawford's films from which clips are included: Sally, Irene and Mary, 1925; Our Dancing Daughters, 1928; Grand Hotel, 1932; Dancing Lady, 1933; The Gorgeous Hussy, 1936; The Women, 1939; A Woman's Face, 1941; Mildred Pierce, 1945; Humoresque, 1946; Possessed, 1947; Sudden Fear, 1952; Johnny Guitar, 1954 Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? 1962 and Strait Jacket, 1964.
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