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Joan Crawford: Hollywood's Most Glamorous Star
Her Name is
Familiar to Everyone -- but You Might
originally appeared in Screen Guide, October 1950
Fans of Joan Crawford have come to expect certain things of their favorite star -- sparkling performances, smart clothes, new coiffures. Of course a Hollywood mansion fits into the picture, too, and the numerous luxuries that go to make up glamorous living. Everyone knows about Joan the actress, Joan the personality, Joan the woman. Few have known about Joan the homemaker and mother, and on the following pages we bring you what we believe to be the first real photo and world close-up that tells the complete Crawford story. Pictures of Joan's home were intentionally taken without her to show that her home reflects her personality -- one of dignity and elegance -- and is furnished with the artistic taste of a woman who is an able homemaker.
You have only to see the impressive drawing room to realize this. It is done in green and white, brightened by purple-green-and-white drapery, quilted chairs, and a huge white sofa. The den, too, has an air of elegance rather than a mood of informality. Done in rich brown hues, its special feature is built-in sofas. Her large and formal dining room is used only for dinner parties. Family dinners with her children -- Cynthia, Cathy, Christina, and Christopher -- take place in the butler's pantry. If you think dining this way is a contradiction to her love of formality, let us remind you that Joan is a paradoxical woman!
The evening Joan invited director Curt Bernhardt and producer Jerry Wald to her home for a big picture conference, she was sans domestic help. When they arrived, a smiling Joan in a cotton housedress greeted them.
"Come on down to the laundry with me," she said. "I have some washing going in the machine."
The men followed her to the basement and while Joan fed the washing machine and hung up the clothes, they discussed the problems of the film. To put across a certain point, Joan acted out a dramatic scene and had the men so absorbed that they plumb forgot they were in the basement with the whir of a washing machine as musical background!
Another time when William Haines (a former star who is one of Joan's closest friends) dropped by to see her Joan explained it was the maid's day off. She placed a chair near the kitchen door and said blithely, "Sit here while I finish up. We can talk." Then she proceeded to get down on her hands and knees to scrub the kitchen floor. Doing housework is one of Joan's most satisfying outlets. Even when she arrives at home after a weary day before the cameras she tends to the laundry herself. She checks the children's rooms and leaves notes for the help if they're asleep.
A stickler for neatness, Joan has a daily ritual which never goes undone. She empties her purse, stacks her shoes neatly in the closet, and hangs up her gown. One night, however, when a friend berated her for super-fastidiousness, she vowed to toss her apparel over chairs and let them fall where they might. "I did that," Joan says, "and I couldn't sleep all night. I finally had to get up at three in the morning and put everything away. Only then could I fall asleep!"
Joan's various ensembles are stored as efficiently as the garments in a studio wardrobe room. One closet holds evening wear, another, blouses and negligees, another, sports clothes and skirts. When it came to a shoe-rack, Joan finally had to have one especially designed to accommodate her 150 pairs of shoes! There was a time Joan was so indiscriminate about her shoe-buying that her business manager had to put a stop to her sprees. She seldom wears hats any more but even so has to stifle the temptation to buy outlandish headgear.
Career-wise, Joan has held her own as a top-ranking actress for some twenty years because she's never lost her ambition. Most stars usually don't show up at the studio until they're called in for wardrobe or shooting actually begins. Joan goes to great lengths to know everything about the film beforehand so she can get a complete understanding of the character she is to portray. And, unlike many stars, she tests with everyone who is to work with her even when they're only being considered for a bit part. For one film she tested with twenty-seven leading men before David Brian was chosen for the role!
She will stand patiently for hours in wardobe fittings and never complain because she knows how important clothes are in a picture. And, without being officious, she has plenty of her own suggestions to offer. She has a great style sense and also knows the technical aspects of movie clothes. For years a girl named Sheila O'Brien (who started out as a studio wardrobe girl when Joan was a starlet) has been designing Joan's personal wardrobe. Joan promised her that some day she'd get Sheila's name listed as her dress designer. Joan kept her promise and Sheila received screen credit in Warner Brothers' "The Damned Don't Cry."
When she's on picture schedule, Joan rises at five a.m. She snatches a quickie breakfast of orange juice and then drives over to the studio.
"Sitting at the wheel at that hour of the morning, watching the sun rise, makes me feel as though I have the whole world to myself," she says. "I can think things out clearly then."
Once she arrives at the studio, Joan cooks her own breakfast in her dressing room. Breakfast includes the works -- bacon and eggs, toast or coffee cake and a beverage -- never coffee. Lunch consists of a huge steak, roast beef or chops. The lucky lass doesn't have to worry about her diet because meals like these don't add a pound to her trim figure! At noon, instead of resting or lunching with interviewers, Joan allows herself twenty minutes for lunch in her dressing room, then uses the next forty to apply a completely new make-up. She's the only girl in the business who does this, which is another reason why Joan always looks so radiant on-screen.
An energetic and loving mother, Joan has a deep sense of responsibility for her four adopted children. She believes discipline is particularly important for children of means and takes special care to see that her clan is not spoiled. Except for the three-year-old twins (Cynthia and Cathy), Christina, 10, and Christopher, 8, must make their own beds and bring their clothing to the laundry. Once, when Joan noticed that Christopher had left for school without making his bed for four days in a row, she decided to take a stern measure. It would have been easier for her to have the maid make up his bunk or do it herself, but Joan did what she thought was best for the boy. She had him sent home from school for an hour. Then, after he had made his bed, he returned to his classes. Joan knows that in life it doesn't do to evade one's responsibilities and she wants to prepare her children for the realities that lie ahead of them.
Just punishment like this is meted out to the children whenever she feels they have slipped up on performing one of their duties. It's enough to get them back into line but never severe enough to cause any psychic damage to their personalities. When members of the clan have behaved especially well, Joan makes it a point to praise them or show them in some other way that she's proud of them.
The children call Joan "Mommy dearest," slurring the words lovingly as though they were one. And to Joan, rough-housing it with them on the nursery floor evenings constitutes the end of a perfect day. Sundays belong to her and the children, and she rarely makes a date on that day until after they've been safely tucked into bed. After she takes them to church and Sunday School, Joan usually plans a picnic or swimming pool party for their young friends.
Having such a famous mother could cause Joan to have a handful or problem children when they grow older. That's unlikely to happen, however, because Joan's doing such a good job of raising them. They come first at all times and friends know they're up against tough competition when they try to lure Joan into attending some social affair away from home.
Joan, who's a shrewd business woman, has put some of her money into stable investments. She owns her own home, of course, and a Beverly Hills apartment. But most of her money goes into annuities for her children.
She's a prodigious correspondent with her army of fans. It's a good business, or course, but Joan is the only big-time movie star who gives so much sincere attention to her admirers. She treats them like friends, as though she depended on them. She does it not only because it's smart to have these fans continue to like her but because she adores every phase of being a movie star -- and fan worship is part of the set-up. She contributes personal letters to the Joan Crawford Club News and she doesn't attempt to avoid these fans. When she drives down the street and someone recognizes her instead of coolly disregarding his attention, Joan will yell a friendly greeting.
Her social life is spasmodic. Because she never goes out when she's working, she makes up for it by dating several nights in a row when the picture is finished. She enjoys trips to New York for a gay whirl of parties and the theatre, and she loves to dance. She's a wonderful dinner guest -- if you can ever tear her away from home! -- is witty and well informed. She often attends dinner parties at the homes of such good friends as George Cukor, the director, William Haines or Norman and Sally Foster. However, she would rather entertain at home any day and Crawford dinner parties like the one we wrote about in a recent issue, have become famous in Hollywood.
One of filmdom's most unaffected stars, she is never so smug, in spite of her parade of triumphs, that she would rest on her past laurels for even so much as a minute.
Of course Joan could never have accomplished as much as she has if she weren't a virtual superwoman of energy. She can't ever sit and dawdle idly; that would drive her mad. She must be doing something all the time so she when all else fails, she knits. She knits when she watches a movie and she keeps knitting even during studio story conferences.
Because she is accustomed to a manless household, Joan's independence is an inviolate part of her character. She likes to stag it at informal dinner parties so she can slip away if she wants to. She prefers to do her own driving, even on dates, and has often startled an escort by sliding behind the wheel and asking, "Do you mind if I drive?"
As a career woman who loves her work and as a mother of four whose life is all wrapped up in her children, Joan carries one of the busiest schedules in Hollywood. Marriage? She thinks not, although she's idealistic about romance. "I wouldn't marry merely to give the children a father," she says, "or to have a husband." Until -- and if -- that right fellow comes along, Joan plans to make a happy home for her brood. And she will, too.
Click here to see the below photos from this article, with the original captions: