The Devil's Sister
essay by Jacque LeStrop
(appeared on the back of the Photon LP)
When you discuss girls, a friend of mine said a few years back, don't include Joan Crawford in the discussion.
"Because," he would add, drawing himself up to his full macho chauvinism, "because Joan Crawford is not a girl. Joan Crawford is a woman!" Amen.
In these days of "let it all hang out" biographies and recollections of the dearest mommie, it is all too easy to forget what Joan Crawford meant to the men of the world during her salad days in Hollywood. She was always the strong yet seductive female who was a clear challenge to the male seeking conquest but who knew when, and what's more important how, to surrender. When Joan struck her colors and allowed the look of cool permission to cloud her smokey eyes, you could hear a marching band playing John Phillip Sousa or maybe a choir singing the "Hallelujah Chorus." That's the only kind of music to go with such triumphs.
There was no other actress who could combines the grace and beauty of woman with the steel and toughness of man. Joannie would stride onto the screen, a broad shouldered and big breasted bimbo who could lick her weight in salesmen. She gave you the eye and every man in the audience knew he was being measure. He didn't mind as long as she held the tape.
The thing about Joannie was how she improved with age. Only the real dolls do that. You check her out in her early movies, when she was called Lucille LeSeur or something like that, and she danced and jumped about the footlights playing the flapper. In those vintage films she was just a rookie without the touch of class that maturity was to bring.
Some years later, appearing in a film with Clark Gable, she played a tough little hustler looking for a job. Gable, one of the few guys who appeared unabashed at her, gives her a lingering double-o, hires her and then gives her a slap on the backside. She turns and tells him, "thank you," a retort of a broad with a broad view.
It took Hollywood a few years to get Joan Crawford into what has become known as "Joan Crawford roles." She maintained her starring roles and her star stature but the films were not honestly suited to her, not allowing [her] to play herself on the screen, no matter what role she undertook. The quality that settled on Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, James Stewart, Bette Davis...that aura was not to be hers until she made "Mildred Pierce" and after that you finally saw the real Joan.
Here she was, a big dynamic, delicious doll facing the whole world and holding her own, without the help of a man or the love of children or family. Strong, rugged, reliable, and still feminine. In "Mildred Pierce" she was, despite her business acumen, too much of a woman to see through the snide and sneaky smiles of Zachary Scott, on of the all-time movie heels. This guy would have put one over on Mother Superior.
Her later films tossed her into the crime area and she was always a gangster's moll with enough clout to take over the mob herself after her boyfriend was cleaned by the fellows with bent ears and broken noses. Joan would sail into the hard guys, mobilize the forces of good against evil, bamboozle the crooked politicians and save the day. And, all the while, you knew that she was not above a little fooling around, herself. That was her real secret on-screen...she'd do anything to get there and once there she'd slice up anyone who tried to follow her route. It was that little touch of larceny that separated this woman from the rest of the girls.
Joanie [sic] aged well. In her later years, when most women are reading the elixir ads and not walking on slippery streets, she was active in the real world of business and played her actual role with the same relish as she did onscreen. One day she was leaving her office and passed a group of construction workers, the final word on such things as women's legs, politics, women's legs, sports, world affairs and women's legs. One of the boys gave her a long and thoughtful look and said, "they don't make them like you anymore, baby!" Joan, it is reported, gave him the cold stare but you could tell she enjoyed the compliment.
Because it was true. They don't make them like that anymore.