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Joan Crawford Book Reviews

Reviews below include both professional critics' reviews and fan reviews. If you've read a Joan biography or book related to a Joan movie and would like to share your review here, please e-mail me. (Feel free to include a star-rating, with 5 stars the best.)  


In each section below, books are listed alphabetically by title.


Bio Reviews

Bette and Joan       Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star  (2 reviews)      Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography (2 reviews)      Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr       Not the Girl Next Door


   Misc. Reviews (letters, paper dolls, etc.)

The Other Side of My Life


Movie-Book Reviews



Bio Reviews

Bette and Joan      Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star (2)      Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography (2)
 Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr       Not the Girl Next Door



Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud, by Shaun Considine

Reviewed by Louis, AKA LuLu  (May 2006)


OK, this is a MUST READ for all Joan fans, especially those who LOVE Bette Davis as well. The information you will get out of this book is amazing; it's a running timeline of the lives of both Bette and Joan, intertwining at precise moments in time. The day-by-day details from the sets of Baby Jane and Hush...Hush... Sweet Charlotte make this an even better read.  The book is full of bitchy bitter quotes from both Bette and Joan regarding themselves and each other. If you haven't read this book yet.... What the HELL are you waiting for! Get your hands on it now; I promise you won't be disappointed.






Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star, by Peter Cowie

Reviewed by Stephanie Jones (February 2009)

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Peter Cowie's coffee-table book "Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star" is a lush photo-Valentine to Joan fans old and new ... but especially the new.

I came of Joan-age in the mid-1980s, just in time to revel in Alexander Walker's "The Ultimate Star," published in 1983, and the "Legends" Kobal-collection photo book, which came out in '86. These two books, along with "Conversations with Joan Crawford," published in 1980, helped solidify my Joan fandom after I'd discovered her for the first time as an actress---in a VHS rental, "Grand Hotel," watched from a hard chair on a tiny screen in a university library.

I suspect that the photographs of "The Enduring Star" will act for a new generation of those teetering on the brink of Joan-fandom as a similar catalyst: enough to send 'em over the edge into either full-blown admiration (if they're the purely visual sort), or into a quest to learn more about her films before they make up their minds. Whichever the case, the book has done its job. As film critic Mick LaSalle says in his introduction: "Look at that face--modern, arch, knowing, passionate, ready to eat the world. That's still something new, that's today looking right at you." Indeed. You can't look at that face and not react to it.

Admittedly, when it was first announced in June 2008 that LaSalle would be writing the introduction to a book about Joan Crawford, I was immediately wary. He was, after all, a high-profile Norma Shearer-booster, and one who often dissed Joan in the process of boosting Norma (or just dissed Joan for the hell of it). His 2000 book "Complicated Women," for instance, includes such semi-bon mots as: "Crawford [in her early-1930s performances] looked like an act trying to impersonate a human being. Emotional problems certainly contributed to this, her image didn't help." Later in the book, he cattily says Crawford's onscreen energy is that of "a woman dancing fast to keep the whorehouse customers happy."

LaSalle now seems to have amended his cat-calls in time to contribute to his colleague Peter Cowie's book. He gives Joan more than a fair shake in his appreciative intro, as when he writes: "When you see her, you'll feel, maybe for the thousandth time, maybe for the precious first time, what she meant to the fans who originally discovered her. That should be our goal, to see Joan Crawford fresh, for the work she did. She and we deserve nothing less."

The book's primary strength lies in its thoughtfully chosen, gorgeous photographs, which do indeed enable even long-time fans to "see Crawford fresh." As a long-time fan myself, I enjoyed rediscovering and appreciating Joan's face anew with each turn of the page.

The selection of publicity shots, films stills, and a smattering of candids tilt heavily toward her 1930s images, with a focus on Hurrell's work. That her post-1940 period isn't better represented is a bit disappointing (post-1940 pictures comprise about a fifth of the book's total); Joan had some stunning sessions during the '40s, for instance, with photographers like Bert Six and Whitey Schaefer, and it's a shame that their work, and more of Laszlo Willinger's late '30s sessions, didn't receive more attention. The dearth of Ruth Harriet Louise's seminal 1920s shots is also regrettable.

Another quibble: The book-jacket claims that more than 100 of the photos here have not been seen in the past 25 years. The author seems to have forgotten the miracle of the Internet! As the webmaster of a Joan website with a photo gallery consisting of literally 1000s of photos, I've spent the past 5 years compiling Joan photos from various sources for the gallery. I counted the photos in this book that I haven't yet seen: 53 of the 213. While the claim of "more than 100" might be off, for a regular Joan-photo-searcher like me to have not seen a fourth of the photos is, nonetheless, a more-than-respectable accomplishment.

And for the average Joan fan, or especially the Joan beginner or the merely curious, the selection here is an absolute treasure trove, destined to create new admirers or to turn what might have begun as only a passing interest into a full-fledged obsession. As director George Cukor writes, from his 1977 eulogy in this book's Afterword: "She had...above all her face, that extraordinary sculptural construction of lines and planes, finely chiseled like the mask of some classical divinity from fifth-century Greece. It caught the light superbly. You could photograph her from any angle, and the face moved beautifully...The nearer the camera, the more tender and yielding she became -- her eyes glistened, her lips parted in ecstatic acceptance. The camera saw, I suspect, a side of her that no flesh-and-blood lover ever saw." The photos in "The Enduring Star" manifest the face of Cukor's words religiously.

Despite the glory of the photographs, the text of the book is, however, primarily filler. Almost all of the information comes from other biographies, and Cowie heavily pads the text with lengthy plot details of the movies. In addition, the author gets a few facts wrong, including the howler that Marie Dressler was considered for the part of Flaemmchen in "Grand Hotel," and that "Flamingo Road" takes place in either Missouri or Mississippi (it's set in Florida). And a couple of photos from the 1930s show up in the 1940s section. Cowie also descends to the borderline-creepy on a couple of occasions, a la biographer David Bret, as when he waxes lascivious about Joan's sexuality: "When [Johnny Guitar] displays his sharpshooting skills, Vienna hisses, 'Give me that gun!' It's a moment of sheer emasculation, and once senses that the whip and the paddle are but a heartbeat away..." Then later there's: "[I]n private life she still craved a man whom she could respect, even if she would invariably wear the trousers in domestic (and perhaps sexual) terms."

This type of sniggering prose is not only annoying, but also incorrect: While conventional wisdom has it that Joan was a real ball-buster, in reality, her primary relationships were with men more accomplished than she, and as strong, if not stronger. Husbands Doug Fairbanks Jr. and Franchot Tone were both willful and cultured, and Joan played the willing pupil to each. Pepsi president Al Steele was certainly no shrinking violet himself; nor were long-time lovers Clark Gable and Greg Bautzer, both known for their dominant personalities. For real psychological insight into the woman, one does better to turn to Alexander Walker's "The Ultimate Star." Here's Walker's more insightful analysis of her androgynous quality, as he discusses Sadie Thompson in "Rain": "[Director Lewis Milestone] reveals the male will that inhabits Sadie's assertively female body. This is precisely the conjunction that fascinates many of Crawford's admirers today, even those who do not find her sexually attractive. She is a woman with power over men -- and part of that power is the disconcerting discovery a male makes that the power is of the same gender as himself. It proved too unexpected a change, too raw a demonstration, for Crawford's fans to accept in 1932."

Despite Cowie's occasionally simplistic overview of Joan and her career, and the infrequent error, his text is, however, for the most part competent and well-researched. Mid-level and hard-core Joan fans won't learn anything new from the text, but for beginning fans, it is a helpful, clear, and detailed introduction.

Another strength of the Cowie book lies in its professionalism. The publisher, Rizzoli, is known for quality coffee-table books, and this Joan-book lies in the company tradition, a welcome relief from the recent spate of amateur contributions to the "Joan canon." (The recent David Bret bio was a rehash of former biographies combined with filler plot details and goofy asides; the Charlotte Chandler book was, despite including author interviews with Joan, rather sloppily patched together, also padded with unnecessary plot recounting; the "Letters" book by Michelle Vogel was amateurishly organized, filled with factual and grammatical errors, and accompanied by illegally-reproduced photos on poor-quality paper.)  "The Enduring Star," on the other hand, is thankfully all-pro, with its glossy pages and its adherence to publishing conventions: It's been properly edited and copy-edited, with actual photo credits, source notes, and a complete Filmography that clears up one mystery about some of Joan's early films. The inclusion of the complete text of director George Cukor's insightful posthumous 1977 eulogy as an Afterword, which I'd previously only read snippets of, is also a welcome addition to in-print Joan information.

"The Enduring Star" is a high-quality contribution to Joan's legacy. I recommend it for staunch fans, neophytes, and Classic Hollywood photography connoisseurs alike. A glamorous tribute in recognition of a face, and of a woman and actress, that both embodies and transcends her era.



Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star, by Peter Cowie

Reviewed by Mike O'Hanlon (December 2014)

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Peter Cowie’s Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star serves a main purpose for those individuals who just want to look at a young, beautifully photographed, glamorous Joan. The book does have a larger purpose Cowie may not have envisioned during his work on the project: a realization of how (and sadly why) these big, expensive books have seen an unfortunate demise…the Internet! While the book does have a huge amount of images which I was not familiar with, many I have seen lingering around on different websites for years. Some of the photos (one in particular of Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone in Dancing Lady) I can remember first seeing in The Films of Joan Crawford, which was published in 1968!

There are those of us who do want physical copies of these photos in books such as Enduring Star, maybe for when we want to get away from technology and sink into some other source of entertainment. And the text itself is well written and informative for new fans of Joan. (For those of us who’ve known Joan for at least 10 years or longer, eh… nothing new here. But it’s well written, so at least it’s not a bad rehash of previously known information.) So the book is a good collector’s item to own.

A foreword by Mick LaSalle and an afterword by George Cukor (obviously pulled from his own words about Joan written many, many years ago when she passed away in 1977) complement the book. I mean, the afterword by Cukor anyone can pull up on a Joan site, but the foreword by LaSalle was interesting. I knew people in the Joan community were a bit skeptical because not since Bosley Crowther’s initial reviews of her films in the New York Times had a critic tore Joan to shreds. LaSalle’s 2000 book Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood really seemed out to echo Crowther’s own opinions of Joan and her acting abilities.

Enduring Star focuses on Joan’s major years at MGM and sort-of touches on her Warners years. After that, her freelance career and unfortunate shameful demotion to cheap, tawdry horror flicks are summed up in a few pages. I didn’t understand why at first. Then I remembered all the different people in my life who have seen photos of a young Joan Crawford through me and cannot believe it’s her. Between that and Cowie’s book, it does awaken me to the realization that the general public still does view Joan Crawford as some horribly made up drag-look-alike who spent the bulk of her time in bad movies and bullying children off the screen.

And perhaps that’s why Cowie set out to remind the general public of who the real Joan Crawford really was… either way it just seems a bit uncertain.



Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell

(2002, University Press of Kentucky)

 Reviewed by Mike O'Hanlon (February 2011)

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This “essential” biography really isn’t all that essential to a Joan Crawford fan, particularly one who knows a lot about Crawford and has seen as many of her films as I have. I will say, however, that this is a very good introductory biography to fans who are just getting their interest sparked by this remarkable woman whose extraordinary career lasted forty-five years.

My biggest problem with the book (and the title gives this away) is that it tries to be smarter than it really is. Quirk and Schoell really write about some of this material as if it were never before discussed in previous books about Joan Crawford. And in some cases, there is mentioning of some material that I had not been keen on before I read this one, but most of the information was sexually-oriented. Quirk (and I believe Quirk largely wrote this one; I’ll explain later) goes into detail about how his uncle, editor of Photoplay magazine James Quirk, was one of many men who secured Crawford’s position as a top Hollywood star in return for sexual favors. This book makes no attempt to disguise the fact that Joan Crawford got to the top with a mattress strapped to her back, even quoting Joan as having said the father of silent film child star Jackie Coogan was a “dirty pig!” A good writer could have worked this material into a more intelligent analysis. But in this case, it comes off as gossipy and rather immature and childish.

Another big problem of mine with this one is its constant, and rather lackluster, attempts to dismiss the allegations made against Joan Crawford by Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Really, as a Joan Crawford fan, I’m so sick of this. Mommie Dearest is bullshit, I get it. Can we discuss something else about Joan now?

I mentioned before that I believe that Quirk wrote the majority of this book, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, he makes constant reference to his uncle, even supplying a glossy photo of him… Listen, I bought this book to read about Joan Crawford, not to look at your fat, sweaty pig of an uncle who apparently forced girls to sleep with him so they can become famous.

Second of all, I have read Lawrence Quirk's books about Joan Crawford’s films and his biography of Norma Shearer. I’ll tell you this right now: This biography of Joan Crawford was an almost exact replica of his Norma Shearer biography. (Christ, I think the chapters on The Women are the exact same!) Instead of overanalyzing Norma’s movies, giving his critical critiques, he just rewrote the plots. He does that here with Joan’s films. He made constant reference to James Quirk in Norma’s biography, the difference being Norma’s relationship with James Quirk was not sexual. But he did repeat about how James Quirk helped Norma become a major star by giving her good loan-outs before she hit it big at MGM with He Who Gets Slapped (1924), and two other big ones: Lady of the Night, and The Tower of Lies (both 1925), which, according to numerous writers about Shearer, secured her place as a star in Hollywood.

How could a man who worked for Photoplay magazine have such control over the careers of at-the-time nobodies whom none of the big executives at MGM cared about? How could a man in his position even manage to meet them? I would imagine someone in that high of an editorial position at the biggest movie magazine in the country in 1925 would be chasing after the Gloria Swansons, Mary Pickfords, and Corrine Griffiths. Not the unknown starlets who come and go so quickly.

Another fact that caught my attention in his book about Shearer was his way of describing certain movies of Norma’s that have been lost for decades. Movies he could not have possibly seen, which leads me to believe some of the book was largely fabricated, as is this one.

It’s a frustrating book. Good for first-time readers, but bad for knowing fans. And for those who think this is a good one…hey, make sure to say a prayer every night to James Quirk. Without him, we wouldn’t have Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer to talk about all these years later.

Oh, and be prepared for a lot of beautiful pictures of Joan throughout the text. They are pretty, superficial pictures, yes. But he should have organized them with the text. Why use a photo of Joan from 1931 to write about her life in 1945? Or a photo from 1940 to discuss her career in the 1960s?


Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell

(2002, University Press of Kentucky)

Reviewed by Matthew Kennedy in Bright Lights Film Journal (2002)

Joan Crawford was not Mommie Dearest. In the expert new biographyJoan Crawford, co-authors Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell dismiss Christina’s efforts to forever encase Crawford in grotesque motherhood. To Quirk’s and Schoell’s credit, they avoid the opposite tone and steer clear of gushing fanzine hyperbole. The woman who emerges from these pages was tough, demanding, self-obsessed, horny, generous, and loyal.

The subtitle of this book, the essential biography, actually does the work a disservice. The essential biography would be longer than these 294 pages, and include exhaustive library, archive, and first-person sources. This book is more a personal reflection, as Quirk knew Crawford for many years and heard firsthand her innumerable tales of life in Hollywood. Joan Crawford is therefore all about her career, but it doesn’t probe as much as it offers a chronology of her life in movies. To further boost Joan Crawford‘s compulsive readability, the authors do a fine job of discrediting Christina with ample opposing testimony to Crawford’s character. And anyone looking for potshots at Esther Williams, Marilyn Monroe, and Faye Dunaway won’t be disappointed.

We are first taken to Crawford’s scruffy childhood in Texas and the Midwest, but soon the former Lucille LeSueur is bewitching the early moguls of Hollywood as the flapping starlet of such light efforts as Pretty Ladies, The Boob, Tramp Tramp Tramp, and The Taxi Dancer. One is reminded that she later made her share of decent movies — Possessed (1931 and 1947), Grand Hotel, Rain, The Women, A Woman’s Face, Mildred Pierce, Humoresque, Flamingo Road, Sudden Fear, and the delectably off-kilter western Johnny Guitar. I’ve always had a soft spot for Crawford in the 1950s, when she was vainly hanging on to the glamour girl image just as her key light got brighter and the camera lens got softer. It’s hard to watchThe Damned Don’t Cry, Female on the Beach, and Autumn Leaves and not see a hybrid of actress-woman clinging to her sexually ripe hardscrabble survivor persona. It makes for compelling screen acting.

The strength of this book, with its attention on her epic career, is also its weakness.Joan Crawford at times can’t helping lapsing into predictable rhythms. (Fill in the blank) is given a plot summary, made, released, and ranked on an unofficial scale from Mildred Pierce to Trog. Crawford (loved/hated) that movie and (loved/hated) her co-stars. The next movie is treated similarly, and the one after that. This gives the reader an appreciation for the assembly line of studio era Hollywood, but it dims any chance of deeper insights on Crawford’s life and work. The authors don’t hesitate to take on her whispered bisexuality, or mention a little-known affair she had with Jimmy Stewart, but these nuggets appear only in passing. Marriages are made and broken, children are famously adopted and prove less than angelic, MGM lets Crawford go, she gets her revenge at Warner Bros., marries Pepsi nabob Al Steele, and does a sadomasochistic tango with Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s all here, but one longs for more depth with Crawford the woman. Where Mommie Dearest was all domestic drama and little appreciation for Crawford the star-actress, Joan Crawford is quite the opposite.

Perhaps that is the unwritten message of Joan Crawford — that the woman and the star were one. What a startling contrast Crawford was to Grand Hotel co-star Greta Garbo, who spent half a century running from fame, wandering the streets of New York like a confused and frightened stray cat. Crawford couldn’t have been made of more different temperament. She carried herself as though stardom was her birthright. She reveled in it, sought it and expected it, as though she forever imagined a sparkling tiara affixed to her well-coiffed scalp.

Crawford has been dead 25 years, yet her ghost defies obscurity just as the woman did in life. Of course her career went south and the pictures got small. Toward the end she was reduced to changing costumes in a car. Still she carried herself with shoulders back and head held high. Now that she’s gone, we forgive her those last pitiable years, and hope she forgave the powers-that-be who wasted her talents. Time has proven her durability. Don’t we love the élan, the chutzpah, and the sheer force of character that makes for such rare beings as Joan Crawford?

Quirk and Schoell are two film gentlemen-scholars who have at last repaired the maligned Crawford legacy. She doesn’t deserve the easy jokes begat by Christina’s ulterior attacks. At the end of the movie Mommie Dearest, the disinherited Christina (played by the odd Diana Scarwid) alludes that she’ll have the final say on her Gorgon of a mother. Quirk and Schoell made sure that didn’t happen, and they are to be saluted for their effort at fair appraisal. Enough time has passed to prove that Joan Crawford doesn’t deserve wire hangers. She was and is an enduring star, one of the great ones.



Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr, by David Bret

Reviewed by Stephanie Jones (April 2006)

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There's not much new or interesting in Martyr. It consists for the most part of rehashed quotes from other Joan sources and is heavily padded with the author's own (interminable) retelling of film plots. (Even the cover is a rehash---with the photo used already for Walker's Ultimate Star.) And no, there's no proof herein that Joan worked as a prostitute or appeared in a porno (much less did so at the urging of her mother!), as claimed on the dust jacket; and, after reading, I'm still wondering which 3 of Joan's husbands were supposed to have been gay (as the dust jacket also proclaims)! Bret mentions Franchot being serviced by a man or two---OK, chalk one up to "bi" but other than that, nothing. (Also, if I have to read of one more actor described as "ethereal-looking" by Bret, I'll shriek. I stopped counting at "4," but the list ludicrously went on...)


On the plus-side, the book does have several photos that I'd never seen before. But unless you, like me, are collecting every single Joan book just to have them, you really don't need this one. I'd rank it down there at the bottom of Joan bios, along with "Crawford's Men."





Not the Girl Next Door, by Charlotte Chandler

Reviewed by John Epperson in the Washington Post (Feb. 24, 2008)


Like other entertainment icons of the 20th century, such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland, Joan Crawford represents the best and the worst of the American dream. Crawford's was a grand success story from poverty in the Midwest to glory in Hollywood and New York. Presley, Monroe and Garland garnered cult fame, and Crawford acquired a similar kind of worshipful sect that continues to grow thanks to DVDs, Turner Classic Movies (which will broadcast 17 Crawford films in March, the month of her centenary), and Web sites such as, an online encyclopedia devoted to Crawfordism and regularly updated with photos and information about the Goddess Joan. But also like the other three, Crawford had private demons with which to grapple.

The press never revealed Crawford's dark side of drinking and sexual peccadillos while she was alive. It was her eldest daughter, Christina Crawford, who characterized her (after Joan's death) as an abusive shrew in the bestselling Mommie Dearest, which went on to become a notorious film starring Faye Dunaway. Unfortunately, nowadays most people think of Crawford as the monster of that 1981 film.

Charlotte Chandler's new book, Not the Girl Next Door, tries to refute the image of Crawford as a domestic fiend by telling the star's side of the story as gleaned from extended interviews with her in the mid-1970s (Crawford died in 1977). Chandler cites several of Crawford's friends and acquaintances as being upset with Mommie Dearest, including Myrna Loy, who called Christina "vicious, ungrateful, and jealous." The controversy continues among Crawfordites, who will love this new book because it is, at last, pro-Joan.

Regrettably, since the book is mostly quotations (from sources such as director George Cukor, Loy, husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., daughter Cathy, nemesis Bette Davis, etc.), it has a sketchy, anecdotal quality that makes for jumpy reading. The reader must fill in the blanks of the complex, contradictory actress's life. If the reader already knows a great deal about St. Joan, sealing up the cracks poses no problem. However, a novice Crawfordite might be stymied by the jump-cuts. Chandler has turned out several books of this kind, on subjects including Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman, calling them "personal biographies," perhaps in an attempt to justify stringing together lengthy quotations from the subject and his or her contacts. But no matter how it's labeled, her approach doesn't make for smooth narrative.

Other portraits of Crawford have appeared over the years, one of the most entertaining being Carl Johnes's Crawford: The Last Years, a slim 1979 paperback. Johnes was an assistant story editor at Columbia Pictures' New York office when he met the star, who became his doting friend. Johnes made a particularly valuable contribution to understanding Crawford by disclosing her rather late-in-life identity search. Here was a woman born Lucille LeSueur (her real name, in spite of its theatricality) who then became known as Billie Cassin (she was a tomboy when her mother married a second time, to Mr. Cassin). Later, in Hollywood, she became, briefly, Joan Arden, a name picked for her in a magazine contest, and finally Joan Crawford, manufactured celebrity from the dream world of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, purveyor of glossy illusions. Who wouldn't have an identity crisis after all that? I've attempted to live in Crawford's head a bit myself when performing my show "The Passion of the Crawford," and it's a dangerous space to occupy, with its constant vacillation from grand lady to goodtime gal to businesswoman to needy, insecure, controlling star.

The most amusing part of Chandler's book is the account by director Vincent Sherman, who made three films with Crawford. His bizarre tales include attending, with Crawford, a private screening of her film "Humoresque." As the movie unspooled, Crawford became increasingly, erotically mesmerized by her own celluloid self and offered to make love to him right on the spot, oblivious of the projectionist in the back of the screening room. Sherman was able to get her to her dressing room, where their affair began.

But Chandler pads her book with awkwardly inserted synopses of Crawford's films, and some of her "facts" are incorrect. For instance, in her summation of the lurid 1965 thriller "I Saw What You Did," Chandler says that Crawford's character, Amy Nelson, protects the three threatened female youngsters in the movie. Actually, Amy encounters only one of the girls, to whom she is physically and verbally abusive, repeatedly bellowing, "Get outta here!" Hardly protective.

The book also suffers from careless repetition. On page 239, Chandler tells the reader that after her last husband died, Crawford had to move to a smaller apartment in New York because he had left so many debts. Two pages later, the author delivers the same information.

This is only one example of avoidable repetition. Perhaps it's very Joan Crawford of me to expect a book to be tidier and more disciplined (imagine the neatness hell that Crawford put her editors and co-authors through when she wrote her own books, A Portrait of Joan and My Way of Life), but I will give in to my (possibly neurotic) desire for perfection and report that a fully satisfying Crawford biography has yet to be written. Still, despite its drawbacks, even the most regimented Crawfordite can enjoy Chandler's new book.



Misc. Reviews

The Other Side of My Life



The Other Side of My Life, by D. Gary Deatherage

Reviewed by Stephanie Jones  (July 2006)

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"The Other Side of My Life" is the 1991 autobiography of Joan Crawford's fifth child (the four "official" adopted kids being Christina, Christopher, and twins Cathy and Cindy), who was only with Joan for five months in 1941 before his unbalanced natural mother reclaimed him. (In the '60s and '70s, Joan continued to mention her "five adopted children" in several TV interviews.)


Author David Gary Deatherage was born "Marcus Gary Kullberg" in Los Angeles on June 3, 1941, the result of his married mother's affair with a neighborhood Sicilian liquor-store owner. Mother Rebecca decided in her 7th month of pregnancy to confess her affair to her husband and then give her baby up for adoption.


The adoption was arranged through private baby broker Alice Hough and Joan picked the baby up at Hough's home 10 days after his birth, renaming him "Christopher Crawford." After press stories about Joan's new adoption revealed the baby's birthdate, Rebecca figured out that Joan was the adopting mother and decided she wanted the baby back. She began a harassing letter campaign to both Joan and MGM, threatening suicide if her son wasn't returned to her. A disguised Joan, along with Hough, returned the baby to his mother's house shortly after Thanksgiving 1941. (Author Deatherage is circumspect about his birth mother's efforts: "In the end it came down to extortion. Rebecca never admitted it, but I think she and Kullberg [Rebecca's husband] had always figured I was a meal ticket. I'd bet she really didn't count on Joan Crawford returning me---that she'd receive some kind of compensation to keep her mouth shut. I was a valuable commodity during my days with Crawford. When I became 'returned merchandise' my value plummeted. My life was close to worthless, and as far as Kullberg was concerned, I was a liability and a candidate for the next life.")


The year following his return was hellish for Deatherage. According to what his sister later told him, Rebecca's husband was both emotionally and physically abusive, refusing to allow the baby in his sight (the child was kept in closets when his father was home) and, finally, throwing him against a wall, rupturing the baby's hernia. At that point, Rebecca gave him up for adoption a second and final time. (Though her pursuit of Joan and her son wasn't yet finished: In December 1944, when the press reported Joan's adoption of the second, completely unrelated Christopher, Rebecca forced her way into Joan's home insisting that this baby was also her son; she was arrested and subsequently placed in a psych ward for several months.)


While Deatherage here gives a complete account of his tortured earliest years (most memories supplied by his sister), they're by no means the sole focus of the book. Rather, as an adoptive child, this is primarily the story of his search for his roots. The Joan-chapter of his legacy is mentioned on perhaps 20 pages, with the rest of the 218 pages devoted to his equally interesting adult interactions with his God-obsessed itinerant natural mother (whom his siblings warn him about), his proper Sicilian natural father, his multiple siblings, and his loving and stable adoptive parents.


For purposes here, though, the Joan-related items are the most interesting: Deatherage meets with Christina Crawford (whom he describes as "radiant" and "much prettier in person") at her home and asks if he might have changed Joan: "It would have made no difference," retorts Christina. "My mother especially despised males....Just be thankful you were spared." On the other hand, he contacts Joan's secretary Betty Barker, who tells him, "I think you would have loved being Joan's son!...All you had to do was be a good human being, and I know you are, so I know you would have gotten along with her beautifully." He also quotes a Barker letter: "When she lost you, all of us were afraid to mention your name to her for years, as it was a tender subject with her. She would have loved to have known what happened to you...She always used to say, 'I had five children, but had to return one to his natural mother.' She always seemed to feel that you were hers too." Twins Cathy and Cindy tell him, via phone conversations, that Joan mentioned him frequently.


In this book, Deatherage says that while---given his feisty personality---he probably would have argued with Joan and had a hard time as a kid, his one regret about his past is that he was never able to meet Joan when he was an adult. His take on her parenting skills: "From what I can tell, she had some good intentions. However, her consumption of alcohol and work pressures often short-circuited those intentions. She had come from poverty and had worked hard for her rise to fame and fortune. Why should her adopted children have it given to them on a silver platter, without blood, sweat or tears?"


Deatherage, who seems to have turned out to be a well-adjusted, successful person (thanks probably to his kindly eventual adoptive parents), here gives a thoughtful, well-balanced account of every aspect of his sometimes-scary journey toward discovering his past. A fascinating, recommended read, not only because of the Joan aspects.


(NOTE: Copies of this book can be found cheaply priced on



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