The Best of Everything
New York City: Imperial House (Apt. 22-H)
150 East 69th Street
September 1973 to May 1977 (her death)
After living in the 9-room apartment 22-G in Imperial House from 1967 to 1973, Joan moved into the 5-room apartment 22-H in September 1973, where she lived until her death in May 1977.
Apartment description from Carl Johnes' 1979 book The Last Years:
...she was crushed when she saw the published article [from Architectural Digest in 1976]. "They didn't put in any pictures of my books, my friends!" she despaired. "You'd think I didn't have any library at all; doesn't that bother you, Carl? And my porcelains! Not one photograph!" She was proud of her white Kuan-Yin porcelains, which she'd collected over the years, and had made sure that they were included in some of the photographs. She was upset that the only full-page picture was a close-up of Michaele Vollbracht's portrait of her, which actually hid behind a tree in the bedroom, and that they had singled out a picture of the Salamunich bronze bust of her which was, I knew, barely visible behind some greenery in the living room. What bothered her was that the inclusion of these self-images made the apartment look like an ego-trip, and it was not.
"Anyway," she finally admitted to me, "it looks like I live in some nouveau-riche efficiency apartment in Queens, or some goddam place and I feel like throwing everything out and starting over!" She was near tears. "I can just hear what those people in California are going to say when they see it: 'Jesus Christ, is that the way she has to live now?'"...
In fact, no one could accuse Joan Crawford of having superb decorating taste, but it is also true that the apartment was much more comfortable and welcoming than the pictures indicated. Yes, she did put plastic covers on the overstuffed furniture, but not all the time, and no, you did not have to remove your shoes to protect the white carpeting, because she'd done away with all that years ago and preferred polished parquet. The furniture, a mix of sleek Parsons tables, vaguely Oriental knickknacks and occasional pieces, with large dollops of "Hollywood Moderne," would horrify Bloomingdale's generation, but I always thought that it suited her. Joan Crawford was Hollywood Moderne. Both of the apartments she lived in on Sixty-ninth Street were bright and airy, and I always felt comfortable in them. The paintings wouldn't win any awards, either, whether they were garishly colored Jamaican primitives, or those bug-eyed portraits by Margaret Keane, but Joan honestly defended them. She used to say that each had a particular meaning to her, whether she'd had them since the 1930s, or because she and Alfred Steele had purchased them on one of the many business trips they took for Pepsi in the 1950s. "You don't have to live with them; I do," she would state flatly, "and they make me happy."
Joan lived in her nine-room apartment for about seven years. Then Imperial House became a cooperative. She decided to pare down her life style once more and bought a two-bedroom apartment just down the hall. The cooperative market was in decline at the time, and she was able to scoop up a real bargain, buying the apartment for something like $85,000. I was to plan the decor, but this move was not as upsetting as the first. Again we installed the stall shower and covered the windowsills with plastic laminate and planted a plastic garden of bamboo shoots lighted from below. Joan loved plastic plants and flowers --- they didn't shed and were so easy to clean. She also liked fresh flowers, and the floors of her apartments always held a few vases of blooms sent by admirers. Under each vase was a neatly folded terrycloth towel to keep the floor from getting water-stained....
Architectural Digest wanted to photograph Joan's Imperial House apartment, and Joan had invited me and my good friend, Paige Rense, the magazine's editor-in-chief, for cocktails. I arrived first. Joan was nervous about meeting Paige. She really didn't like journalists... Nevertheless, by the time Paige arrived with her escort, Jacques Camus, general manager of the Regency Hotel, Joan had pulled herself together and greeted them as the old familiar Hollywood movie star. She couldn't have been more charming. Gone were the housedress, the ponytail, and the vodka. In their place were the elaborate dressing gown, the perfect makeup and coif, and out came the Dom Perignon. The three of us sat in her austere living room and watched her at her glittering best as she regaled us with some amusing anecdotes about the late Billy Haines, and about her life and surroundings, which she insisted were modest. She could not understand why anybody would be interested in them. Little did she realize that Architectural Digest would have photographed her life style had she lived in one room with a rollaway bed and a catbox in the corner, people were that curious about how La Crawford lived....
I could not ignore her rudeness to a photographer called in to replace Richard Champion, who had originally been assigned to photograph the apartment and couldn't keep the appointment. The result was the only argument I had with her in twelve years. I had asked Bettina Cirone to pinch-hit when I learned that Champion couldn't make the appointment... It was a dreadful session. Joan was at her tyrannical worst during what surely must have been one of the most grueling assignments of Bettina's career. When she sat down for a moment, Joan turned to one of my assistants and screamed, "Get that bitch off my sofa!" "You're the one who acted like a bitch!" I told her after I learned of the episode. She didn't speak to me for weeks....
Shown below are pictures from 22-H, accompanied by text from the 1977 Architectural Digest book, Celebrity Homes, which initially appeared in the March/April 1976 issue of the magazine (thanks to Angelika). (Click HERE to read the intro to the Joan section of the book.)
"A bronze bust by Salamunich conveys the strength and optimism of Joan Crawford, whose glamour graced motion picture screens for decades." The bust was placed in the living room.
"The crisp Living Room shows the influence of the late William Haines, who for years designed interiors for Miss Crawford. Pieces of furniture he created for her have acquired a period quality; Mr. [Carleton] Varney retained and freshened them with bright fabric accents. He also darkened the woods to a teak shade. The atmosphere is cool, clear and light: 'I can't stand dark walls,' Miss Crawford declared. 'I want pure, unadulterated pristine white. That's the kind of background I like for my guests, my pictures and my plants.'"
"A Parson's table in the Living Room functions as a desk, in what was essentially a working environment. It also serves as a recognition of change. Joan Crawford updated her environment--just as she always adjusted her screen portrayals--to keep pace with contemporary taste. The paraphernalia of a busy and carefully planned professional life remain in view, close at hand. Spatial divisions in the simplified design permit separate areas to function independently, yet the total room remains unified by color."
"Oriental porcelains and other collectables fill a colorful niche in the Dining Area, while comfortable floor pillows reiterate the color scheme. The custom-built dining table was used alternately as an additional work surface. Varney-designed fabric for the screen and draperies includes a Chinese-character motif: 'He told me it means "I love you, Joan,"' Miss Crawford used to say, smiling."
"Typically unsparing white light--the kind used for applying theatrical makeup--illuminates Joan Crawford's custom-designed dressing table. Designer Varney created the subtly patterned monochromatic draperies that define the Dressing Area. Other clues to the Academy Award-winning star's interests--Oriental figurines and a grouping of books--rest on a tea cart nearby: many more books and porcelains are displayed on numerous shelves in other areas of the apartment."
"A soft-toned fabric with a geometrically-conceived floral motif covers the headboard and bed, and drapes the windows in Miss Crawford's Bedroom. Custom-designed cantilevered bedside tables provide storage and surface space. Bare polished parquet flooring throughout the apartment augments the sparing [sic] tailored decor. The crisp harmonious atmosphere was well-suited to the nature of a personality noted for precision and vitality."
BELOW: Two shots of the Michaele Vollbracht painting that hung in Joan's bedroom.
The Best of Everything