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LOS ANGELES TIMES
May 21, 1939
THE JOAN CRAWFORD NO ONE KNOWS
By Robert White
When you were eighteen and you went to the senior prom, did you ask a girl who wore a gardenia in her hair to dance with you? You did, of course. And she danced with, you didn't she?
Before the dance was over you discovered, didn't you, that she was a different sort of a girl; in fact, you convinced yourself that there had never been another quite like her, didn't you?
And you told yourself, didn't you, that if somehow, someway, you could make that girl love you as you thought you loved her, there wasn't one single thing in life that the two of you together couldn't beat: that nothing mattered except just you and her . . .
You did that, didn't you?
Then timidly, maybe a little awkwardly, you reached up and tenderly touched the gardenia in her hair; and she smiled wistfully—and you knew that she loved you.
When the gardenia was gone, could you still see the girl?
THE woman no one knows in Hollywood is a little girl who will always wear a gardenia in her hair if someone will give it just one lasting touch of tenderness.
She is so beautiful—in character—that you wonder to this day where she was when Casanova retired from the Seminary of St. Cyprian and swept down through Rome, Naples, Corfu and Constantinople before he landed in a Venice bastille.
The woman no one knows is a little girl whose idea of an elegant world cruise is to link her hand with that of someone who's honest—and then just walk around the block. All her life it has made her very happy just to have a block around which she could walk.
The woman no one knows hail a very quaint ambition in life; and she has achieved it: she always said that if she ever had a home of her own it was going to have a great big living room in it with a real fireplace at one end.
She never knew, for a good many years, whether she'd ever have a home but she always knew that one thing about the big living room and the fireplace.
That is because her idea of a world's premiere is to sit by a roaring tire and laugh at the funny faces that are cradled in flame.
This woman's name is Joan Crawford.
It's a name known around the world; but in Hollywood it's the name of a woman defined by the backslapping lapdogs of the great as a "social heel."
That is because Joan Crawford, standing on the sidelines as an unknown chorine—just another extra girl in Hollywood—made up her mind that Hollywood would never make a "bum'' out of Joan Crawford, if and when she got the breaks.
She said it used to make her ill north and south of her abdomen to watch the soapy, drooling vultures crawl up to some great star whose soul they'd murdered the day before, stick out a claw in a waxy handshake and mumble:
"Never mind, darling, something better'll turn up . . ."
They'll never do that to Joan Crawford. She's rich, independently so. She's famous, indisputably so. So they call her "high-hat."
They call her "high-hat" in Hollywood because she doesn't give parties; and she doesn't give parties because she doesn't like to give parties. This is, if you come right down to it, a pretty good reason. Furthermore she doesn't send Christmas gifts to famous so she can be more famous.
This makes for a pretty mutual disregard—the gossips on one side and Joan on the other. She doesn't mind at all sticking a well-honed pin into people •whose false sense of importance bloats them up like the Goodyear blimp.
The woman no one knows has courage, the kind of courage best expressed in a four-letter word beginning with “G"— and a capital one at that.
This is because, essentially, Joan Crawford is earthbound. She came up the hard way and she's proud of it. If she could go back and change every circumstance that made her the Joan Crawford of today, you can be sure that there is one thing Joan wouldn't change: She’d still want to be born out of the Babylon of the earth, she'd still want to be born south of the tracks. She's grateful for that kind of a beginning because everything she owns today she earned.
Hollywood never gave her anything.
She gave Hollywood something; and the people who can't come to her house now, the people who call her "high-hat," are the people who in the past tried to kid her into believing they were doing something for her.
Thai's what's wrong with Joan Crawford. You can't call that a felony, can you?
Joan Crawford is simply and basically intelligent.
Singularly enough, in the face of all the vituperative criticism directed at her, there is no woman in Hollywood today who has helped more people and helped them more consistently than Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford no one knows is unhappy, irretrievably so unless she is doing something for somebody.-
She is wretched beyond description unless she is doing something for someone. She tries so hard to make you comfortable: "You mustn't sit in this room, you must sit in this one!" and "Be careful now, give me your hat before you sit on it!"
She will ask permission to mix your highball with her own hands.
And it has to be that way.
This business of "giving" is a thing very close to the heart of Joan Crawford; it is the thing no one really knows about this much-maligned beauty of the screen. It is as much a part of her life to put someone on the defense as eating, sleeping and acting is.
It is in a sense a phobia; and it is a phobia cradled in that magnificent feeling of self-justification that comes to a human being who once said to themselves, "I know what I want and I'm going to it" — in other words, a success by all American standards.
You can't blame Joan Crawford for that.
For instance, consider this picture: Joan Crawford's proclivity for "giving" has long been a sucker's legend in Hollywood. There was a time not long ago when anyone who had a sick cat, an injured dog, a molting canary or a visiting uncle who broke a leg could call Joan Crawford on the telephone and tell her about it. After that she took cure of the lame, the halt and the blind at her own expense and in luxury—with the best doctors and veterinarians that could be mustered. She never could say no.
The result of this was that one of the finest surgeons west of Chicago who attended most of the human beings Joan Crawford sent to him called a halt. He simply said: "Joan, what you are doing is a magnificent thing but it is worthless unless you systematize it and put it on the basis of sound economics."
A result of that conversation, there is in a certain Los Angeles hospital today a Joan Crawford endowment. It consists of two private rooms; it is, in a sense, nothing more or less than a surgical laboratory. In the past two years more than 390 major surgeries have been completed in that room for people who couldn't even afford the County Hospital, if they were asked to pay for it. Of those 390 cases only one has been lost—a high tribute, if you please, to the surgical skill that works in those rooms.
Joan Crawford pays the bills.
She never knows the people for whom she is paying, and she doesn't care.
All she cares about is whether or not they get well, whether or not the doctor who operated on them has added anything to the surgical knowledge of the day.
And the destinies she has turned in those two rooms may be important destinies to the world.
She doesn't even realize this today— but the doctor does and the hospital does, and the people who have lived in those rooms do.
She pays the bills—thousands of dollars annually; and she never asks a question.
Then, of course, there is the League for Crippled Children and that is a Joan Crawford endowment that has given straight legs and useful arms to the sons and daughters of hundreds of mothers and fathers. It being her favorite hobby, no details of it can be mentioned here.
Here's another example:
In all the newspapers, as this article is written, is a story reporting that Clover Kerr, the little champion who lost both legs and an arm in a traffic wreck a year or so ago, will ride on a special saddle in a special motion picture polo tournament of which Leo Carrillo will preside as master of ceremonies.
The purpose of the tournament is to get money for a Clover Kerr fund for under privileged persons.
Joan Crawford was the one who made it possible for Clover Kerr to ride in her own tournament by forcing a special harness maker to set an all-time record for speed on a special saddle job. And she paid the bills.
"You have to admire a kid like that who doesn't cry," she said.
There is a long list of such things about Joan Crawford that no one knows,
Now if you are one of her fans the thing you want to know about her is whether or not she is being given the "run around" on the screen—as some of the newspaper gossips would have you believe.
This is what an authoritative source in her own studio is known to have said:
"Joan's last five pictures were good but they weren't good enough. It was nothing but bad luck in lousy stories. Give Joan one good story—and she'll be the top-ranking woman star in America over-night."
The gentleman knows whereof he speaks, otherwise Joan's studio would not have handed her another five-year contract involving $1,500,000. It might be good business and it might be good faith, and then again, it might be common ordinary horse sense—none of which is traditionally identified with the motion picture business.
Even the dullest of us knows that when you battle your way to the top as Joan Crawford has, you just don't go back to the bottom.
You stay on top—because you want it that way.
[Thanks to Norman for this article.]