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General Joan

After her husband and her small daughter succumb,
a wife investigates the wizardry of Miss Crawford

by Martha Ford (Mrs. Wallace Ford)
Originally appeared in New Movie Magazine, October 1933

When lightning strikes twice in the same place, curiosity prompts you to look into the matter.

It did - and I did.

First and foremost, I saw a rampaging young lion-cub named Wally Ford tamed into gentleness, almost docility...and, second, a blond, six-year-old demon named Patricia, changed from devil to cherub, all in a split second.

The lightning was one Joan Crawford; the place, my humble family circle; and the tempestuous two were my husband and daughter, respectively.

More than two years ago, when I first came to Hollywood to join Wally, he was in the midst of making "Possessed", his first picture, with Joan. I noticed how chastened he seemed at the depot, but decided the joyous shock of seeing me again had knocked him all of a heap.

Then...he took Patty to lunch with him the following day and she came home as radically changed as her father. The result was one I'd attempted to achieve for years. But all of a sudden, like this, it was more shock than pleasure.

I decided to investigate. My only solid clue was the name "Joan," repeated over and over. So I made up my mind to see the lady and find out the alchemy she used.

The day arrived. I girded my loins for action, shoved open the door of the sound stage, strode over cables, light-plugs and assorted feet, to grasp the hand that had cowed my husband. There she sat, chewing gum with concentrated fury and giggling with Clark Gable over an error in the script.

She jumped up to greet me.

"Hello, there! Wally's told me all about you. Where's Patty? Wally, when can Martha bring the baby over again?"

And something about the direct friendliness from a girl you've heard was inclined to be a bit the "great lady" did exactly to me what it had done to Wally and Pat. It made me shy. I'll never be able to explain it.

Joan went out of her way to build up a feeling of easy camaraderie, but our pre-conceived notions of how picture actresses should greet their co-workers and friends died a hard death. A hundred times a day, Joan would say to Wally: "Don't you Miss Crawford me, Mr. Ford. Call me Joan, Wally." Yet Wally, to this day, is just a little formal with Joan.

Patty succumbed completely. And, while she's not the devil-child she used to be in the pre-Crawford era, she's completely clubby and natural with her adored one. They exchange gifts, call each other on the phone and are as devoted as Damon and Pythias!

Joan's a very human girl. She does human things in a human way. She occasionally goes a little distant if she's preoccupied or worried - just as you or I greet members of our family with a vague "Hello" if our minds are troubled. It's a sort of protective coloring we take on so we won't be disturbed by things outside ourselves until we've solved our problem.

To casual acquaintances, Joan's a hard girl to understand. She doesn't fully understand herself. She's so constantly changing, learning, reinforcing and improving, that even she can't quite keep track of the new Joan as the old fades out of sight.

Every year or so she gives herself a spiritual peeling and comes forth drastically different. In the process she makes a few minor mistakes...witness last season's Letty Lynton-Sadie Thompson lips...but on the whole, she definitely progresses.

No woman star on the screen today can look back on what she has made of herself with the pride that Joan can.

She has the ability of execution of a military strategist, and like any good general, she plots her courses, reviews her assets and sets forth into battle with supreme confidence that her fight is a good fight.

She has rare courage. But the "slings and arrows" bury themselves deeper in her heart than in the heart of most ambitious women, because Joan's a hypersensitive creature. She can't shrug off disappointments with philosophic calm; she's far too intense about her work to take set-backs like a stoic. She's had to fight through plenty of hurts, intentional or otherwise, through opposition, careless misunderstanding and adverse comment, to gain her solid foothold on this shifting battlefield.

Joan's an extremist. She burns up her old enthusiasms almost before she's found new ones to take their places. The only changeless, all-powerful force behind her is her determination to succeed. To do that, she will sacrifice sleep, food, relaxation, pleasure, even peace of mind and body.

No one who really knows her, however, can feel she sacrificed her marriage on that high altar. She gave her years with young Doug a concentrated attention and full-hearted ardor that should have saved it from the rocks. Human agency can't always be blamed, though, for the way the cards fall. Fate has a cunning way of stacking them against us before the game ever begins. Yet Joan's marriage enriched her, gave her fresh contacts and ideas she might never have otherwise had.

In spite of the fine, sharp edges of her character, Joan has hidden soft places that give her much trouble. She can't say "no" to a hard-luck story, nor can she help going out of her way to find trouble to alleviate. She needs an armed guard to save her from herself. It isn't necessary to specify incidents. Stories have been written about them before. Besides, Joan loathes having "copy" made of her open-handedness.

All of her little idiosyncrasies - the carrying of a fresh gardenia at all times, the ultra-long, ultra-carmine fingernails, the sudden changes from gay good humor to sombre melancholy, are immaturities not compatible with very direct, unaffected General Joan. They are little self-conscious gestures that don't really belong. Forget them, Joan!

Deep within her is a sub-strata of asceticism, totally unsuspected by the casual, because nature has accentuated and outlined her appearance to a startling degree. She has all the lush flamboyance of figure and face we've accredited to temptresses down through the ages, without being in the least lush or flamboyant.

When she was a great deal younger, she did have a reputation for the spectacular, earned no doubt, by her love for action, color, change...her passionate joy in dancing.

She grabbed then, eagerly and with both hands. Now she reaches out, picks up, examines and either retains or discards, with the wisdom of a connoisseur. She has learned an admirable sense of values and has allowed her more mental and spiritual side gradually to absorb that very young and very worldly Joan.

She has a certain sweet frankness, a warm and aggressive loyalty, an impulsive generosity. Basically idealistic and sentimental, she is modern enough to keep these qualities in subjection in her business contacts. She knows exactly where she wants to go.

And with every ounce of intelligence, determination, wit, beauty and strength, she's going there.

If, perhaps, her inherent talent is not quite so great as the technique she has perfected, she nevertheless gives splendid, vital performances, full of light and shade and life.

She is a very real person, indeed. I like and admire Joan Crawford. She's taken a lot on the chin the past year or so and came up smiling. So here's a toast, ladies and gentlemen - "To Joan! Health, wealth, success...and as much happiness as one traveler can wish another in this troubled world!"

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