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Joan Crawford Tells How to Handle Gossip

by Lila Stuart


Originally appeared in Screen Stars magazine, November 1945


Gossip is the cruelest, most vicious form of weapon. . . It takes courage, dignity and good taste to ignore it. . . There's a lesson in life in this frank discussion. .

Joan Crawford is more than a beautiful glamorous successful star; she is a happy young woman. And one of the few in wonderful, mad, glittering Hollywood who has reached the heights - and has learned how to handle success. The secret of which is not only in handling oneself, but in handling people and applying a sane sense of values withal.  

Joan's stride to stardom or shall we digress to say happiness (since she places far greater emphasis on the latter) began when she arrived in Hollywood, a teenage kid with high hopes and ambitions. And she has fulfilled them, but not without learning many valuable lessons along the way. 

Even today, Joan has many problems, but her experience has taught her what to do. 

"There is nothing anyone has that I want," Joan says. "If something is worth having materially and I want it, I can get it too, by working for it. But spiritual qualities, which to me are far more important, come through one's own growth and experience." 

One of the most valuable lessons Joan has learned in Hollywood is how to handle rumor and gossip. One that is most perplexing and involves absolute destruction to the unwary. 

"There have been times when I have been so incensed, by being so unfairly used, that I just had to have the answer. When you are attacked, you want to fight back. It is human instinct. 

"I had no columns to fight back with, and I remember my studio would wisely advise me, 'Dismiss it from your mind. It will pass over. There is nothing deader than yesterday's news. As long as you're in the public eye you have to expect it. Regard it as so much publicity value.' 

"If an item reported that Joan Crawford arose and ate steak and potatoes for breakfast, I'd let that pass. For it might have been true. 

"But," Joan said, twirling her knitting needles as she talked, "I shall never forget one night. I was dressing to go to an opening at Grauman's Chinese Theatre when I heard my name being shouted on the street from a newspaper extra! I heard the name Joan Crawford being called - again and again. I sent my maid out for a paper. The headlines read, 'Joan Crawford Named in Alienation of Affections Suit.' 

"I was horrified. I read on. My piano teacher's wife was suing him for divorce. She also alleged that he spent his evenings at Joan Crawford's house. 

"I had taken perhaps three lessons from the man in all, but he was using me as an excuse to be away from home. I had just made 'Dancing Daughters' and I was fairly new to Hollywood. I didn't know what to do. I had visions of arriving at the premiere - and people throwing rotten tomatoes at me. 

"Then I thought, 'I have not done nothing wrong. I am not guilty. Why should I stay away from the premiere?' I went and nothing happened, of course. 

"In our own minds, we place too much emphasis on things that are really not as important as they seem. We make mountains out of molehills!" 

But first let's set the stage for this interview. You arrive at Joan's house, a pretty white frame structure that spreads out like a morning glory vine within the neat white fenced grounds on a little side road in Brentwood. 

From an open window you can hear blonde-headed Christina, age five, practicing her piano lesson. 

The door opens admitting you into a beautiful hallway. You are conscious of large mirrored walls; then the drawing room with the white rug, the soft tones of pastel green and yellow. You are attracted to the beautiful portrait of Joan over the fireplace - and the large oval green floor cushion on the floor beneath - soft and inviting.

You hear a soft rustle of silk as Joan walks in. She might have stepped right out of a movie or down from a painting on the wall. You lose your breath for a second, and she holds out her hand warmly and says, "I'd been down sooner, but I was helping Philip Terry, the second (age two) with his bath."

Joan is so breath-taking in the hostess gown she is wearing, that it's hard to imagine it as a costume for motherly duties. The gown combines some striking shades of purple, cyclamen, yellow and green. A new creation? "No, do you remember, I wore this in 'Susan and God'? That was five years ago."

Matching green slippers encase the Crawford feet, and she carries a green handbag filled with gay yellow yarn. She's knitting a sweater.  

That is the picture of Joan, the star of Warners' new hit, "Mildred Pierce" - as she continued her remarks. 

"For two years I have been under contract to Warner Brothers, and I have only worked during the last five months," Joan said. "All during the past year I have read almost daily that 'Mildred Pierce' will never be made. Joan Crawford will not make 'Mildred Pierce.' Even after all of these years in Hollywood, I wanted to hit back. It had something to do with personal pride and ego. Once I wanted to put an ad in the trade papers like 'Mildred Pierce now completed. Joan Crawford.' 

"I was determined not to make a picture, unless it was a really good one," Joan continued. "I turned down two or three so the rumors began. To make it even more difficult I had an agent who said that I must be handled carefully, that I was temperamental and difficult. I, of all people. I had never worked at Warners, so no one knew but what this rumor was true. It was so silly." 

No one at Metro would have regarded this rumor, for Joan has a field day when she chances to revisit her home lot. The prop men and set workers gather around her as if she were a long lost child. Some of them still call her "Miss Lucille," Joan's name before a contest gave her Joan Crawford. These same never miss a holiday or one of Joan's anniversaries without remembering her with cards and special greetings. But Joan was new to Warners! 

"My director, Mike Curtiz, had heard the rumors, and his very business-like greeting to me, for almost the full five weeks of testing and rehearsal, made me wonder. Should I try to make him like me? 

"No, any overtures would only place him on the defensive, would increase his antagonism. This was difficult to face. But through experience, I knew that the only thing for me to do, was to just continue being myself. To work and go on working as I have always done. 

"At first Mr. Curtiz seemed surprised that I was always punctual and knew my lines. That I worked regularly and demanded no favors - which was perhaps the opposite of what he had heard about me. In the end we became very good friends." 

Jack Warner gave a luncheon for Joan on completion of "Mildred Pierce". All of the producers, directors and executives were there. Curtiz spoke at the luncheon. "When I started the picture with Joan Crawford," he said, "I was very apprehensive. I thought that she was iron that would not bend. I was very prejudiced. But I discovered that she was a very cooperative person, the finest actress and the nicest kid I have ever worked with." Which made Joan just about the happiest girl in Hollywood. 

As for the malicious gossips, Joan has a way. "When you walk in and you see or smell their presence, smile. They will be the ones to turn away. They don't know how to cope with nice manners. A fight is what they want. Be polite and pleasant and go on with your business. 

"Never hold grudges; they only upset you," Joan said. "Children never hold grudges. They are uninhibited and they are the better for it. You can scold a child, even spank one, and in ten minutes he has forgotten it. He'll come running to you, 'Hello, Mommy. How are you? I love you Mommy.' 

"Being interested, genuinely interested in other people helps too," Joan concluded. "So many people walk in and start immediately talking about themselves. 'I am this.' 'I am that.' 'My business is.' 'I like that.' Isn't it much pleasanter to walk in and say, 'How are you? How is your business? What is new with you?' Truthfully, it will be more interesting to you."

Joan has that wonderful and unusual quality of handling people, and therefore winning their loyalty and admiration, because she is as interested in other people as she expects other people to be interested in her. And Joan's a glorious example of a happy successful young woman for it. Handling gossip, after all, is a matter of handling people.


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