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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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.