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Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Dick Moore
excerpts about Joan
Jackie Coogan and his father gave Joan Crawford her first job in pictures. Jackie found her “wonderful,” even though she was in trouble all the time.
She was a very loose-living girl and she was banging everybody in town, and she was a hell of a dancer.
We had to get this one big crying scene from her, so Dad, who was producing the picture, had a couple of detectives tail her for two weeks and learn everything about her.
The scene called for her to enter alone and come down the stairs and start to cry. Well, in a silent picture the director could talk to the actors. So Dad brought her in and ordered everybody off the set. (I stayed on the catwalk.) Then Dad started in on her and while the film rolled he told her everything she’d done, skipping nothing. He tore her right in half and she cried as though her heart would break.
On one of my rare forays onto the MGM lot, I played Joan Crawford’s son in The Bride Wore Red. The picture was notable because the director was a woman, a virtually unheard of phenomenon in those times. Dorothy Arzner had come recently to Hollywood. She wore tailored suits, was a no-nonsense, rather masculine-looking woman (to me, at least), and was pleasant, businesslike, and patient.
The film was unusual, too, in that Joan Crawford and Franchot tone, the co-stars, were negotiating a divorce. Their dialogue, when they were not before the camera, was sparse.
When we were both off camera, I liked to spend time with Franchot Tone in his dressing room. He taught me the rudiments of chess, but since I was more comfortable with checkers, we compromised by playing both – sort of.
On the set, Tone had one of the larger portable dressing rooms on wheels, which had just come into use. These replaced, for the stars at least, the folding canvas rooms that other members of the cast, myself included, still used. Tone and Crawford had adjoining dressing rooms. Hers was equipped with a telephone, his was not.
Mr. Tone got many phone calls from women, all of which came in on Crawford’s line. In the middle of one of our games, her maid would knock on the door and say, “Call for you, Mr. Tone, in Miss Crawford’s dressing room.” Tone would excuse himself and take the call, giving me needed time to study my next move. Miss Crawford never seemed to object to this frequent use of her telephone. Once I went with him to her dressing room. They nodded wordlessly, acknowledging each other. Then he took his call, hung up, and they nodded again. We returned to his room and finished our game.
One day, Miss Crawford and I were working alone in a scene when suddenly an electrician – a gaffer – fell from the catwalk above the set and landed not more than two feet from her. A light fell on top of him, also narrowly missing her. I was whisked away. Production, of course, was halted. The studio ambulance arrived and he was taken immediately to the studio hospital. Eventually, the scene resumed. I was impressed with Miss Crawford’s concern for the man, for his family, for the medical attention he received. She wanted absolute assurances that he was cared for properly, that he remained on salary, and that his family was provided for. She would not resume shooting until those assurances were given, and she called the hospital each day for reports on his condition.
Thanks to Mike H. for sharing these excerpts.