Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 9, 2017


Crawford, of course
The "Essential" Biography: Quirk; Schoell
JOAN! (and I don't mean Joan Collins)

This week on the FX network begins a new series on the supposed life-long "feud" between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which has been greatly exaggerated, to say the least. The two women were not good friends, did not especially like each other, but a "feud" is over-stating things. Crawford was not crazy about the fact that Davis got nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? while she didn't; and Davis was not at all thrilled when she lost said Oscar to an absent Anne Bancroft, and as arranged,  Crawford accepted the statuette for her. So there was Crawford getting the (second-hand) applause from the crowd while Davis could only watch in disappointment. Joan was always annoyed that Davis considered herself the better, more serious actress while Davis, who fancied herself more down-to-earth than Joan, disliked what she saw as Joan's diva-like ways. In truth, both women were major movie stars who were more alike than they were different. The two women were to be re-teamed on Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but Joan discovered she had no great desire to work with a grumpy, unpleasant Davis anymore (it was she who had come to Davis with the book "Baby Jane?") and she feigned sickness to get out of the assignment; Olivia De Havilland replaced her.

Cut out of her will because Joan felt she had supported her daughter long enough, and angry that Joan couldn't help the modestly talented young lady get anywhere in her career, Christina Crawford decided to get even and make money by writing "Mommie, Dearest," which even her siblings found "fake and fictional." Ever since that time Crawford has been turned into a joke, with every single thing she's said or done being re-interpreted as proof that she was some kind of monster. She has been subjected to perpetual sniggering by those who believed every single word of Christina's tome .Much has been made of Crawford's "phoniness," such as her being "sick" on Oscar night when she was nominated (and won) for Mildred Pierce, In one interview, co-star Ann Blyth intelligently explained Joan's reasons for this, but the persistent interviewer kept trying to make something more out of it, Sheesh -- is anyone really that surprised that old-time movie stars (or even current ones) can be "phonies" at times?!

All movie stars are difficult to deal with, and Crawford may have had imperfections as both mother and woman, but both the one-sided book and the film adaptation make her out to be utterly grotesque. It's almost become impossible to look at her life or career in an objective manner. I and my co-author Lawrence J. Quirk, who knew Joan well for years, attempted to redress that wrong in our book, Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography. The book doesn't necessarily whitewash Joan, but it does expose a lot of the crap that has been written and said about her, and provides a more objective look at her life and career. The book was published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2002 and is available in various editions, including kindle, on amazon and elsewhere.

Here's a review of the book from Library Journal.

"She wasn't the greatest actress of the silver screen, but was there ever a bigger star than Joan Crawford? Who else had made ten films with Gable, danced with Fred Astaire, won an Academy Award for best actress (in 1945, for Mildred Pierce), outlasted her contemporary Greta Garbo by nearly three decades ... ? And just as she was fading from memory, she got a new lease on notoriety with the publication of adopted daughter Christina's Mommie Dearest. In a dual preface, Quirk (The Films of Joan Crawford), a personal friend of the actress, rejects much of that highly unflattering account, while Schoell (Martini Man: The Life of Dean Martin) debunks it entirely. Their study is a thoroughgoing, evenhanded review of Crawford's life and work, which in tone is neither academic nor gossipy but rather confessional, as if they are eager to set the record straight. It should go a long way toward restoring Crawford's reputation as a hardworking professional who lived for her fans and managed to slap almost every leading man who ever played opposite her. In Sunset Boulevard, Gloria Swanson's character famously observed, "I'm still big; it's the pictures that got small." Perhaps the same could be said of Crawford. Recommended for all film collections in public and academic libraries".Edward Cone, New York.

So, this week GREAT OLD MOVIES looks at the television work of Joan Crawford: telefilms, dramatic series, anthologies, and westerns. We also take another look at the film version of Mommie, Dearest. And to round it out, a critique of the television remake of Baby Jane with Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave!

*Ann Blyth was interviewed in 2006 at a San Francisco showing of Mildred Pierce and was asked questions by the happily gesticulating host, who kept referring to "this crowd" and indulged in some Joan-bashing (saying she was the last person he would want to have dinner with but that Ann and Eve Arden would top the list). Try as he might to get Blythe to say something bad about Joan, she wouldn't do it, probably because she had no nasty stories to tell.


angelman66 said...

Bravo, Bill, what a glorious essay on one of my very favorite stars. Even I had forgotten how accomplished she really was!!
Unfortunately, in this fast-paced, un-thoughtful day and age, you tend to be remembered for "one thing" and then turned into a one-dimensional cartoon have nicely dispelled the superficial persona of Crawford as Monster, Gorgon and Mother From Hell...
Mildred Pierce is one of my all-time-favorite films. I just upgraded to the remastered Blu-Ray edition and am excited to watch it for the umpteenth time this weekend!

William said...

It's a wonderful movie, worth seeing over and over. And thanks for your nice comments on this piece on Crawford!