to Cathy and Cindy Crawford entry
Quest led Joan
Crawford twins, others to Tenn.
by Shirley Downing, The Memphis Commercial Appeal, September 11, 1995
Actress Joan Crawford brought
the dark-haired infants she'd adopted from Tennessee Children's Home Society
in Memphis home to her sprawling Brentwood, Calif., mansion, in the summer of
1947. She named the twins Cathy and Cynthia. For the girls, childhood was
a composite of flashbulbs, gawking tourists, boarding schools and trips to
Europe. As adults, they wondered about their heritage in the South. In
1991, Cathy and Cynthia - or Cindy, as she is called - returned to Tennessee.
They learned their biological mother died seven days after their birth. They
found their father living in an old white farmhouse on the edge of a West Tennessee cotton
''He was so happy that we'd found him,'' Cindy recalled. ''He was tickled pink. He knew he had two kids but he didn't know the circumstances or where we were.''
Finding her Tennessee family
was one of the most important events of her life, said Cindy, an accounts clerk
who moved to Memphis in 1991 to be near her father and other
relatives. The Crawford
twins have not been alone in their quest for the past. Memphis has become a
mecca for people adopted in the 1920s, '30s and '40s from TCHS. The agency
was closed by the state 45 years ago this month after the Memphis director,
Georgia Tann, was accused of running a baby-selling operation that sent
children to all corners of the country. Many children went to big names in
the California movie industry or the well-to-do in New York City.
have opened slowly for many of these adult adoptees. Some have tried to find
relatives using limited public records. Others have gained court orders to
see their adoption files. Some, like the Crawford twins, found a warm welcome
from biological relatives. Many have forged friendships and family ties. Some
have been disappointed. For others, lingering questions should be answered
shortly as the state unseals pre-1951 adoption records. The records should
show the names and last-known addresses of birth parents, their background
and history; and the place of birth and where adoptions took place.
Correspondence between the child-placement agency and adoptive parents may
also be in the files.
Those viewing records for the first time may also be
puzzled, said Denny Glad, president of Tennessee - The Right to Know, a
search group that has helped almost 3,000 adoptees trace biological
relatives. She noted that Tann sometimes falsified records of children she
placed for adoption. Still, Glad said, ''Everybody I've ever worked with
was glad they searched. They may not be pleased with everything they found,
but they have answered the questions that haunted them all their life. They
are glad to know the truth, good, bad or indifferent.''
Among those who
have traced relatives are:
-- Linda Myers of Camarillo, Calif., the first of four TCHS children adopted by the late actor Smiley Burnette and his wife Dallas, found her birth mother's family in 1979 in Memphis, and her birth father's family several years later in Alabama. She was disappointed both were dead, but she has developed relationships with half-siblings. Myers is glad she searched. ''It is a vast hole that never seems to get filled until you find out,'' she said.
-- When Sondra Fagin's adoption records were opened by court order in 1991, she learned her birth parents were an unmarried Nashville secretary and a World War II Army veteran, both Protestants. But TCHS had told her Brooklyn, N.Y., adoptive parents she was Jewish. Religious questions have been troubling for Fagin and her children, but she still practices the Jewish faith of her adoptive home. Fagin, of Westchester, N.Y., learned her biological mother died the day after she was born; her birth father died in 1951 in a boating accident. She was disappointed to find no brothers or sisters, but keeps in contact with aunts, uncles and cousins in her birth family. ''I'm very glad I searched for them,'' she said. ''No matter what you find, it answers questions of who you are and what you look like. You are part of two families, your adopted and birth families. It made me feel whole once I got all that information that was missing all those years.''
-- Shirley Frankel, 64, of Huntington Beach, Calif., was adopted in 1932 from TCHS, but her search reached a dead end when her records were opened by court order in 1992. In her file were the birth records of a Nashville woman who claims no knowledge of Frankel or TCHS.
Glad said one question she is often asked is what happened to Joan Crawford's children. Only the youngest two of Crawford's four children came from TCHS, she said. The twins were born to a young widow on Jan. 13, 1947, in a Dyersburg hospital, but the mother knew she could not care for them. She gave them to TCHS, and died seven days later from kidney failure. Crawford adopted them that summer, a year after she'd won an Academy Award for her role in Mildred Pierce. She was between marriages. Crawford, fearful the birth parents might seek to regain custody, often told people the girls were not twins, Cindy said. Crawford's death in 1977 left her adoptive children with conflicting memories about life in the shadow of celebrity.
Eldest daughter Christina painted a harsh portrait of the actress in her 1978 book, Mommie Dearest. But Cindy and Cathy said they loved the actress.
our mother,'' Cathy LaLonde said from her home in Pennsylvania, where she is
a teacher's aide.
"She was very good to us,'' Cindy said. ''I think she
was good to all four of us, really. She cared for us. We grew up knowing what
was right and what was wrong.''
But as a teenager, Cindy Crawford Jordan wondered what life might have been like growing up in Tennessee. She said she was always more ''country than city-slicker.'' Crawford ''always told us we were adopted,'' said Cindy, 48. ''One night she said she was going to take us back to the little red brick building (in Memphis) for a visit.''
Crawford never made that trip.
She married for the fourth time in
1955, to Pepsi-Cola Co. board chairman Alfred Steele. The twins, then 8, went
to boarding school, but visited on weekends and during vacation. The twins
moved to New York with Crawford in 1960, a year after Steele died. They
finished high school and attended junior college on the East Coast.
married in 1967 and moved with her new husband into a trailer in Dubuque,
Iowa. Cathy married and moved to Pennsylvania. Cindy's marriage unraveled
after nine years and two children. She earned $150 a week working in a shoe
store, and lived on her $ 77,000 inheritance from Crawford's estate. A job
offer lured Cindy to Jackson, Miss., in 1984, but the work played out after
six months, leaving her on welfare and without a place to live. The Salvation
Army and friends helped. She worked and saved until she had enough money for
an apartment. ''I just survived,'' she said. She also became a
In June 1990, Cathy saw a television program about TCHS. With
Glad's help, the twins began an 18-month search that eventually ended with a
court order to open Cathy's adoption records. They learned their birth
father was alive in Friendship, Tenn., and wanted to meet them. ''I called
him,'' said Cathy. ''It took me three weeks to call. I was nervous and I was
afraid of being rejected. I finally did it but with Denny's help. I'd call
her and she'd say, 'Just do it.' '' So I did it. I think he was dumbfounded,
Cindy then called from her home in Brandon, Miss. ''Are you sitting down?'' she asked J. W. Jordan. ''I'm your other daughter.'' Cindy was amazed at the coincidence in names: She'd married an unrelated Iowa man more than 24 years before with the same last name as that of her birth father. A friend drove Cindy to Friendship for her first meeting with her father. She was fishing on a small pond when Jordan approached. ''I didn't believe it was my dad,'' she recalled.
''He said, 'What do we do?'
"'I didn't know - what do you
''And he said, 'Why don't you give me some sugar?' So I kissed
''We talked and the rest of my family came to visit and we got to
know them and then I went out to my dad's for a couple of
nights.'' Jordan, a former state road worker, said he'd panicked when he
learned his former girlfriend was pregnant. After the twins' birth, he asked
about them, but they were gone. Jordan later married and divorced but had
no other children.
Cindy Jordan, who moved to Memphis in 1991 shortly after
meeting her family, often visited her father in the old white farmhouse where
he lived. ''It's a really neat house, old-fashioned,'' she said of the
four-room dwelling with its uneven floors and wrap-around porch. ''I
always went up on weekends and borrowed his car. I'd say, 'Hi dad. Borrow
''We went out to dinner and I stayed with him and met some of his
old pals.'' He was ''a cool dude,'' Cindy said.
In 1992, Jordan
learned he had stomach cancer. He died the next year. The house is now
vacant. It looks out toward a fence row draped with kudzu and orange trumpet
vines. A single dirt lane at the yard's edge leads to a cemetery where Jordan
In East Memphis, the walls of Cindy Jordan's small apartment are
covered with pictures of Crawford and her Tennessee relatives. Her job
with an annuity and investment company is the best she's ever had. She
said her birth mother's family, who did not want to be identified, helped her
relocate to Memphis. An aunt gave her a job in the family business.
said she has lost touch with her adoptive siblings Christina and Christopher.
The only family she has left are her sons, both in graduate school in
Mississippi, and aunts and uncles and cousins on both sides of her Tennessee
family. She is grateful to her relatives, and visits or talks with them
often. She said her life has gone from ''riches to rags to riches,''
then paused to explain. ''Riches isn't money,'' she said. ''It's what your
heart believes. It is the people around you. I love