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What Men Have Done to Me
by Joan Crawford
Originally appeared in Modern Screen, November 1951
This is a manīs world, and a girl has to fight for everything she wants. Men taught me how to fight; they taught me how to live.
The other evening I was going over a collection of movie magazines. Naturally, my eyes were diverted to stories dealing with Joan Crawford. After reading three of them, I said to myself, `Is it you, actually you they are writing about?`
I couldnīt believe it: Honestly! One writer quoted me as saying, `Iīve made three mistakes in my life--my three marriages, and I`m not proud of any of them.` Another reporter described me as `love-starved, man-crazy, husband-hungry, and altogether unhappy.` A third suggested that I was a domineering hermit who lived only for her career.
Bunk! Pure bunk!
I know the truth about myself, and Iīm not afraid of it. The basic truth about myself is that Iīm so normal that it hurts, and that my character and personality are largely the result of the men in my life. We all become a part of what we live with. I have lived with three men, three fine men of character, integrity, kindness, and purpose. Some of it has worn off on me.
Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., my first husband, had been reared in style. I hadnīt. I came from a poor family. I came up the hard way. It was Doug who taught me graciousness, and introduced me to a way of life I had never known before, with servants and cars and secretaries. I brought to that life a great belief in equality-- the feeling that our laundress was as good as we were, that wealth and position were not inalienable rights, that at best, they were the outgrowth of a lucky break or two.
I had never had people work for me before. To get along with them takes tolerance, perseverance, and understanding. I learned all those things. I have the president of the Joan Crawford Fan Club stay with me when she occasionally comes to Hollywood . I`m grateful for her interest in my career, and try to demonstrate my gratitude. Grips and gaffers and electricians who work on my pictures refer to me as a pretty good egg. I try to be.
Stories that I act as a prima donna on the set are laughable. I remember only too well when I worked in the line as a chorus girl. I am no haughty, snobbish, social climber; no lonely , embittered woman, obsessed with her career. Thanks to Douglas, I try to live graciously. I work and will continue to work because I love it, and because I also have four children to support.
When Iīm wrong about anything, I admit it readily. I took time to learn how to do it, but I learned. Only a year or so ago, I was making a picture with Vincent Sherman, a very fine director. Somehow I couldnīt follow his direction. I lost my temper and in front of the entire crew, cried `I just donīt know what you want me to do. I donīt think you do yourself.` Five minutes later I was back on the set. `Ladies and gentlemen,`I said, `a little while ago you heard me blow my top at Mr. Sherman. In front of all of you, I should now like to apologize.ī
Thatīs no great accomplishment, of course--but it was a man who taught me that the admission of error is an integral part of character. When Iīm wrong I up and say Iīm wrong. I donīt dilly-dally about it. I try to treat my associates with fairness and honesty. I pay my secretary and the childrenīs nurse as much as I can possibly afford. I learned a long time before that chiseling on help never pays.
I also learned from a man that there is more to marriage than sex-- mind you, Iīm not knocking it--but love is infinitely more than that.
It was Franchot Tone, my second husband, who contributed greatly to my intellectual development, and I donīt mind admitting it one bit. Franchot was Phi Beta Kappa at Cornell. He came from a line of distinguished ancestors. Wolfe Tone, the great irish revolutionary, was one of his forebears. Franchot helped me cultivate a strong liking for literature and art and opera. When I was going through that stage, I used to have as many people of culture and taste for dinner and Sunday breakfast as I could possibly manage.
A few of the gossip columnists made fun of me. They mocked me, called me `Lady Crawford`. I was burned up, but only for a while because I realized they had a job to do. If they wanted to kid me -- well, I think the years have proven pretty conclusively that Iīm one actress who can take it. There is nothing shameful about the pursuit of knowledge. If my folks had been wealthy, perhaps I would have been send to finishing school and a good university, and after that a year abroad. But they werenīt wealthy; and Iīve always had to make my own way. It takes brain power to do that. Franchot helped me to develop that brain power, to channel it into a better understanding of the arts. I love to read. I now understand good music. Looking at a really fine painting means something to me. I perceive the meaning behind the work. People arenīt born with a sense of art appreciation. They have to learn, to be taught. I was taught by a man.
My house today is pretty well decorated. I have some fine paintings. They reflect my taste. Taste doesnīt come to a woman overnight. Itīs a gradual process compounded of trial and error and integration. It was also Franchot who taught me a few things about a dollar. `Acting`, he pointed out, `isnīt a very secure profession, my dear. Save a few bucks while you can.`
I listened and invested some of my savings in real estate. I own an apartment house in Beverly Hills, and itīs pretty good income property. During the years I wasnīt working-- after I left Metro and before I went to Warner Brothers-- that income came in mighty handy. I am not tight with a dollar, and so far as I can see or read, no one has ever accused me of that. Iīm not going into a long list of my charities, but I believe money is meant to be spent, and Iīve spent plenty of it on all things, including dozens of worthwhile charities.
Iīve made bad investments, too-- but there is no sense in crying over spilled milk. It was man a who taught me that, too. Forgive me, if I donīt mention his name. There are a few things about my love-life I prefer not to share.
Practically everything I know Iīve been taught by men...not only the good things like kindness, humility, graciousness, and being a regular fellow. They taught me perseverance, and how to fight and hold on. I remember how many people came up to me after I left Metro and said, `Joan, youīre being foolish. What difference does it make? Suppose your parts arenīt so hot. Itīs still money.` `If you believe in something firmly enough`, I answered, `then you should be ready to fight for it.` Well, I fought until I got the parts I wanted. I went without work for more than two years. Fairweather friends left me by the dozen. Reporters ignored me. Gossip columnists said I wasnīt news anymore. I went all through that, but I hung on until I got the right role. It was Mildred Pierce, and it won me an Academy Award.
I`ve also fought to keep my marriages going. I remember the time an actor who, supposedly, was a deep friend of mine kept pumping such verbal rubbish in my husbandīs ear as, `Why donīt you step out on Joan? I know some real cute girls over at the studio.` This actor proceeded to get my husband drunk. They went on a double date, and I got wind of the fact. I wasnīt worried about the actor. I was worried about my husband. After all, the girl in question might have blackmailed him or involved us in a pretty huge scandal. I found my husband with this so-called `cutie`. I took him home and sobered him up. He was apologetic and grateful. I myself was terribly hurt, but by holding on and fighting, I saved our marriage, at least for a while.
If a girl wants anything in this world-- and I still believe itīs a manīs world-- she has to fight for it. Maybe she doesnīt show she is fighting. Maybe she appears sweet, simple, feminine, and naive, but underneath she must be imbued with some sort of drive, some sort of push, or she never will get anywhere.
As I said before, I am in the position, fortunate or unfortunate-- however you look at it-- of having to support myself and four children. This is a little rough. I should much prefer to be married to a millionaire, to sit on my south side most of the day, relax in the sun, and sport a beautiful tan. But no can do. I must work. When you work in a manīs world, you adopt some of the male accoutrement. I am direct. I call a spade a spade. I make decisions quickly. I keep my word. When I make a date with anyone, male or female, that date is kept. I value friendship too highly to endanger it.
If you read anywhere that Joan Crawford is not in the market for marriage, that sheīs had her fill of it, that sheīs been reported as saying,`No more husbands for me!`--itīs pure poppycock.
I am not disillusioned with marriage. It is still the most perfect state for man and woman. I would marry tomorrow if the right fellow came along-- so there! The fact that Iīve been married three times in the past, I regret. I regret that they werenīt lasting. Some of the blame must have been mine. I readily accept a share, and I am wiser now. I know a little more about life and men and the birds and the bees, and if I walk down the aisle again it will probably be for the keeps. Actors generally donīt make good husbands, so the chances are I wonīt marry an actor. But then again, a girl can never tell.
At the moment, I am not sour, embittered, man-crazy, money-mad, domineering, haughty, snobbish, or condescending. I am a normal woman in the prime of life who works for a living as an actress. I love fans who ask me for autographs. I sign all of them. I love to pose with movie-goers. I love to answer their mail. Iīm flattered when they go to see me in motion pictures. I get a thrill when I buy a new gown. It does my ego a world of good when three men call up and ask for a date in the same evening. In short, I am a woman with normal desires, and normal habits. Anything said in the contrary is simply untrue.
(Joan Crawford will soon be seen in Warnerīs This Woman Is Dangerous.--Ed.)
[Thanks to Susanne for this article.]
The Best of Everything