Crawford: The Enduring Star
Crawford: The Essential Biography
Crawford: Hollywood Martyr
the Girl Next Door
and Joan: The Divine Feud, by Shaun Considine
by Louis, AKA LuLu (May 2006)
OK, this is a MUST READ for all Joan fans, especially those who
LOVE Bette Davis as well. The information you will get out of this book
is amazing; it's a running timeline of the lives of both Bette and Joan,
intertwining at precise moments in time. The day-by-day details from
the sets of Baby Jane and Hush...Hush... Sweet Charlotte make this an
even better read. The book is full of bitchy bitter quotes from both
Bette and Joan regarding themselves and each other. If you haven't read
this book yet.... What the HELL are you waiting for! Get your hands on
it now; I promise you won't be disappointed.
Crawford: The Enduring Star, by Peter Cowie
by Stephanie Jones (February
coffee-table book "Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star" is a lush photo-Valentine to Joan fans
old and new ... but especially the new.
I came of Joan-age in the mid-1980s, just in time to revel in Alexander
Walker's "The Ultimate Star," published in 1983, and the "Legends"
Kobal-collection photo book, which came out in '86. These two books, along with
"Conversations with Joan Crawford," published in 1980, helped solidify my Joan
fandom after I'd discovered her for the first time as an actress---in a VHS
rental, "Grand Hotel," watched from a hard chair on a tiny screen in a
I suspect that the photographs of "The Enduring Star" will act for a new
generation of those teetering on the brink of Joan-fandom as a similar catalyst:
enough to send 'em over the edge into either full-blown admiration (if they're
the purely visual sort), or into a quest to learn more about her films before
they make up their minds. Whichever the case, the book has done its job. As film
critic Mick LaSalle says in his introduction: "Look at that face--modern, arch,
knowing, passionate, ready to eat the world. That's still something new, that's
today looking right at you." Indeed. You can't look at that face and not
react to it.
when it was first announced in June 2008 that LaSalle
writing the introduction to a book about Joan Crawford, I was immediately wary.
He was, after all, a high-profile Norma Shearer-booster, and one who often
dissed Joan in the process of boosting Norma (or just dissed Joan for the hell
of it). His 2000 book "Complicated Women," for instance, includes such semi-bon
mots as: "Crawford [in her early-1930s performances] looked like an act trying
to impersonate a human being. Emotional problems certainly contributed to this,
her image didn't help." Later
in the book, he cattily says Crawford's onscreen energy is that of "a woman
dancing fast to keep the whorehouse customers happy."
LaSalle now seems to have
amended his cat-calls in time to contribute to his colleague Peter Cowie's book. He gives
Joan more than a fair shake in his appreciative intro, as when he writes: "When
you see her, you'll feel, maybe for the thousandth time, maybe for the precious
first time, what she meant to the fans who originally discovered her. That
should be our goal, to see Joan Crawford fresh, for the work she did. She and we
deserve nothing less."
The book's primary strength lies in its thoughtfully chosen,
gorgeous photographs, which do indeed enable even long-time fans to "see
Crawford fresh." As a long-time fan myself, I enjoyed rediscovering and
appreciating Joan's face anew with each turn of the page.
The selection of publicity shots, films stills, and a
smattering of candids tilt heavily toward her 1930s images, with a focus on
Hurrell's work. That her post-1940 period isn't better represented is a bit
disappointing (post-1940 pictures comprise about a fifth of the book's total);
Joan had some stunning sessions during the '40s, for instance, with
photographers like Bert Six and Whitey Schaefer, and it's a shame that their
work, and more of Laszlo Willinger's late '30s sessions, didn't receive more
attention. The dearth of Ruth Harriet Louise's seminal 1920s shots is also
Another quibble: The book-jacket claims that more than 100 of the photos here
have not been seen in the past 25 years. The author seems to have forgotten the
miracle of the Internet! As the webmaster of a Joan website with a photo gallery
consisting of literally 1000s of photos, I've spent the past 5 years compiling
Joan photos from various sources for the gallery. I counted the photos in this
book that I haven't yet seen: 53 of the 213. While the claim of "more than 100"
might be off, for a regular Joan-photo-searcher like me to have not seen a
fourth of the photos is, nonetheless, a more-than-respectable accomplishment.
And for the average Joan fan, or especially the Joan beginner or the merely
curious, the selection here is an absolute treasure trove, destined to create
new admirers or to turn what might have begun as only a passing interest into a
full-fledged obsession. As director George Cukor writes, from his 1977 eulogy in
this book's Afterword: "She had...above all her face, that extraordinary
sculptural construction of lines and planes, finely chiseled like the mask of
some classical divinity from fifth-century Greece. It caught the light superbly.
You could photograph her from any angle, and the face moved beautifully...The
nearer the camera, the more tender and yielding she became -- her eyes
glistened, her lips parted in ecstatic acceptance. The camera saw, I suspect, a
side of her that no flesh-and-blood lover ever saw." The photos in "The Enduring
Star" manifest the face of Cukor's words religiously.
glory of the photographs, the text of the book is, however,
primarily filler. Almost all of the
information comes from other biographies, and Cowie heavily pads the text with
lengthy plot details of the movies. In addition, the author gets a few facts
wrong, including the howler that Marie Dressler was considered for the part of
Flaemmchen in "Grand Hotel," and that "Flamingo Road" takes place in either
Missouri or Mississippi (it's set in Florida). And a couple of photos from the
1930s show up in the 1940s section. Cowie also descends to the borderline-creepy
on a couple of occasions, a la biographer David Bret, as when he waxes
lascivious about Joan's sexuality: "When [Johnny Guitar] displays his
sharpshooting skills, Vienna hisses, 'Give me that gun!' It's a moment of sheer
emasculation, and once senses that the whip and the paddle are but a heartbeat
away..." Then later there's: "[I]n private life she still craved a man whom she
could respect, even if she would invariably wear the trousers in domestic (and
perhaps sexual) terms."
This type of sniggering prose is not only annoying, but also incorrect: While
conventional wisdom has it that Joan was a real ball-buster, in reality, her
primary relationships were with men more accomplished than she, and as strong,
if not stronger. Husbands Doug Fairbanks Jr. and Franchot Tone were both willful
and cultured, and Joan played the willing pupil to each. Pepsi president Al
Steele was certainly no shrinking violet himself; nor were long-time lovers
Clark Gable and Greg Bautzer, both known for their dominant personalities. For
real psychological insight into the woman, one does better to turn to Alexander
Walker's "The Ultimate Star." Here's Walker's more insightful analysis of her
androgynous quality, as he discusses Sadie Thompson in "Rain": "[Director Lewis
Milestone] reveals the male will that inhabits Sadie's assertively female body.
This is precisely the conjunction that fascinates many of Crawford's admirers
today, even those who do not find her sexually attractive. She is a woman with
power over men -- and part of that power is the disconcerting discovery a male
makes that the power is of the same gender as himself. It proved too unexpected
a change, too raw a demonstration, for Crawford's fans to accept in 1932."
Despite Cowie's occasionally simplistic overview of Joan and her career, and
the infrequent error, his text is, however, for the most part competent and
well-researched. Mid-level and hard-core Joan fans won't learn anything new from
the text, but for beginning fans, it is a helpful, clear, and detailed
Another strength of the Cowie book lies in its professionalism. The
publisher, Rizzoli, is known for quality coffee-table books, and this Joan-book
lies in the company tradition, a welcome relief from the recent spate of amateur
contributions to the "Joan canon." (The recent David Bret bio was a rehash of
former biographies combined with filler plot details and goofy asides; the
Charlotte Chandler book was, despite including author interviews with Joan,
rather sloppily patched together, also padded with unnecessary plot recounting;
the "Letters" book by Michelle Vogel was amateurishly organized, filled with
factual and grammatical errors, and accompanied by illegally-reproduced photos
on poor-quality paper.) "The Enduring Star," on the other hand, is thankfully
all-pro, with its glossy pages and its adherence to publishing conventions: It's
been properly edited and copy-edited, with actual photo credits, source notes,
and a complete Filmography that clears up one mystery about some of Joan's early
films. The inclusion of the complete text of director George Cukor's insightful
posthumous 1977 eulogy as an Afterword, which I'd previously only read snippets
of, is also a welcome addition to in-print Joan information.
Enduring Star" is a high-quality contribution to Joan's legacy.
recommend it for staunch fans, neophytes, and Classic Hollywood photography
connoisseurs alike. A glamorous tribute in recognition of a face, and of
a woman and actress, that both embodies and transcends
Crawford: The Enduring Star, by Peter Cowie
by Mike O'Hanlon (December
Peter Cowie’s Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star serves a main purpose for those individuals who just want to look at a young, beautifully photographed, glamorous Joan. The book does have a larger purpose Cowie may not have envisioned during his work on the project: a realization of how (and sadly why) these big, expensive books have seen an unfortunate demise…the Internet! While the book does have a huge amount of images which I was not familiar with, many I have seen lingering around on different websites for years. Some of the photos (one in particular of Joan Crawford and Franchot Tone in Dancing Lady) I can remember first seeing in The Films of Joan Crawford, which was published in 1968!
There are those of us who do want physical copies of these photos in books such as Enduring Star, maybe for when we want to get away from technology and sink into some other source of entertainment. And the text itself is well
written and informative for new fans of Joan. (For those of us who’ve known Joan for at least 10 years or longer, eh… nothing new here. But it’s well written, so at least it’s not a bad rehash of previously known information.) So the book is a good collector’s item to own.
A foreword by Mick LaSalle and an afterword by George Cukor (obviously pulled from his own words about Joan written many, many years ago when she passed away in 1977) complement the book. I mean, the afterword by Cukor anyone can pull up on a Joan site, but the foreword by LaSalle was interesting. I knew people in the Joan community were a bit skeptical because not since Bosley Crowther’s initial reviews of her films in the New York Times had a critic tore Joan to shreds. LaSalle’s 2000 book Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood really seemed out to echo Crowther’s own opinions of Joan and her acting abilities.
Enduring Star focuses on Joan’s major years at MGM and sort-of touches on her Warners years. After that, her freelance career and unfortunate shameful demotion to cheap, tawdry horror flicks are summed up in a few pages. I didn’t understand why at first. Then I remembered all the different people in my life who have seen photos of a young Joan Crawford through me and cannot believe it’s her. Between that and Cowie’s book, it does awaken me to the realization that the general public still does view Joan Crawford as some horribly made
up drag-look-alike who spent the bulk of her time in bad movies and bullying children off the screen.
And perhaps that’s why Cowie set out to remind the general public of who the real Joan Crawford really was… either way it just seems a bit uncertain.
Crawford: The Essential Biography, by Lawrence J. Quirk and William
University Press of Kentucky)
by Mike O'Hanlon
This “essential” biography really isn’t all that essential to a Joan Crawford
fan, particularly one who knows a lot about Crawford and has seen as
many of her films as I have. I will say, however, that this is a very
good introductory biography to fans who are just getting their interest
sparked by this remarkable woman whose extraordinary career lasted
My biggest problem with the book (and the title
gives this away) is that it tries to be smarter than it really is. Quirk and
Schoell really write about some of this material as if it were never
before discussed in previous books about Joan Crawford. And in some
cases, there is mentioning of some material that I had not been keen on
before I read this one, but most of the information was
sexually-oriented. Quirk (and I believe Quirk largely wrote this one;
I’ll explain later) goes into detail about how his uncle, editor of
Photoplay magazine James Quirk, was one of many men who secured
Crawford’s position as a top Hollywood star in return for sexual favors.
This book makes no attempt to disguise the fact that Joan Crawford got
to the top with a mattress strapped to her back, even quoting Joan as
having said the father of silent film child star Jackie Coogan was a “dirty pig!”
A good writer could have worked this material into a
more intelligent analysis. But in this case, it comes off as gossipy
and rather immature and childish.
problem of mine with this one is its constant, and rather lackluster,
attempts to dismiss the allegations made against Joan Crawford by Christina Crawford in Mommie Dearest. Really, as a Joan Crawford fan, I’m so sick of this. Mommie Dearest is bullshit, I get it. Can we discuss something else about Joan now?
I mentioned before that I believe that Quirk wrote
the majority of this book, and I’ll tell you why. First of all, he makes
constant reference to his uncle, even supplying a glossy photo of
him… Listen, I bought this book to read about Joan Crawford, not to look
at your fat, sweaty pig of an uncle who apparently forced girls to sleep
with him so they can become famous.
Second of all, I have read Lawrence
Quirk's books about Joan Crawford’s films and his biography of Norma Shearer. I’ll tell you this right now:
This biography of Joan Crawford was an almost exact replica of his Norma Shearer biography. (Christ, I think the chapters on The Women
are the exact same!) Instead of overanalyzing Norma’s movies, giving
his critical critiques, he just rewrote the plots. He does that here
with Joan’s films. He made constant reference to James Quirk in Norma’s
biography, the difference being Norma’s relationship with James Quirk
was not sexual. But he did repeat about how James Quirk helped Norma
become a major star by giving her good loan-outs before she hit it big
at MGM with He Who Gets Slapped
(1924), and two other big ones: Lady of the Night, and The Tower of
Lies (both 1925), which, according to numerous writers about Shearer,
secured her place as a star in Hollywood.
How could a man who worked for Photoplay magazine
have such control over the careers of at-the-time nobodies whom none of
the big executives at MGM cared about? How could a man in his position
even manage to meet them? I would imagine someone in that high of an
editorial position at the biggest movie magazine in the country in 1925
would be chasing after the Gloria Swansons, Mary Pickfords, and Corrine Griffiths. Not the unknown starlets who come and go so quickly.
Another fact that caught my attention in his book
about Shearer was his way of describing certain movies of Norma’s that
have been lost for decades. Movies he could not have possibly seen,
which leads me to believe some of the book was largely fabricated, as is
It’s a frustrating book. Good for first-time
readers, but bad for knowing fans. And for those who think this is a
good one…hey, make sure to say a prayer every night to James Quirk.
Without him, we wouldn’t have Joan Crawford or Norma Shearer to talk
about all these years later.
Oh, and be prepared for a lot of beautiful pictures
of Joan throughout the text. They are pretty, superficial pictures, yes.
But he should have organized them with the text. Why use a photo of
Joan from 1931 to write about her life in 1945? Or a photo from 1940 to
discuss her career in the 1960s?
Crawford: The Essential Biography, by Lawrence J. Quirk and William
University Press of Kentucky)
Kennedy in Bright
Lights Film Journal
Joan Crawford was not Mommie Dearest. In the expert new biographyJoan Crawford, co-authors Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell dismiss Christina’s efforts to forever encase Crawford in
grotesque motherhood. To Quirk’s and Schoell’s credit, they avoid the
opposite tone and steer clear of gushing fanzine hyperbole. The woman
who emerges from these pages was tough, demanding, self-obsessed, horny,
generous, and loyal.
The subtitle of this book, the essential biography, actually does the
work a disservice. The essential biography would be longer than these
294 pages, and include exhaustive library, archive, and first-person
sources. This book is more a personal reflection, as Quirk knew Crawford
for many years and heard firsthand her innumerable tales of life in
Hollywood. Joan Crawford is therefore all about her career, but it
doesn’t probe as much as it offers a chronology of her life in movies.
To further boost Joan Crawford‘s compulsive readability, the
authors do a fine job of discrediting Christina with ample opposing
testimony to Crawford’s character. And anyone looking for potshots at Esther Williams, Marilyn Monroe, and Faye Dunaway won’t be disappointed.
We are first taken to Crawford’s scruffy childhood in Texas and the
Midwest, but soon the former Lucille LeSueur is bewitching the early
moguls of Hollywood as the flapping starlet of such light efforts as Pretty Ladies, The Boob, Tramp Tramp Tramp, and The Taxi Dancer. One is reminded that she later made her share of decent movies — Possessed (1931 and 1947), Grand Hotel, Rain, The Women, A Woman’s Face, Mildred Pierce, Humoresque, Flamingo Road, Sudden Fear, and the delectably off-kilter western Johnny Guitar.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Crawford in the 1950s, when she was
vainly hanging on to the glamour girl image just as her key light got
brighter and the camera lens got softer. It’s hard to watchThe Damned Don’t Cry, Female on the Beach, and Autumn Leaves and
not see a hybrid of actress-woman clinging to her sexually ripe
hardscrabble survivor persona. It makes for compelling screen acting.
The strength of this book, with its attention on her epic career, is also its weakness.Joan Crawford at
times can’t helping lapsing into predictable rhythms. (Fill in the
blank) is given a plot summary, made, released, and ranked on an
unofficial scale from Mildred Pierce to Trog. Crawford
(loved/hated) that movie and (loved/hated) her co-stars. The next movie
is treated similarly, and the one after that. This gives the reader an
appreciation for the assembly line of studio era Hollywood, but it dims
any chance of deeper insights on Crawford’s life and work. The authors
don’t hesitate to take on her whispered bisexuality, or mention a
little-known affair she had with Jimmy Stewart, but these nuggets appear
only in passing. Marriages are made and broken, children are famously
adopted and prove less than angelic, MGM lets Crawford go, she gets her
revenge at Warner Bros., marries Pepsi nabob Al Steele, and does a
sadomasochistic tango with Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s all here, but one longs for more depth with Crawford the woman. Where Mommie Dearest was all domestic drama and little appreciation for Crawford the star-actress, Joan Crawford is quite the opposite.
Perhaps that is the unwritten message of Joan Crawford — that the
woman and the star were one. What a startling contrast Crawford was to Grand Hotel co-star
Greta Garbo, who spent half a century running from fame, wandering the
streets of New York like a confused and frightened stray cat. Crawford
couldn’t have been made of more different temperament. She carried
herself as though stardom was her birthright. She reveled in it, sought
it and expected it, as though she forever imagined a sparkling tiara
affixed to her well-coiffed scalp.
Crawford has been dead 25 years, yet her ghost defies obscurity just
as the woman did in life. Of course her career went south and the
pictures got small. Toward the end she was reduced to changing costumes
in a car. Still she carried herself with shoulders back and head held
high. Now that she’s gone, we forgive her those last pitiable years, and
hope she forgave the powers-that-be who wasted her talents. Time has
proven her durability. Don’t we love the élan, the chutzpah, and the
sheer force of character that makes for such rare beings as Joan
Quirk and Schoell are two film gentlemen-scholars who have at last
repaired the maligned Crawford legacy. She doesn’t deserve the easy
jokes begat by Christina’s ulterior attacks. At the end of the movie Mommie Dearest,
the disinherited Christina (played by the odd Diana Scarwid) alludes
that she’ll have the final say on her Gorgon of a mother. Quirk and
Schoell made sure that didn’t happen, and they are to be saluted for
their effort at fair appraisal. Enough time has passed to prove that
Joan Crawford doesn’t deserve wire hangers. She was and is an enduring
star, one of the great ones.
Crawford: Hollywood Martyr, by David Bret
by Stephanie Jones (April 2006)
not much new or interesting in Martyr. It consists for the
most part of rehashed quotes from other
Joan sources and is heavily padded with the author's own (interminable)
retelling of film plots. (Even the cover is a rehash---with the
photo used already for Walker's Ultimate Star.) And no, there's no proof herein that Joan worked as a prostitute or
appeared in a porno (much less did so at the urging of her
mother!), as claimed on the dust jacket; and, after reading, I'm still wondering which 3 of Joan's
husbands were supposed to have been gay (as the dust jacket also
proclaims)! Bret mentions Franchot
being serviced by a man or two---OK, chalk one up to "bi" but
other than that, nothing. (Also, if I have to read of one more actor
described as "ethereal-looking" by Bret, I'll shriek.
I stopped counting at "4," but the list ludicrously went
the plus-side, the book does have several photos that I'd never
seen before. But unless you, like me, are collecting every
single Joan book just to have them, you really don't
need this one. I'd rank it down there at the bottom of Joan bios,
along with "Crawford's Men."
the Girl Next Door, by Charlotte Chandler
Reviewed by John Epperson in the
Washington Post (Feb. 24, 2008)
Like other entertainment icons of the
20th century, such as Elvis Presley, Marilyn
Monroe and Judy Garland, Joan
Crawford represents the best and the worst of the American
dream. Crawford's was a grand success story from poverty in the Midwest to glory
in Hollywood and New
York. Presley, Monroe and Garland garnered cult fame, and
Crawford acquired a similar kind of worshipful sect that continues to grow
thanks to DVDs, Turner Classic Movies (which will broadcast 17 Crawford
films in March, the month of her centenary), and Web sites such
joancrawfordbest.com, an online encyclopedia devoted to
Crawfordism and regularly updated with photos and information about the Goddess
Joan. But also like the other three, Crawford had private demons with which to
The press never
revealed Crawford's dark side of drinking and sexual peccadillos while she was
alive. It was her eldest daughter, Christina Crawford, who characterized her
(after Joan's death) as an abusive shrew in the bestselling
Mommie Dearest, which went on to become a notorious
film starring Faye Dunaway. Unfortunately, nowadays most people
think of Crawford as the monster of that 1981 film.
Chandler's new book, Not the Girl Next Door, tries to refute the image of
Crawford as a domestic fiend by telling the star's side of the story as gleaned
from extended interviews with her in the mid-1970s (Crawford died in 1977).
Chandler cites several of Crawford's friends and acquaintances as being upset
with Mommie Dearest, including Myrna Loy, who called
Christina "vicious, ungrateful, and jealous." The controversy continues among
Crawfordites, who will love this new book because it is, at last, pro-Joan.
since the book is mostly quotations (from sources such as director George Cukor,
Loy, husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr., daughter Cathy, nemesis Bette Davis, etc.),
it has a sketchy, anecdotal quality that makes for jumpy reading. The reader
must fill in the blanks of the complex, contradictory actress's life. If the
reader already knows a great deal about St. Joan, sealing up the cracks poses no
problem. However, a novice Crawfordite might be stymied by the jump-cuts.
Chandler has turned out several books of this kind, on subjects including Billy
Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Bette Davis and Ingrid Bergman,
calling them "personal biographies," perhaps in an attempt to justify stringing
together lengthy quotations from the subject and his or her contacts. But no
matter how it's labeled, her approach doesn't make for smooth narrative.
of Crawford have appeared over the years, one of the most entertaining being
Carl Johnes's Crawford: The Last Years, a slim 1979 paperback.
Johnes was an assistant story editor at Columbia
Pictures' New York office when he met the star, who became his
doting friend. Johnes made a particularly valuable contribution to understanding
Crawford by disclosing her rather late-in-life identity search. Here was a woman
born Lucille LeSueur (her real name, in spite of its theatricality) who then
became known as Billie Cassin (she was a tomboy when her mother married a second
time, to Mr. Cassin). Later, in Hollywood, she became, briefly, Joan Arden, a
name picked for her in a magazine contest, and finally Joan Crawford,
manufactured celebrity from the dream world of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, purveyor of
glossy illusions. Who wouldn't have an identity crisis after all that? I've
attempted to live in Crawford's head a bit myself when performing my show "The
Passion of the Crawford," and it's a dangerous space to occupy, with its
constant vacillation from grand lady to goodtime gal to businesswoman to needy,
insecure, controlling star.
The most amusing
part of Chandler's book is the account by director Vincent Sherman, who made
three films with Crawford. His bizarre tales include attending, with Crawford, a
private screening of her film "Humoresque." As the movie unspooled, Crawford
became increasingly, erotically mesmerized by her own celluloid self and offered
to make love to him right on the spot, oblivious of the projectionist in the
back of the screening room. Sherman was able to get her to her dressing room,
where their affair began.
But Chandler pads
her book with awkwardly inserted synopses of Crawford's films, and some of her
"facts" are incorrect. For instance, in her summation of the lurid 1965 thriller
"I Saw What You Did," Chandler says that Crawford's character, Amy Nelson,
protects the three threatened female youngsters in the movie. Actually, Amy
encounters only one of the girls, to whom she is physically and verbally
abusive, repeatedly bellowing, "Get outta here!" Hardly protective.
The book also
suffers from careless repetition. On page 239, Chandler tells the reader that
after her last husband died, Crawford had to move to a smaller apartment in New
York because he had left so many debts. Two pages later, the author delivers the
This is only one
example of avoidable repetition. Perhaps it's very Joan Crawford of me to expect
a book to be tidier and more disciplined (imagine the neatness hell that
Crawford put her editors and co-authors through when she wrote her own books,
A Portrait of Joan and My Way of
Life), but I will give in to my (possibly neurotic) desire
for perfection and report that a fully satisfying Crawford biography has yet to
be written. Still, despite its drawbacks, even the most regimented Crawfordite
can enjoy Chandler's new book.
Other Side of My Life
Other Side of My Life, by D. Gary Deatherage
by Stephanie Jones (July 2006)
Other Side of My Life" is the 1991 autobiography of Joan Crawford's
fifth child (the four "official" adopted kids being Christina,
Christopher, and twins Cathy and Cindy), who was only with Joan
for five months in 1941 before his unbalanced natural mother reclaimed
him. (In the '60s and '70s, Joan continued to mention her "five
adopted children" in several TV interviews.)
David Gary Deatherage was born "Marcus Gary Kullberg"
in Los Angeles on June 3, 1941, the result of his married mother's
affair with a neighborhood Sicilian liquor-store owner. Mother Rebecca
decided in her 7th month of pregnancy to confess her affair to her
husband and then give her baby up for adoption.
adoption was arranged through private baby broker Alice Hough and
Joan picked the baby up at Hough's home 10 days after his birth,
renaming him "Christopher Crawford." After press stories
about Joan's new adoption revealed the baby's birthdate, Rebecca
figured out that Joan was the adopting mother and decided she wanted
the baby back. She began a harassing letter campaign to both Joan
and MGM, threatening suicide if her son wasn't returned to her.
A disguised Joan, along with Hough, returned the baby to his mother's
house shortly after Thanksgiving 1941. (Author Deatherage is
circumspect about his birth mother's efforts: "In the end it
came down to extortion. Rebecca never admitted it, but I think she
and Kullberg [Rebecca's husband] had always figured I was a meal
ticket. I'd bet she really didn't count on Joan Crawford returning
me---that she'd receive some kind of compensation to keep her mouth
shut. I was a valuable commodity during my days with Crawford. When
I became 'returned merchandise' my value plummeted. My life was
close to worthless, and as far as Kullberg was concerned, I was
a liability and a candidate for the next life.")
year following his return was hellish for Deatherage. According
to what his sister later told him, Rebecca's husband was both emotionally
and physically abusive, refusing to allow the baby in his sight
(the child was kept in closets when his father was home) and, finally,
throwing him against a wall, rupturing the baby's hernia. At that
point, Rebecca gave him up for adoption a second and final time.
(Though her pursuit of Joan and her son wasn't yet finished: In
December 1944, when the press reported Joan's adoption of the second,
completely unrelated Christopher, Rebecca forced her way into
Joan's home insisting that this baby was also her son; she
was arrested and subsequently placed in a psych ward for several
Deatherage here gives a complete account of his tortured earliest
years (most memories supplied by his sister), they're by no means
the sole focus of the book. Rather, as an adoptive child, this
is primarily the story of his search for his roots. The Joan-chapter
of his legacy is mentioned on perhaps 20 pages, with the rest of
the 218 pages devoted to his equally interesting adult interactions
with his God-obsessed itinerant natural mother (whom his siblings
warn him about), his proper Sicilian natural father, his multiple
siblings, and his loving and stable adoptive parents.
purposes here, though, the Joan-related items are the most interesting:
Deatherage meets with Christina Crawford (whom he describes as "radiant"
and "much prettier in person") at her home and asks if
he might have changed Joan: "It would have made no difference,"
retorts Christina. "My mother especially despised males....Just
be thankful you were spared." On the other hand, he contacts
Joan's secretary Betty Barker, who tells him, "I think you
would have loved being Joan's son!...All you had to do was be a
good human being, and I know you are, so I know you would have gotten
along with her beautifully." He also quotes a Barker letter:
"When she lost you, all of us were afraid to mention your name
to her for years, as it was a tender subject with her. She would
have loved to have known what happened to you...She always used
to say, 'I had five children, but had to return one to his natural
mother.' She always seemed to feel that you were hers too." Twins
Cathy and Cindy tell him, via phone conversations, that Joan
mentioned him frequently.
this book, Deatherage says that while---given his feisty personality---he
probably would have argued with Joan and had a hard time as a kid,
his one regret about his past is that he was never able to meet
Joan when he was an adult. His take on her parenting skills: "From
what I can tell, she had some good intentions. However, her consumption
of alcohol and work pressures often short-circuited those intentions.
She had come from poverty and had worked hard for her rise to fame
and fortune. Why should her adopted children have it given to them
on a silver platter, without blood, sweat or tears?"
who seems to have turned out to be a well-adjusted, successful person
(thanks probably to his kindly eventual adoptive parents), here
gives a thoughtful, well-balanced account of every aspect of his
sometimes-scary journey toward discovering his past. A fascinating,
recommended read, not only because of the Joan aspects.
Copies of this book can be found cheaply priced on Half.com.)
Send yours in!