The Best of Everything

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She Was Consistently Joan Crawford, Star

by George Cukor

The New York Times, May 22, 1977

 

(Cukor also read the below at Joan's June 24, 1977, Beverly Hills tribute at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.)

 

I know it sounds odd, but somehow I didn't believe that Joan Crawford could ever die.

She was the perfect image of the movie star and, as such, largely the creation of her own indomitable will. She had, of course, very remarkable material to work with: a quick native intelligence, tremendous animal vitality, a lovely figure and, 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, so that you could photograph her from any angle, and the face moved beautifully.

But she was serious with it: serious about improving herself as an actress, serious about her total dedication to screen stardom. Though she led a busy life off-screen---with husbands, children and business interests---the career was always central. And she played the role with fierce determination, holding back nothing. In the role of the bitchy, opportunistic shop girl in The Women, she knew perfectly well that she would be surrounded by formidable competition from the rest of the all-female cast, many of whom were playing funnier---and certainly more sympathetic---parts. Yet she made no appeals for audience sympathy; she was not one of those actresses who have to keep popping out from behind their characters signaling, "Look, it's sweet, lovable me, just pretending to be a tramp."

In A Woman's Face she played at the outset a disfigured monster of a woman who would not flinch from killing a child, and she did not soften it a bit. Yet in Susan and God she found all the comedy in the silly, empty-headed woman who finally, funnily rose to emotional maturity. Whatever she did, she did wholeheartedly.

Including her love affair with the camera. In the days before zoom lenses and advanced electronics, cameras often had to be mounted on great cumbersome cranes, maneuvered by as many as twelve men, and close-ups might well require all this to be pushed from extreme long shots to within a few inches of an actor's face. Many found it difficult to overcome some understandable nervousness as this juggernaut ground closer and closer. Not Joan Crawford. The nearer the camera, the more tender and yielding she became---her eyes glistening, her lips avid in ecstatic acceptance. The camera saw, I suspect, a side of her that no flesh-and-blood lover ever saw.

But for all that, in private life she was a lovable, sentimental creature. A loyal and generous friend, very thoughtful; dear Joan Crawford, she forgot nothing---names, dates, obligations. These included the people at Hollywood institutions who had helped make and keep her a star. When it was fashionable to rail against the studio system and the tycoons who had built it, she was always warm in their defense. She spoke of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a family in which she was directed and protected, provided with fine stories and just about every great male star to play opposite; later she built up a similar relationship with Warners. And through it all she was consistently herself, unmistakably Joan Crawford, star. Katharine Hepburn says that every great star has a talent to irritate. Joan Crawford had that: whether you liked her or did not like her on the screen, you could not ignore her existence nor deny her quality.

I thought Joan Crawford could never die. Come to think of it, as long as celluloid holds together and the word Hollywood means anything to anyone, she never will.  


Thank you to James for researching this text and providing it for this site.

 

 

The Best of Everything