The Best of Everything

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from Natural Blonde, by Liz Smith (2000)

...Her [Joan's] sense of humor was mordant and wicked and her sense of camp as a screen icon with an image to maintain was even more so, for like all great satirists and enhancers of reality, she half believed her own legend. The glamour, the gowns, the gossip, the glitter, the furs, the never letting down, the haughty exterior, the largess to fans, the homage to the press -- all of it counted.

I knew Crawford could be funny. I later heard that she had hired a gay New Yorker, Adele Strassfield, as a secretary in Hollywood. This was back in the sixties when people were not so tolerant of sexual deviation and Adele decided she'd work for the demanding star but keep her girlfriend in the background.

Adele toiled over Crawford's massive fan correspondence and conducted other business in a little white cottage behind the main house. The star would drop in often to see how Adele was doing and to affix her dashing signature to letters and photos. She liked Adele and was amused by her flattering sycophancy. One day Adele had gone to the main house for something. She heard the cottage phone ringing and made a dash to get back. But just as she reached the door, Crawford was exiting with an odd look on her face. The star held open the screen door elaborately for Adele and then moved outside. Adele turned to look after her. "Adele--someone named Muriel just called." Adele gulped and said, "Yes, Miss Crawford." Crawford let the screen door slam in Adele's face as she moved away, adding: "She said, 'Bring home two lamb chops!'" At that, the star walked across the lawn singing loudly and with feeling, "Life is just a bowl of cherries. Don't take it serious; it's too mysterious!"

* * * * * *

It is an oft-told tale how she and Alfred posed together for an ad in the Caribbean as part of the "Come to Jamaica: It's no place like home!" campaign. The photos were ready to go into the ads showing Joan and Alfred with a donkey when Mr. Steele died suddenly of a heart attack. Alan Kahler, who was the ad man, telephoned Joan a few days after the funeral to express his sympathy. He told her, "And the photos were so good. We will, of course, send you a set for your private use."

Joan asked, "Private use? What do you mean? Aren't you still using them in the coming ads?" Alan paused. "Well, Joan, we really can't, what with Alfred being---er, dead."

Joan snapped, "Oh, for heaven's sake. Can't you just airbrush him out?"

* * * * * *

...At one point, Cosmopolitan asked me to write a roundup piece on what the stars liked to eat for dessert....I left a call for Joan, asking the question, and promptly forgot about it. I was being routinely awakened early every morning by someone I was mad about who was naturally attached to someone else and never free to talk until the Someone Else left for work. (Ah, youth!)

So when the phone rang at 7:00am I picked it up sleepily and said, feigning irritation, "How dare you disturb me--an all-American beauty, at my rest? Who the hell do you think you are?" There was a long and penetrating silence and then came the equally icy words: "This is Joan Crawford calling. Obviously, I got you at a bad time." Big hang-up!

I raced around for ten minutes locating Crawford's number and dialed her back with a breathless apology. "I am so terribly sorry, Miss Crawford. I was kidding with a friend. I thought you were someone else. Really, you are so nice to call me back in answer to such a silly question."

Remote quiet. Then Crawford answered in tones that were a cross between Eleanora Duse and Mrs. Patrick Campbell. At the same time she dripped a bit of venom. "Why, Liz, dear, I didn't find the question silly at all. Frankly, my idea of a perfect dessert is to suck on a great big dill pickle!"

...I made her dill pickle the star of my "Question & Answer." Many people asked if I had just made it up. But nobody needed to make anything up when dealing with Crawford. She was her own auteur, her own legend, her own icon, her own nebula--a woman who hauled herself up by her bootstraps and created her glittering star self from scratch.