The Best of Everything
Joan Crawford Dies at
by Peter B.
Joan Crawford, who rose from waitress and chorus girl to become one of the great movie stars, died yesterday of a heart attack in her apartment at 158 East 68th Street. [webmistress's note: This is, inexplicably, the wrong address. By all other accounts, she lived at the Imperial House, 150 East 69th Street, at the time of her death and had lived there since the mid-60s.] She gave her age as 69, but some reference works list her as two to four years older.
Miss Crawford had been a director of the Pepsi-Cola Company since the death of her fourth husband, Alfred N. Steele, the board chairman of the company, in 1959, but she had not been actively involved in the business in recent months.
A spokesman for Pepsi-Cola said Miss Crawford had no history of cardiac trouble and had appeared to be in good health except for recent complaints of back pains.
Miss Crawford was a quintessential superstar--an epitome of timeless glamour who personified for decades the dreams and disappointments of millions of American women.
With a wind-blown bob, mocking eyes and swirling short skirt, she spun to stardom in 1928, frenziedly dancing the Charleston atop a table in the silent melodrama "Our Dancing Daughters."
As a frivolous flapper she quickly made a series of spin-offs, including "Our Modern Maidens," "Laughing Sinners" and "This Modern Age." Endowed with a low voice, she easily made the transition to sound pictures and went on to become one of the more endurable movie queens.
Her career, a chorine-to-grande dame rise, with some setbacks, was due largely to determination, shrewd timing, flexibility, hard work and discipline.
Self-educated and intensely professional, Miss Crawford studied and trained assiduously to learn her art. She made the most of her large blue eyes, wide mouth, broad shoulders and slim figure and eventually became an Oscar-winning dramatic actress.
From Youth to
From a symbol of flaming youth in the Jazz Age, she successively portrayed a shopgirl, a sophisticate, a tenacious woman fighting for success in love and/or a career in a male-dominated milieu, and later a repressed and anguished older woman.
Exhibitors voted her one of the 10 top money-making stars from 1932 through 1936, and in the late 1930's she was one of the highest-paid actresses. With a finely structured, photogenic face and highstyle gowns usually designed by Adrian, she idealized what many woman wished to be.
In 1945, when her career seemed to be foundering, she rebounded as a doting mother and ambitious waitress who rises to wealthy restaurateur in "Mildred Pierce," a role that won her an Academy Award as best actress.
In her autobiography, "A Portrait of Joan," written with Jane Kesner Ardmore and published in 1962 by Doubleday & Company Inc., she acknowledged that "I was always a script stealer," which got her into "Our Dancing Daughters." She boldly cajoled producers, directors and writers to gain good roles.
When Norma Shearer refused to play a mother in the 1940 drama "Susan and God," Miss Crawford was offered the role. She responded, "I'd play Wally Beery's grandmother if it's a good part!"
Her major portrayals included a wanton stenographer in the star-studded adaptation of Vicki Baum's "Grand Hotel"; Sadie Thompson, W. Somerset Maugham's vulgar but vulnerable prostitute, in "Rain"; Crystal, a husband-stealing siren in Clare Boothe Luce's satire "The Women"; a scarred blackmailer in "A Woman's Face"; a schizophrenic in "Possessed," and the target of a homicidal husband in "Sudden Fear."
In later years, the indomitable Miss Crawford was involved in a number of publicized quarrels because of what some colleagues called her imperiousness, and her admitted bluntness toward actors that she regarded as incompetent, undisciplined or unprofessional.
She reveled in being a star and exhaustively cultivated her fan clubs and fans, predominantly women, with gifts and personally written notes--key efforts in maintaining their steadfast loyalty. She expressed delight in having "a hundred people clutching at my coat, clamoring for autographs."
Life imitated art in the late 1950's when, between movies, she embarked on a career as a businesswoman--a representative-in-glamour for the Pepsi-Cola Company.
Mr. Steele logged more than 100,000 miles a year in revitalizing the soft-drink company's worldwide activities. She started traveling with him, flying to gala openings of new bottling plants and conventions and serving as hostess of parties on their trips, as well as in their spacious East Side Manhattan penthouse.
In 1959, two days after her husband died of a heart attack, she was elected the first woman director of the company's board.
She made scores of national tours, promoting Pepsi-Cola and her films. Accompanying her were large entourages and at least 15 trunks and suitcases for a wardrobe of up to 10 costume changes a day.
In New York, Miss Crawford became a leading benefactor, fund-raiser and honorary official for dozens of philanthropies, explaining to an interviewer in 1971, "I've been on the receiving end of so much good that I feel I have to give something back."
Among her many honors were election as a fellow of Brandeis University and designation in 1965 as the first Woman of the Year by the United Service Organizations of New York for her qualities as "an actress, an executive, humanitarian."
The actress had long wanted to have children, but, she wrote, she was plagued by miscarriages. She adopted four children: Christina, who also became an actress: Christopher, and Cynthia and Cathy, who were twins.
Of French and Irish descent, Miss Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio. She listed her birth date as March 23, 1908, but many reference works put it at two to four years earlier. Her parents, Thomas and Anna Johnson LeSueur, separated before her birth, and her mother soon married Henry Cassin, owner of a vaudeville theater in Lawton, Okla. She was known for years as Billie Cassin.
Work prevented her from attending classes. The wife of Rockingham's headmaster often punished her, with broom-handle floggings, she wrote, and falsified her records, which enabled her to enter Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., as a working student. After about three months, aware that she was not academically prepared, she withdrew.
Dancing was her main outlet, and in her early teens she won a Charleston contest in a Kansas City cafe. She worked as a salesgirl, pinching pennies for dancing lessons.
Spotted by Harry Rapf, a talent scout for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, she was offered a screen test. Passing it, she signed a six-month contract for $75 a week, and on Jan. 1, 1925, set out for Hollywood.
The freckle-faced, 5-foot-4 1/2-inch-tall dancer was a little plump, but soon slimmed down by daily jogging, decades before it was voguish.
She plunged into her movie apprenticeship as a chorus girl in "Pretty Ladies," a Zasu Pitts comedy; an ingenue in "Old Clothes" with Jackie Coogan, and a featured dancing role in "Sally, Irene and Mary." She was voted a Wampas "baby star," won a new contract and, because Lucille LeSueur was regarded as awkward to pronounce, was given the name Joan Crawford, the winning entry in a movie-magazine contest.
She gained experience and billing playing opposite such actors as Lon Chaney, William Haines and John Gilbert, and rocketed to fame in "Our Dancing Daughters." She passed the talking and singing test in 1929, in "Untamed," co-starring Robert Montgomery, and made eight movies over the years with Clark Gable, most of them box-office hits. They included "Dancing Lady," gliding with Fred Astaire in his movie debut, and "Strange Cargo."
At MGM Miss Crawford occasionally broke away from stereotyped casting and won acclaim for distinctive performances. But the best roles went to Greta Garbo and Norma Shearer, the wife of Irving G. Thalberg, the studio's executive production manager. After the two actresses retired, Greer Garson got the plums. Frustrated by formula films, which she termed "undiluted hokum," Miss Crawford asked Metro to drop her contract in 1942, and she left the studio after 17 years.
She joined Warner Brothers, but rejected scripts for more than two years until her triumphal return in "Mildred Pierce," adapted from a mordant novel by James C. Cain.
In her later career she projected a kind of ageless image. Her roles included the emotionally confused "Daisy Kenyon," a carnival girl and convict in "Flamingo Road," a shrew in "Harriet Craig," a hoofer in "Torch Song," a western ranch-gang leader in "Johnny Guitar," a lonely spinster who marries a psychotic youth in "Autumn Leaves" and many other vehicles of ordeal and anguish.
After ". . .Baby Jane," Miss Crawford, tenaciously holding on to stardom, made a number of thrillers, some of them grisly, and appeared occasionally in television dramas and episodes. She long talked of going on the stage, but uncharacteristically said later that she lacked "the guts" to appear before a large live audience.
Some interviewers wrote that she imposed her perfectionism on her four adopted children, being overly strict with them. To these assertions, she replied: "I've tried to provide my children with what I didn't have: constructive discipline, a sense of security, a sense of sharing." "Sloppiness has never been tolerated in our home, nor has rudeness," and "They're going into a world that isn't easy, a world where unless you are self-sufficient and strong, you can be destroyed."
Some years ago, leaving Manhattan's "21" Club, she was greeted by a group of construction workers, one shouting, "Hey, Joanie!" She cordially shook hands with several of them. One surveyed her carefully and remarked: "They don't make them like you anymore, baby."
Miss Crawford is survived by her four children: Mrs. Cathy Lalonde, Mrs. Cynthia Jordan Crawford, Christina Crawford, and Christopher, and four grandchildren.
Funeral plans had not been completed last night.