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Joan Crawford:
"Hollywood girls are killing their own glamor"

As told to Helen Weller
Originally appeared in Screen Stories Magazine, December 1963

It had been a long day - a day that had begun around dawn on the set of "Strait Jacket". Now the final shot for the day was over; it was six p.m. and everyone in the company was relieved to be getting home. The players didn't even bother to wash the makeup off their faces, and they walked out to their cars in slacks or in formless shifts.

Only one person remained behind - the star, Joan Crawford, who'd worked harder than anyone else. (That day, for the cameras, she had whacked off the head of any old boy friend!)

Standing before her dressing room mirror, she carefully removed the heavy theatrical makeup and applied her own. She slipped out of the little print she'd worn in the picture and into a beautiful silk sheath, pinning a diamond clip on the shoulder and stepping into slim-heeled pumps. She fixed her hair, took a last look at herself in the mirror and, slipping fresh white gloves on her hands, finally walked out.

She emerged from the front entrance of Columbia Pictures and, as usual, there was a crowd of fans waiting for her. Joan didn't disappoint them. Looking every inch the glamorous star they'd expected to see, she waved, blew kisses to them and, while a chauffeur waited impatiently, stopped and signed autographs for every person who asked. It didn't matter to Joan that she was tired and hungry, that she had to get home for a script conference, that she couldn't wait to phone her daughter in an Eastern summer camp, that she had lines to study and correspondence that would keep her up until two in the morning. Here were her fans, her public; she would not let them down.

Joan Crawford, the all-time movie queen of thirty years, is back with both feet in pictures again, making two a year besides a TV series. She is the same Joan, the ultimate in glamorous movie stars. Even her appearance is not much altered; a spray of silver in her hair but it is still elegantly coiffed, her measurements are the same in the lithe, slim-hipped, broad-shouldered figure, her face somewhat matured but still high-boned and handsome, her eyes still incredibly large and gray.

And she is still the same outspoken Joan Crawford!

"I am amazed at the way so many of the newer group of actresses let their public down," she told me frankly. "When I was given star billing years ago I knew that the reason fans paid to see me was because I was supposed to be something different, something special; I represented glamor and make-believe and escape to them, just as a movie star should. If they wanted to see any everyday woman they could look at their neighbor. But they weren't paying money to see that neighbor, nor writing her fan letters. I was determined that these fans - and without them neither I nor any other star could survive - would never see me in any way but as a glamorous creature. I'd never let myself be seen in public unless I looked the way they imagined me. Even now I wouldn't walk down the street or go in a market - in New York I like to do my marketing - unless I'm dressed perfectly and looking my very best.

"I wouldn't dream of being seen publicly in slacks. I think slacks are fine around the house or for hiking. But there's no glamor to them. In Hollywood I see loads of young actresses - usually without makeup - wearing slacks that are either too tight or too loose. I've seen people turn around and whisper, 'Is that really such-and-such star? Doesn't look like her.'

"Recently, I had to report on the set of Strait-Jacket so early I slipped groggily into slacks and was driven to the studio dressed that way. But at the end of the day I wouldn't walk out the front door and let the public see me wearing them. I told the driver to pick me up at the rear entrance. I had to walk quite a distance to get to the car, and I was mighty tired, but I'd rather do that than let down one fan who, expecting to see Joan Crawford - movie star - saw, instead, a woman wearing slacks just like anybody else.

"I've heard many of the newcomers say that this is the day of realism; that the public wants to see realistic films and realistic-looking actresses in real life. Nonsense! The fans still love glamor, expect glamor of Hollywood people. An actress should not be afraid of glamor. It is her stock in trade. Without it she's the girl next door. There are a million girls next door, but only a handful of stars.

"Perhaps the answer is that young actresses don't know how to make themselves look glamorous. Most stars who have come up in the past five years have had it easy. They've never had to fix their own hair at home and come to the studio and put on their own makeup.

"I had wonderful training with Adrian, the famous designer, at the studio for seventeen years. By golly, if you don't learn from Adrian and Irene and Edith Head then you'd better just quit. But you have to be willing to learn from them and you have to practice the art of looking glamorous all the time. You can't turn glamor on and off like a faucet, such as looking glamorous in front of the cameras and then looking sloppy away.

"Stars aren't only discovered. They have to earn their way. Lana Turner, for instance, was discovered at a soda fountain but she WORKED at glamor, so that she's been a top star for twenty years. Audrey Hepburn, even when relaxing in the country, is a vision. Everything perfect. She once credited her designer with being one of the most important men in her life!

"It is very important for a star to live up to the fans' conception of her. I read of one young actress who showed up at a studio conference barefoot and in bluejeans. This is a star? She is no longer in pictures.

"I've been told that another of the younger stars, eager to be glamorous, is reading up on how the stars of the past dressed and looked. This is fine, up to a point. But you can't learn about glamor merely by reading about it. You have to live it.

"I think that any actress who makes an appearance in public without being beautifully groomed is digging her own grave. If only one fan sees you looking less than perfect, it can be the beginning of the end.

"Liz Taylor, whatever anyone may think of her personal life, is considered the most glamorous woman in the world today. It's a responsibility she takes seriously. She has never let one person see her looking otherwise than absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. Even the day she was wheeled out of the hospital after her bout with death two years ago, when she was still weak and ill, knowing that there would be photographers and crowds of people waiting outside the hospital building, she would not permit herself to be wheeled out until her hairdresser had been summoned and had done her hair, her makeup woman fixed her face and a French designer had sent her a beautiful, new outfit to wear. It took hours for her to get ready to make that simple and urgent trip from hospital room to her own bedroom at home, and her doctors worried about her. But Liz was worried about something else: would she look the beautiful star at that moment that she was wheeled out? She did, and always has, no matter what the circumstances.

"Since most girls, even those not in pictures, want to look as glamorous as a star, we asked Joan if there was a short cut to glamor.

"My favorite beauty secret is soap and water. I have a facial once a week and a massage once a week. Although I think regular exercises are wonderful, I get bored with them. I get my exercise every day by doing my own housework. I happen to have tremendous amount of energy, and I don't need much sleep. In my New York apartment I'll get up at six in the morning and clean the house, even scrubbing the floor on my hands and knees.

"You must always look well when going out and never say 'Oh, nobody will see me', because people DO see you and notice.

"The greatest ingredients in glamor are the things you don't have to pay for: fastidiousness, neatness and good posture.

"Your clothes don't have to be elaborate to be glamorous. I go back to the basic idea of Adrian's: the classic dresses, the simple sheaths are the best. I don't go in for high style; they go out of date too quickly and you're stuck."

Joan is still the same vibrant personality today, in her fifties, that she was when she was the reigning glamor girl of Hollywood. Her loves and marriages in those days made big news. Her romance with Clark Gable and her marriages to Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Franchot Tone and Philip Terry left fans breathless.

These marriages ended in divorce. But death ended her marriage to the one man she really loved, Alfred Steele, jovial, successful business man. Joan glowed under Alfred's love. She would say, "I've never been so happy in my life. Alfred is showing me how to live." Then tragedy struck suddenly. One morning two years ago she woke and discovered that Alfred had died in his sleep.

"I was miserable," Joan confided. "I thought, 'Why was he taken from me so quickly?' I wept. I felt sorry for myself.

"Then I realized I had to snap out of it. Alfred had taught me to live, not to whine; to look ahead, not back. So I became very busy. I continued to travel around the world for his company, this time by myself. I returned to picture-making: Baby Jane, The Caretakers, now Strait Jacket and more pictures to come. I returned to acting because Alfred loved me as an actress.

"He taught me how to duck with life's punches. And how to grow. And I am growing, every day. My work is all-absorbing. My two older children, Chris and Christina, lead their own lives. My sixteen-year-old twin daughters still need me, but soon they will be on their own. And with Alfred gone I must depend solely on myself.

"I don't know if I shall ever marry again. I would like to; I love being a wife. But I'm afraid it will be difficult to find another man of Alfred's stature. Nevertheless, I still live each day as zestfully as I can. I will never stop living - as a woman, an actress and, I hope, as a glamorous image."


The Best of Everything