Joan Crawford, unvarnished: Christina Crawford talks about TCM’s new documentary on Joan Crawford, which doesn’t sidestep the diva’s dark side – television – Brief Article
When the new special Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star premieres on Turner Classic Movies on August 1, Joan’s daughter Christina Crawford won’t be watching. “I don’t have cable,” admits the author of 1997’s Mommie Dearest: Twentieth Anniversary Edition. But Christina did travel to Los Angeles from her home in northern Idaho to be interviewed on-camera for the documentary by producer-director Peter Fitzgerald. “I rarely get asked to participate in these things,” she comments wryly, referring to cable networks’ penchant for whitewashed puff pieces with titles containing phrases like “ultimate movie star.”
Not to worry. The fascinating Joan Crawford is a lot more E! True Hollywood Story than Lifetime Intimate Portrait. Thoroughly researched and packed with family photos, obscure stills, and film clips–and even a hilariously creepy public service announcement for Joan’s favorite charity, the Jimmy Fund–the special exhaustively covers Crawford’s life. Joan Crawford tracks the onetime Lucille LeSueur from dust-bowl hoofer to wildly ambitious contract player to major movie goddess to fallen star triumphantly reinventing herself as the alcoholic nightmare so familiar to fans the film Mommie Dearest, the Showgirls of ’80s.
A multifaceted perspective on Joan’s career and personal life is provided by an inspired assortment of interviews, including playright and rabid Crawford fan Charles Busch, director and former lover Vincent Sherman (who admits to giving Joan a well-deserved slap in the face), costars Betsy Palmer and Diane Baker, and Christina herself, who reveals the origin of Joan’s most notorious pet peeve: When Joan was a child, her impoverished mother was forced to take a job at a laundry, where the family lived in a cramped back room full of–yes!–wire hangers!
The special doesn’t shy away from Joan’s downward spiral (a.k.a. The Trog Years), which reached its surreally ludicrous nadir when Joan stepped in to replace her very ill daughter on the daytime drama The Secret Storm. From her hospital bed, for “three terrible days,” Christina watched a drunken Joan bludgeon her way through live soap opera episodes. The documentary isn’t fully able to explain exactly how 60-something Joan managed to convince Secret Storm producers to allow her to fill in for a 25-ish ingenue, but Christina says her mother was driven by extreme jealousy: “[Joan] was a recluse. She sat in her New York apartment and watched me on the soap. She wanted to recapture her youth.” Viewers interested in recapturing this bit of camp history are out of luck–tragically, those kinescopes are not included in the documentary and may have been permanently erased by CBS years ago. If that’s the case, somebody there deserves to be beaten with a can of Old Dutch Cleanser.
McLaughlin is the creator of the MTV soap Spyder Games.
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