3/23/1905 to 5/10/1977
Born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas; her parents separated before she was born. By age 16 she had known three fathers, one of whom (a vaudeville theatre manager) had given her the name Billie Cassin. By 1915 she and her mother lived in Kansas City and Billie worked in a laundry and also as a menial to pay school tuition.
Winning an amateur dance contest in 1923 led to chorus work in Chicago, Detroit and New York. On New Year’s Day of 1925 she left for Hollywood. Before her second picture, a "Photoplay" contest led to the name "Joan Crawford". The name "Joan Arden" was originally chosen as the young star's screen name after a write-in contest was held in the pages of "Movie Weekly" magazine, but a bit player came forward and said she was already using it. Mrs. Marie M. Tisdale, a crippled woman living in Albany, New York, won $500 for submitting the runner-up name "Joan Crawford". Joan disliked her new name, but had been forced by MGM boss Louis B. Mayer to drop her real name Lucille LeSueur because it sounded too much like "sewer".
As Joan Crawford she starred in the film Our Dancing Daughters (1928) and became a star.
The "talkie" era was upon the movie colony and many stars of the era were suddenly worried about their futures. With silent pictures, it didn't matter what kind of voice you had, but with sound pictures it made a tremendous difference. While some stars saw their livelihood halted, Joan's strong voice enabled her to continue. Her first film with sound was in Untamed (1929). The film was a success and Joan's career was still in top form.
Tired of playing fun-loving flappers, Joan wanted to change her image. Thin lips would not do for her, she wanted big lips. Ignoring Crawford's natural lip contours, Max Factor ran a smear of color across her upper and lower lips; it was just what she wanted. To Max, the Crawford look, which became her trademark, was always 'the smear'. To the public, it became known as 'Hunter's Bow Lips'. Crawford is often credited as helping to rout America's prejudice against lipstick.
As she entered the 1930s, Joan became one of the top stars in the MGM stable. Films such as Grand Hotel (1932), Sadie McKee (1934), No More Ladies (1935), and Love on the Run (1936), kept movie patrons and film executives happy. She had a string of successes playing a socialite or rags-to-riches shopgirl, most notably as Crystal Allen in The Women (1939).
Joan was asked to take over Carole Lombard 's role in They All Kissed the Bride (1942) after she died in a air crash during a war bond tour. She then donated all of her salary to the Red Cross who found Lombard's body, and promptly fired her agent for taking his usual 10%.
She stayed with MGM for 18 years, signing with Warners in 1943. Mildred Pierce (1945) was a defining role and won her an Oscar. After more than 70 films she married the Chairman of the Board of the Pepsi-Cola Co., a company with which she remained as an executive and spokesman after her husband's fatal heart attack in 1959 (in 1972 when the company's executives saw no further use for her, they pushed her out; after that she referred to the CEO as "Fang"). What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) brought new careers to both Crawford and Bette Davis in 1962 - although the two despised each other -- but the ensuing roles were neither numerous nor flattering. Horrified by a photo taken of her in 1974, she retired completely, devoting herself to Christian Science and increasing use of vodka.
During her life, Joan married 5 times including Douglas Fairbanks Jr, the first 4 ending in divorce. Unable to have children herself, she adopted 3 girls and 1 boy. Joan had a cleanliness obsession, washing her hands as often as every 10 minutes and would follow guests around her house wiping door knobs and things they had touched.
She was dedicated to her fans and spent much of her spare time personally responding to their letters and autographing her reply.
Met her biological father only once when he visited her on the set of Chained (1934). She would never see him again.
Joan’s final appearance on the silver screen was a 1970 flop called Trog (1970). Turning to vodka, she was not seen much afterward. On May 10, 1977, Joan died of cancer in New York City. She was 72 years old. Her four adopted children received little from her $2-million estate: $77,500 each for Cathy and Cindy, nothing for Christopher or Christina Crawford "for reasons best known to them". Her adopted daughter, Christina, had written a tell-all book that did not put Joan in a flattering light called, "Mommie Dearest".