Movie Magazine International

Joan Crawford, National Film Theater Retrospective, London, April 2001

1905 - 1977

Tribute By Moira Sullivan

Humphrey Bogart once remarked "Joan Crawford as much as I dislike her, is a star".

Crawford was honored during April with a retrospective of 17 of her films at the National Film Theater in London. Entering the ultra modern theater off Waterloo Bridge is a hallway complete with stills from her movies. It clearly shows how Joan survived the transition from silent film to talkies and through the golden and stormy years at MGM and Warner Brothers by constantly reinventing herself. The retrospective was featured back to back with the London Gay and Lesbian Film Festival which ran from March 28 to April 12. Crawford has become a gay icon and her clothing, coiffure and accessories are meticulously studied by her worshippers. Her own dedication to her fans was noteworthy: Joan answered all her fan mail personally typed on blue paper with her autograph.

In 1931 she made Possessed directed by Clarence Brown. Here her knack for playing a working class woman was in full flare which women of her time admired her for. In an opening scene, she watches a train roll into town and as she walks alongside peers into compartments with first class splendor: elaborate meals being prepared, women in dressing, and big fat cigars being sucked on by men in suits. This was soon to be her world. In one of several roles with Clark Gable which was an on again off again romance she protects him from being ruined by quietly exiting the scene. MGM made sure she kept quiet about the romance in real life too.

Not only did Crawford survive Bogie but she was an extraordinarily versatile actress whose career lasted over four decades. Born Lucille Fay Le Suer in San Antonia,Texas in 1905, her hand and footprints were cast at Graumanns' Chinese Theater when she was just 24 years old.

Mommie Dearest, the 1981 film about Crawford's relationship to her children starring Faye Dunaway brought her eccentricities to the limelight, divulged by daughter Christina Crawford. Unfortunately it is the yardstick by which Joan's career is judged by today's youth. This is also true of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), where Crawford stars side by side with the great Bette Davis in one of the most chilling tales of has-been stars to date.

Joan clawed her way to the top and while up there clawed some more to stay there. She knew Garbo would quietly go one day and was glad when she retired. At almost the same age when Bogie was at the height of his career she left MGM to later prove at Warner Brothers how a woman of 40 could win an Oscar. Mildred Peirce was the 1945 vehicle, the film most associated with Joan directed by Casablanca director Michael Curtiz. Forced to survive as a waitress, Mildred becomes a successful restauranteer. Later when her daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) steals her boyfriend, she tries to take the rap for Veda who killed him for dumping her. Co-star Eve Arden who won an Oscar nomination as best friend Ida Corwin gave Mildred an ominous warning that applied with premonatory irony to Joan Crawford's real life stormy relationship with her adopted daughter Christina: ' Veda's convinced me that alligators have the right idea when they eat their young".

This is Moira Sullivan for Movie Magazine International, London.

© 2001 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 5/01

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