March 23, 1904 – May 10, 1977
“I have always known what I wanted, and that is beauty… in every form.”
Miss J as in Joan, Joan Crawford was a legend, and her attitude and temper were legendary. Joan was a great movie star, and did some pretty spectacular things: Mildred Pierce being the best, and my personal favorite, Trog, and an appearance on Night Gallery, (Steven Spielberg’s first professional directing job). Remember she played the horrid blind woman, who purchased Tom Bosley’s eyes (he had gambling debts), so she could see for a few hours? As soon as she ripped off the bandages, there was a blackout in New York, and she flipped and went out the window of her high rise! Fantastic!
Joan was obsessively polite, particularly with note writing. She would write a thank you note to thank someone for a thank you note. Here’s one, donated by my buddy Roger Sinclair. Thanks Roger.
A long time ago, someone sent me examples of Joan’s signature from a check that was being sold on Ebay. I say thank you to that mystery donor, as I have misplaced your original email. Here is the check and signature.
Unfortunately for Joan, her reputation as an actress is completely overshadowed now by the image of her being a complete monster of a mother, mostly brought on by her adopted daughter Christina’s book, Mommie Dearest. When the abuse allegedly went on, Joan was living in Brentwood, on Bristol Avenue.
Their house was located at 426.
I’m not absolutely positive about this, but I do think that this was the front door she stood at,
upon hearing the news about winning her Oscar for Mildred Pierce. I also heard a rumor that in recent years, Jim Carrey was living in the house. It is only a stone’s throw from the Rockingham home of you-know-who.
May 2004 – I drove past Joan’s old house,
and saw that major renovations were going on. The front of the house is being torn up as I looked thru the gate.
But the mailbox (undoubtedly unoriginal) was still there.
Shame, but I managed to scam a brick. 🙂
Joan moved to New York when she married the Pepsi guy Alfred Steele, in 1955. Al died in 1959. She stayed on with Pepsi as a spokesperson, until they decided to “retire” her some years later.
Towards the end of her life, she became a Christian Scientist. She was not keen on medical treatment. She was getting older, and the acting parts she wanted were no longer being offered to her. One of her last public appearances was at a party for Rosalind Russell, in 1974. She became a recluse. Joan got cancer. The details are almost non existent. I do know that just before she died, she gave her precious Shih Tzu away, because she could no longer care for it.
I know that when she died, she lived in an apartment located at 150 E. 69th Street.
(thanks Mark Langlois).
Findadeath.com friend Marta Dawes sent some lovely pictures that she found of Joan’s home. Check out the sassy living room.
And then there is the very cool dining room. Of course, what house is complete without the huge self-portrait?
According to Christina Crawford, the death went like this:
On the morning of Tuesday May 10, 1977 – Joan was at the end. Two women (probably fans) were looking her after. They weren’t nurses. She had been bedridden for months. One of the women arrived at 8am, to take over watching Joan. When the woman realized that Joan was dying, she began praying softly, then a bit louder. Joan heard the words, and said, “Dammit, don’t you dare ask God to help me.” She died shortly after that.
Other reports state that Joan was about to have her usual tea and graham crackers morning meal, when she passed away. Another theory is that she knew it was coming, and asked that her lawyer be informed.
A lot of people wondered why an autopsy was not performed, causing the medical examiner to issue a statement saying, “I didn’t think the circumstances called for one. There was nothing in my evaluation to lead me to suspect in any way… I do know the location of the body, in her own bed, and she appeared to be well looked after. There was no disarray or disorder. The replies to all the questions I asked made me feel the cause of death was natural.”
I don’t know this to be fact, but I would like to think that this is Joan’s death bed.
The official cause of death is cancer (pancreas) and acute coronary occlusion. She was 71 to 73 years old. I wish I had her death certificate, but the jerks in New York don’t let the public have access to them. Does anyone know anybody who can help?
Her funeral was on Friday the 13th, at the Frank Campbell Funeral Home (They put the “fun” in Funeral!).
I didn’t know this, but Joan was embalmed and then cremated. The urn was on a pedestal in the chapel, and a Christian Scientist practitioner read the service, which consisted of Bible readings, and some passages by Mary Baker Eddy. Myrna Loy, Van Johnson, and Andy Warhol attended it. Afterwards, they put Joan’s urn in with her last husband’s, at Ferncliff Cemetery. Appreciation to Casey Lalonde for hoofing it to Grandmother’s house, for this terrific picture.
The next Tuesday, there was a public memorial service thrown by Pepsi, at the All Souls Unitarian Church,
located at 1157 Lexington Avenue,
in New York (Thanks Beca). Along with Joan’s children, those attending included Anita Loos, Geraldine Brooks, Cliff Robertson and Pearl Bailey (who sang.).
Here is the program for the service, thanks to bq.
On June 24th, there was a bigger memorial service in Los Angeles. It was held at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. John Wayne, Robert Young, George Cukor, Myrna Loy, and Stephen Spielberg attended.
January 1, 2012
This is an interview I did with Casey LaLonde – Joan’s grandson. I met casey in May of 2004 and we have become friends. Casey was kind enough to give me an hour of his time, so I could quiz him on all things Crawford.
In May of 2004, I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Casey LaLonde, grandson of Joan Crawford. He was visiting Hollywood, and just happened to take my tour when I was still doing tours of the living people’s homes. Casey is a terrific guy, and anxious to clear up mistruths about his grandmother. He made himself available for questions, and has been generous with his responses. The following comes directly from Casey:
I will not speak on how Joan “acquired” Christina and Christopher, but my mother (Cathy) and (Cindy) were legally adopted in Tennessee. Through research, my mother and Aunt Cindy actually found their birth parents in Tennessee. We first visited the birth family in 1989. They were in fact fraternal twins, and their mother died several days after giving birth. We met their birth father in 1989 and he passed away in the mid-1990’s. Christina has made many claims against these facts and she is wrong. I will forward you some information on this topic.
As for Uncle Christopher, I can’t even recall the last time I saw him in person. I am thirty two, so I must have been five or so. My most embarrassing experience concerning Christopher was in 1987 (high school), when his family appeared on a talk show, making a public plea to their father to contact them. Christopher had abandoned the family. As for Christopher, from what I understand, he has always had some type of dependency problem. His family mentioned it during their television appearance. I did some research a few years ago, and found a New York Times article stating that authorities had labeled Christopher a “delinquent” after shooting out some street lights on Long Island in 1958.
I had not seen my Aunt Christina since about the same time. My mother (Cathy) refused to have any contact with her following the publication of Mommie Dearest. I do not blame my mother. The book is filled with Christina’s lies and mangled childhood perceptions. My mother had such wonderful memories of Joan that she couldn’t reconcile Christina’s hate.
I do not know precisely what I would do if I encountered Christina. She single handedly ruined my grandmother’s reputation. Joan’s successful transition from silent to sound movies, many decades of reinventing herself for new audiences, and winning an Oscar for Mildred Pierce were all scuttled for a time because of a child’s faulty memories.
Here are two links regarding the “adoption” issue.
Let me be honest with you. Due to the destruction Aunt Christina did to my grandmother’s reputation, I have been hiding my connection to her for years. Only close friends and family know my grandmother’s identity.
Casey was in town visiting his Aunt Betty, who was Joan’s personal assistant for decades. I asked if Betty was the inspiration for the Carol Ann character in Mommie Dearest
I asked Betty many questions about herself including how she came to work for my grandmother. Betty stated that she worked as one of five personal secretaries to Howard Hughes at RKO for several years. However, Hughes wanted to move to Vegas, so Betty and one other secretary stayed behind in Hollywood. She then went to work for Joan in 1955 and was her personal secretary until Joan’s death in 1977.
As for the Carol Ann character in Mommie Dearest, I suggest it is a stand-in for Aunt Betty. The filmmakers were good about eliminating real people from the film who wanted nothing to do with the project. I suspect the producers were afraid of libel suits from those still living. Due to complete frustration with my Aunt Christina, I have never taken the time to read Mommie Dearest. I doubt I will ever find the time. My visit with Betty Barker this May helped me become proud again of grandmother’s contributions and star power she brought to Hollywood. There has been so much negativity over the years, that it is time for a new era of appreciation for Joan Crawford.
As we lived north of Allentown, PA since 1972, visiting NYC was a snap and we did it often. Occasionally, my mom and dad would go out to lunch or dinner and Joan would baby-sit me and my sister. She would never leave her apartment, especially near the end of her life. As you can imagine, my grandmother didn’t like “grandma” or “grammy” or even “grandmother.” She preferred to be called JoJo. So that’s what we called her until she passed away.
My biggest regret in my life is not knowing her more. I was too young to fully realize her greatness as a star and the contributions she made to Hollywood. At my young age, she was just JoJo, my grandmother.
What do you remember of her New York home?
I was five when she passed away, but I vividly remember her apartment. I recall climbing up onto the window ledges (sealed windows, of course) and looking down on the city. Cool as you can imagine! I remember her famous plastic slip covered furniture too.
Betty confirmed that she died from cancer. She wouldn’t elaborate, except to say she was sick for a long time and did not seek medical help. She was a Christian Scientist, and I believe she just accepted her own mortality.
Thank you Casey.
Everyone knows that Joan cut Christina and Christopher out of her will, “For reasons which are well known to them.” According to Casey and others, Joan knew about the tell all book Christina was writing, and that would be the “reasons.” They contested the will, and got a settlement for $55,000. Christina penned the book, Mommie Dearest, in 1978. It was eventually made into a film starring Faye Dunaway,
who deserved an Oscar for the performance of her life.
Joan’s other adopted children came out publicly and said that Christina was full of shit. Still, what a great story. I remember when Christina was doing the talk show circuit back then. Some woman in the audience stood up and said (basically), “I’ve been a fan of Joan Crawford’s for years, and I do not believe her being capable of such evil things, blah blah blah blah.” Christina’s reply was, “Lady, I was there.” Christina’s brother Christopher says of his sister, “Tina cared about that bitch. She still does.”
Also in 1978 – there was an auction in New York, of Joan’s personal belongings. Hats, sheets, pillowcases etc, were all sold. Andy Warhol bought Joan’s false eyelashes and some costume jewelry. The auction raised $43,000. Sad, because today she would fetch so much more.
Trivia: Joan was born Lucille Le Sueur. MGM bosses decided her name sounded too much like “sewer,” so they had a nationwide contest to rename her. They said she hated the name “Crawford” because it sounded like “crawfish”. A woman from Albany, New York won $500 for renaming her Joan Crawford – a much nicer sounding name.
More: Joan was quite outspoken about her dislike of Marilyn Monroe. Upon hearing the news of Marilyn’s death, Joan was quite upset. She was having dinner at George Cukor’s house, when he called her on it. “What is this? You never liked Marilyn.” Joan answered, “Yes, you’re right. She was cheap, and an exhibitionist. She was never professional, and that irritated the hell out of people. But, for God’s sake, she needed help. She had all these people on her payroll. Where they hell were they when she needed them? Why in the hell did she have to die alone?”
In November of 1998 – the book Mommie Dearest was being re-released. Christina hired a drag queen that looked like her mother to accompany her to the book signing. Funny, huh? And I don’t mean funny ha ha.
Findadeath.com friend Robert Rechter writes: the ‘drag queen’ performing as Joan Crawford at the launch of new version of ‘Mommie Dearest’ book is actually the incredible Lypsinka, best known for her legendary stage shows where she lip-syncs the voices of great Hollywood actresses in rapid succession like gunfire. She appeared in the film ‘Wigstock’ and has been a Thierry Mugler model, appearing in the George Michael clip ‘Too Funky’. She is an extremely gifted performer who never stops working. For a photo of her as Joan Crawford go to www.lypsinka.com Click onto ‘My favorite things’, at the bottom of ‘The Valley of the Dolls’ article click ‘Joan Crawford’. She is pictured as Joan with Christina Crawford who asked her to recreate and lip-synch the famous L.P ‘Joan Crawford Live at Town Hall’, for her new version of ‘Mommie Dearest’ book launch.
Findadeath.com friend Heather Anne (what is your damage?) sends this info on Christina:
The name and address of her B&B in Idaho is:
Seven Springs Farm Bed and Breakfast and Bistro
Sanders Road, 2 Miles East of Highway 95
Tensed, Idaho 83870 (208) 274 2470
Another tidbit from People magazine in an interview with Christina Crawford regarding the twins Joan adopted. “For one thing, they were never twins. They were raised as twins, she called them twins. Her career needed a boost, and one child alone wasn’t going to get her the publicity she wanted, so she got two girls who both had brown hair and brown eyes. That was the extent of their “twin-ness.”
Wanna see her footprints at the Chinese Theatre?
This was sent in by Findadeath.com friend Gregory in Montreal: Joan’s last phone # was: 734-6969. Joan’s own autograph book sold at NYC auction at Plaza Galleries in Feb 1978 for only $2,800. Imagine today!
Findadeath.com friend Dominic Druce sends this information:
Christmas 1976 – a friend noticed how thin she was. “I’m getting down to picture weight, darling.” He thought she was disintegrating.
A Christmas card she sent in 76 said, “I am so at peace with the world, that I’m even having good thoughts about Bette Davis.”
January 1977 – Mamie Van Doren says she had the room next door to Joan at the Ambassador East, in Chicago. Joan seldom left, but paced around at night watching television.
Joan’s secretary states that Joan did not leave New York in 1977.
Not being able to pick up the dog was the clincher as far as its fate was concerned.
Late March 1977 – Joan made a point of not watching the AFI tribute to Bette Davis.
May 1977 – Joan’s weight dropped to 90 pounds.
Tuesday May 10th (at odds with Christina’s account, she made breakfast for her housekeeper and fan, went to the bedroom while they ate, and died.
New York secretary Florence Walsh, “She died of a heart attack.”
Los Angeles secretary Betty Barker, “It was cancer.”
The two are not mutually exclusive. She could have had a heart attack while dying of cancer. Also, if you weigh less than 90 pounds and can’t pick up a small dog, can you make breakfast for two?
Debbie Reynolds and others thought it was suicide. Others say it wasn’t her style.
Thanks for the thought food, Dominic.
Findadeath friend Mike Pare:
Christina gave all the settlement $ to Christopher. Christina was originally named Joan, and the first child adopted was a boy that she changed her mind about a few weeks later and returned. Barbara Parkins did the same thing…..Christina recently said on Larry King that she is convinced & has some speculative evidence & other proof that her mother actually killed Al Steele, her final hubby….
All of Crawford’s marriages lasted 4 yrs. each, her feud with Davis was 2 fold, one ‘cuz she caught Bette giving Franchot Tone head in a trailer on set, & then ‘cuz Bette refused Crawfords advances…
I believe she didn’t so much actively kill herself as just allowed it, funny it was virtually the wedding anniversary of her & Al.
This is Scott speaking: The photograph at the top of this page (Note the Pepsi in the bucket) comes from Mike Pare, a long term friend of Findadeath.com who has recently passed away. Mike sent me a box of photographs, and from time to time I’ll be adding them to stories to keep the memory going. Thank you Mike.
Findadeath.com friend Justin Speliotis sends us this: Just wanted to shed some light on the fact that the ’70’s rock great Blue Oyster Cult recorded a song called “Joan Crawford”. The lyrics go something like “Joan Crawford has risen from the graaaaave…”. Near the end you can hear Joan calling for Christina…”Christina Mommie wants you.” Great cheesy stuff worth checking out.
Now we all can click here to hear a few seconds of the song, in MP3 format.
January 2004, Findadeath.com friend Duncan sends us this: Scott, I just wanted to point out that although Joan’s best known work may indeed be ‘Mildred Pierce’ (for which she won an Oscar, by the way), this was quickly followed not by ‘Trog,’ but by a couple of films some consider to be equally if not more outstanding than ‘Mildred Pierce’ itself. I’m talking of course about the noir gems ‘Humoresque’ (1946) and ‘Possessed’ (1947), the former probably being the most sophisticated and tragic love story ever filmed, and let’s not forget her great swan song ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ (1962), the mother of all psychological thrillers and quite possibly the masterpiece of its genre. In it she shared the screen with that other Hollywood icon you may have heard of, Bette Davis. simply having those ‘two old broads’ in the same picture makes that film an instant Hollywood ‘classic’ as it was their only acting outing together. So if you’re going to boil down Joan’s career (the longest in Hollywood by some estimations) to only two films, I think you’re best served by going with ‘Mildred Pierce’ and ‘Baby Jane.’ Also, someone else pointed out that Joan hated her mom and brother. Well, that much is true. However, her loathing of her mother and brother were well justified, as both of them were two of the most despicably abusive white trash one could ever hope to run into. Her brother Hal died of syphilis in the 60s, I believe, so that should give you some idea of what a piece of trash he was. I don’t think Joan attended his funeral services and I don’t blame her one bit.
Here is a picture of Joan and Bette,
when rehearsals began for Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, their follow up to Baby Jane, that was never happened.
This just in, November 2004, from Find a Death friend Chris:
Since today is the anniversary of the whacking of John Kennedy, I thought it would be fitting to send you this bit of trivia: Guess who was in Dallas that day? Yes, none other than Joan Crawford! She was at a Pepsi Cola board meeting in that town.(as you know she was a stock holder) Guess who else was there at that board meeting? Richard Milhous Nixon! Yes, Tricky Dick Nixon.
I have even heard rumors that the President’s father was in Dallas that day as well, however, details are sketchy.
Look for Joan art here.