- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
It’s not like she didn’t warn us.
In the Dec. 31, 1947, issue of THR, Joan Crawford penned a page-long paean to the wonders of motherhood that began, “I’ve been reading in the newspapers and magazines about how noble it is of Joan Crawford to adopt four children.” Three paragraphs later, the star of Mildred Pierce and The Last of Mrs. Cheyney writes of her kids, “They’ve taught me the value of moulding firmness with love. They get spanked the same as any youngsters when they’re naughty, which isn’t very often, and I don’t delegate the spankings to others. I administer them myself — and then feel badly the rest of the day until I see them and they kiss me and make up, and everything’s fine once again with the world.”
Of course, everything was far from fine in Crawford’s home. In 1978, the year after her death, the eldest of her children, Christina Crawford, published Mommie Dearest, a sensational account of life under Crawford, which alleged that the star had adopted her kids only as a publicity stunt. (The saccharine THR op-ed would seem to support this.) Among the more shocking claims made about her mother, Christina wrote that she was beaten for using wire hangers in her closet instead of crocheted ones; starved for several days for refusing to finish a rare piece of roast beef; and pounded over the head with a can of Bon Ami Powder Cleanser until it “burst open.”
All those monstrous allegations — and many more — made it into the 1981 movie adaptation of Mommie Dearest, which features Faye Dunaway in one of cinema’s most over-the-top performances as the celebrity mom from hell. “It’s almost expressionistic,” Xander Berkeley, 65 — who in the film played Christina’s younger brother, Christopher, as an adult — says of Dunaway’s creative choices. “It’s like Greek tragedy or something.”
Dearest was a minor hit for Paramount, grossing $19 million ($56 million today), but was trashed by critics and shunned by Dunaway. It found a second life among lovers of camp, however, gay men in particular.
This story first appeared in the June 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day