80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter

Everett Collection

“Pierce” revived Joan Crawford’s career after a two-year hiatus

More than six decades before HBO’s Mildred Pierce miniseries, the iconic 1945 movie got Joan Crawford’s career back on track after she’d left MGM for Warner Bros. It was a role that Barbara Stanwyck and Bette Davis had turned down, and director Michael Curtiz, who thought the pushing-40 star was a has-been, made Crawford screen-test for it. But the pay was good ($167,000), and the script gave her plenty to work with. The title character is an ambitious Depression-era waitress, divorced from her philandering husband and trying to support two daughters. The spoiled elder one, embarrassed by her mother even after she opens a successful restaurant chain, transforms into a backstabbing minx who dallies with Mildred’s sleazy second husband. Throw in a murder, the death of Mildred’s good daughter and some mother-daughter slapping, and Crawford wins her only Oscar in a cakewalk. The critics, though, offered varied opinions. The Hollywood Reporter said Crawford “lifts her role to the full measure of a triumph by the beautiful sincerity of a performance that is trouping every foot of the way.” The New York Times wasn’t much impressed but gave Curtiz credit for directing “with cunning dramatic artifice.” The last word in dramatic artifice came from Crawford, though: On the night of the Academy Awards, she feigned having the flu (she had jitters about not winning) and received her Oscar in bed while wearing a diaphanous nightgown — with the press recording the event for posterity.