Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Happy Anniversary, Barbara Stanwyck!


“What those two [Frank Capra and Willard Mack] saw in me,” said Barbara, “I still don’t know.”

"Something is gone. They were beautiful, romantic films, not as stark and realistic as today’s, and I loved doing and watching them. Now we’ve matured and moved on." -Barbara Stanwyck on classic vs modern films

Despite Capra’s prediction, Barbara’s name for 'Ladies of Leisure' was not among those actresses singled out for their work for 1930. Nominated were Nancy Carroll (The Devil’s Holiday), Ruth Chatterton (Sarah and Son), Greta Garbo (Anna Christie), Norma Shearer (The Divorcee), and Gloria Swanson (The Trespasser). Shearer received the award for Best Actress. It was rumored that Metro had asked its employees in a memo to vote for Norma Shearer, Mrs. Irving Thalberg since 1927. Joan Crawford, Mrs. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., was quoted as saying, “What chance have I got? She sleeps with the boss.”

Capra rehearsed Barbara with the rest of the actors and crew of 'Forbidden' in a walk-through to go over the moves so the camera could follow her. The rehearsals were sketchy; Barbara spoke her lines, but they were barely audible. Ed Bernds, the head of the sound crew on the picture, who’d worked with Capra on three other pictures, described his rehearsals with Barbara as done at “half speed.” Barbara said, “I just ask the cameraman, in great humility, to please make me look human. You know, just make me look human, that’s all.” In the early days of sound, three cameras were used to help in the difficult process of cutting sound track. By the time 'Forbidden' was in production, sound track was easy to cut. “Capra wanted to keep [the shot] just long enough to hold the two actors,” said Bernds.

“And we followed Barbara as it became a two-shot when she was close to Bellamy.” Capra liked to shoot a lot of angles; they gave him flexibility in cutting. “The scene where Barbara shoots Bellamy is dynamite acting at a high intensity, very high intensity,” Bernds said. “[Barbara’s] voice was tough on sound because at times when she screamed, the Western Electric sound system went into a state of theoretically dangerous overload.”

During another bout with Frank Fay, Barbara ran to Joan Crawford’s North Bristol Avenue house. Joan and Barbara had shared New York days together when each was a floor show dancer in clubs. Joan kept a framed hand-tinted small photograph of Ruby Stevens (Barbara's birth name) from those early days when the high-kicking Billie Cassin, Shubert chorine with bangs and frizzy hair in the too-tight over-the-hip dresses, danced the Charleston, said Louise Brooks, like 'a lady wrestler' was now living in Brentwood, in a seven-room house, originally styled with grilled Spanish doorways and arches remade in a Georgian formal style. The house had been expanded to ten rooms, not including servants’ quarters, with a theater that seated twenty-five for Joan’s workshops of one-act plays, which she performed with her husband, Franchot Tone.

People watching Taylor and Stanwyck found them to be quiet, absorbed, sufficiently unto themselves. Bob was free from Irene Hervey; Barbara from Frank Fay. “We amused each other,” said Barbara. “We danced well together. We were good friends, had a marvelous time.” Bob was direct, open, and honest with Barbara. He appreciated her in big ways and little, was loving to her. After Fay, Bob seemed so normal to Barbara. He made it clear to those around them that he had great admiration for her. Two days out at sea aboard the Berengaria, Bob shouted into the radio telephone to Barbara, “Do you love me?” “Yes, I love you,” she shouted back. She had rushed home from the Ray Millands’ to get Bob’s call. Barbara was planning on leaving town as soon as she could.

She finished work on 'Breakfast for Two,' and 'Stella Dallas' opened in Los Angeles the following Monday. That Wednesday she and Holly Barnes flew to Sun Valley for a long weekend. 'Stella Dallas' had the biggest opening on record, beating 'A Star Is Born.'-"A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel True 1907-1940" (2013) by Victoria Wilson

Rhino Deck: Armadillo Decking (Publicity)

I experienced the coming together of a community after a natural disaster, all thanks to the products offered by Rhino Deck. My family and I live in a rural area in the South. A few years ago, our little town was hit by a devastating F4 tornado. Because no one in this area has any underground shelters, we are ill prepared to deal with tornados, which rarely strike our area.

My great-grandmother was one resident who lost a great deal during the tornado. We were very thankful that her house did not take a direct hit from the tornado. If it had, it would have leveled the house. However, her back deck was not so lucky.

Before the tornado, her deck wasn't in the best of conditions, but we could never convince her it needed repair. The tornado tore her deck to shreds with the help of the pecan tree that had sat nestled behind her house for generations. Once the tree was removed, it was clear that her deck could not be salvaged.

A whole group of us from the town got together to work on my great-grandmother’s deck. She was so thrilled and amazed at all the help that she was getting from people she had never met.

We purchased Armadillo by Rhino Deck with her insurance money. We could have waited for a contractor to reconstruct her deck. However, because of the unbelievable devastation around my town, contractors were simply too busy to get to her. After all, some people didn't even have a roof over their heads. Of course, they deserved the contractors’ attention first.

So our little team got to work to construct my great-grandmother’s deck ourselves. She selected a Rustic Red from the color choices offered by Rhino Deck. The deck products they offered are not made of wood; instead, they are made up of a composite material of wood fiber and HDPE plastic. Consequently, they require minimal upkeep, which is perfect for my great-grandmother.

Once we got the deck constructed,which was very easy to do, my great-grandmother was so proud. She called over all her neighbors to come have a look. Instead of stairs, we built a ramp for her, since she is using a walker full-time now. The whole neighborhood was impressed with her deck, and I could tell she was beyond proud of the results. She wasted no time setting up her new patio furniture on the deck, along with her two new rocking chairs. She also hung a few wind chimes from the rafters above the deck. I could tell that she was going to get years of enjoyment out of her new deck. Although it was not a good event that brought about the project, I am so glad we were able to come together as a community to help my great-grandmother.

Franchot Tone (Love Scenes) video

Franchot Tone (Love Scenes) with Maureen O'Sullivan in "Stage Mother", Joan Crawford in "Today We Live", "Dancing Lady", "Love on the Run", "Sadie McKee" and "The Gorgeous Hussy"; Loretta Young in "Midnight Mary", Bette Davis in "Dangerous", Jean Harlow in "The Girl from Missouri", "Bombshell" and "Suzy", Myrna Loy in "Man-Proof", Anne Baxter in "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer", Janet Blair in "I Love Trouble" and Jean Wallace in "Jigsaw".

Franchot Tone and Joan Crawford, publicity photo for "Dancing Lady" (1933) directed by Robert Z. Leonard.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Franchot Tone & Barbara Payton: Elegance and Madness, "Bride of the Gorilla", "The Girl"

Franchot Tone, publicity photo for "The Man on the Eiffel Tower" (1949). In 1929 Tone had become a member of the Theatre Guild, appearing in a series of shows including 'Red Dust', 'Hotel Universe', 'Green Grow the Lilacs', and 'Pagan Lady.'

In September 1950, it was reported that Barbara Payton was to make her Broadway debut in producer S.N. Behrman's play, 'Let Me Hear the Melody,' but the project was temporarily scrapped when the financing for it collapsed. (It was later produced in Philadelphia, without Barbara, in May 1951.) However, on September 12, Barbara did fly out to the east coast to co-star with Franchot Tone in a summer stock production of another S. N. Behrman play, 'The Second Man.' The Theater Guild had staged the original version of the play on Broadway in 1927.

Franchot Tone, publicity photo for CBS "Starlight Theatre" show, 1951

Produced at New York's Somerset Theater by Franchot's friend and Group Theatre associate, Jean Dalrymple, 'The Second Man' was a comedy about a social activist and novelist (Tone) who realizes that the second man in him is really an opportunist wise enough to turn to his wealthy mistress (Payton) for the luxuries his other lifestyle has denied him. Actress Margaret Lindsay (as Franchot's wife, Mrs. Kendall Frayne) and Broadway veteran Walter Brooke rounded out the four-character cast. The show's playbill described Barbara Payton as captivating in the role of Monica Grey, a part which was later played by newcomer Cloris Leachman when Franchot Tone reprised the production in June 1951.

'The Second Man' ran for one week as the Somerset Theater's final summerstock play of the season, and was the first of Barbara's two stage efforts (the 2nd being 'The Postman Always Rings Twice,' in 1953 with Tom Neal). Upon the show's completion, Franchot brought Barbara to the family homestead in Upstate New York, to meet his mother, Gertrude. (His father, Dr. Frank J. Tone, had died in 1944.) While it remains unclear what Gertrude Tone thought of Barbara following their introduction, Lisa Burks suggests it may have been somewhat of a strained meeting.

Following their brief visit to Niagara Falls, the pair returned to the west coast in late September, only to find more trouble awaiting Barbara in L.A. Despite her enviable alliance with such a respected member of the industry as Franchot Tone, Barbara’s growing connection to the Hollywood underworld was again apparent on October 29 when she was called before a Federal Grand Jury as a defense witness in the perjury trial of a suspected murderer and dope addict named Stanley Adams.

"Bride of the Gorilla" (1951) Stars: Barbara Payton, Lon Chaney Jr., Raymond Burr. Director & Writer: Curt Siodmak
The owner of a plantation in the jungle marries a beautiful woman. Shortly afterward, he is plagued by a strange voodoo curse which transforms him into a gorilla.

As Barbara prepared to leave on another promotional tour for "Bride of the Gorilla", word had begun filtering through the grapevine that Barbara Payton and Tom Neal were indeed seeing each other again. Through clenched teeth and white knuckles, Franchot saw his wife off on her publicity junket, perhaps knowing with his keen intellect, if not his captive heart, that she had resumed sleeping with the man who had nearly killed him.

While attending a movie memorabilia show at the New Yorker Hotel in NYC, a former Hollywood photographer who knew Barbara, shared a particularly disturbing tale. Ray goes on to describe the scene as a kind of mid-century modern version of the Norma Desmond estate in Sunset Blvd. (“a decrepit piece of Southern California Gothic,” as he put it) and remembers thinking that it was possible that Barbara wasn’t really house-sitting, but had taken occupancy of an abandoned piece of property. Set back off the road on the edge of a cliff, the house-on-stilts was trashed; the in-ground swimming pool, a rancid mix of rotting leaves and foul-smelling water.

The kid just couldn’t keep her legs closed, you know? In my opinion, Tom Neal was scum and he ruined that girl. He took her right down into the toilet with him. She was fine before she got involved with that bastard.” What seems lost to this man is that a part of Barbara had been tough and cunning long before Tom Neal had entered her life… as countless men, including Bob Hope and Franchot Tone, had all-too painfully discovered. -"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - The Barbara Payton Story" (2013) by John O'Dowd

Barbara remembered having said Franchot had given a disease in her soul. As if lost in a black smoke, she could hear herself telling Carlo Fiori: “Franchot talks about suicide and says he’ll kill me and kill himself. He sees me as his tormentor. He says I’m the evil half of his nature that he is fixing in me, and which I bring to the surface in him. He says only death could ease the pain of living with a tormentor. If you leave me, he says, I’ll die… If you stay, you’ll slowly kill me…” -Barbara Payton on Franchot Tone

On September 14, 1951, the front page of virtually every major newspaper in the United States carried the story of how B-picture actor Tom Neal had brutally beaten dapper leading man Franchot Tone’s face into a bloody pulp over the affections of sultry blonde actress Barbara Payton. The sordid narrative surrounding this ill-fated triangle would have “legs”. Only Franchot Tone’s career would survive the disgraceful events. 'B Movie' dramatizes the most notorious scandal to hit Hollywood during the first half of the 1950s. Underneath the stark headline 'Barbara’s Nude Sun Bath with Neal Told in Beating Case,' Judson O’Donnell gave an eyebrow-raising interview to Louella Parsons where he expounded: "I used to see Miss Payton in the patio. She was sunbathing nude, above the waist. And Tom Neal would be beside her. He was exercising with his big bar bells. He was nude, too, above the waist. But he wore trunks. I heard her say to him once, ‘Oh, Tom, you have such big muscles!’"

Zsa Zsa Gabor once said, “I like a mannish man, a man who knows how to talk to and treat a woman — not just a man with muscles.”

"The talent agent who brought June called it the Shark House. It was in Los Feliz and you could drive by a hundred times and miss it. But once you saw it, you couldn’t turn it away. There were no windows. The tiny lawn sloped up, feathered with ivy that looked red in the strange light. “Huston will be here,” the agent said. “Key Largo. The part’s perfect for you.” Two years ago, she’d married Guy, who ran sports book on the West Side for Mickey Cohen and liked to trot her up and down the Strip, his “actress wife.” Now, the talent agents saw different kind of possibilities in June, different ways to lay odds. They knew producers cast actresses for all kinds of reasons, including big vigs they needed to pay off, big secrets they needed to hide. “What does it matter?” her friend Gladys asked. “You married the honeypot. Just slip on your silver mink, prop your feet up, and listen to Dick Haymes all day.” Sometimes she considered it. But June held onto a few small things from when she first came to the City of Dreams. June had heard things. About the house’s owner: An elegant widow’s peak and a European way. A collector, an importer, a private dealer in things, objects. No one knew. She had seen him once at the Mermaid Room, where girls swam in tanks, their twitching smiles painted red, fingertips tapping on the glass. Eyes hidden behind a green-tinted pince-nez, he did not look up at the girls but seemed always to be whispering in the ear of his date.

June had heard he was a man acquainted with artists and intellectuals who made June feel, despite her 'I. Magnin' suits and cool voice, like a Woolworth’s counter girl who turned tricks every other Saturday night. “What’s the big deal? Another rich stiff with a taste for Tinseltown trim,” the agent said. Then June saw, under a darkening banana tree in the center court, two women, rubyhaired both, their bodies lit, swarming each other, their silvertoned faces notched against each other. They were famous, both of them, famous like no one ever would be again, June thought, and to see their bodies swirling into each other, their mouths slipping open, wetly, was unbearably exciting, even to June. Slowly, in the near-dark, she moved down the first long hallway. It was a honeycomb, the wetness on everything seeming to cling to its cold walls like nectar. Her arms quilling, she slid her mink back on, fingers clasped over the frog closure. It made her think of Guy and the things he was good for. He wasn’t very smart, or very nice, but he was crazy about her in the way men could be. Resting her hand against the wall, June felt it slide and there was a whole new passageway that, she realized, must be underneath the courtyard, because it had the same arcade of rooms. These rooms had no doors, only beaded curtains. The aura of lush jungle ruins, sweet and rotten. There was something in these rooms June knew and was sorry she knew. She felt suddenly like the rooms were inside of her.

June recognized this shivery platinum star who tinkled through a series of Paramount society pictures, her skin ice-white, satin creaming across her hips, jewels dripping stalactites from her ear lobes, her neck. She was always the Wealthy Wife, the Long-Throated Mistress, the Rich Divorcée on a tear, her voice warbling like a mouth full of cold marbles but her face, glorious.

Robert Taylor leaning over her, eyes lit with passion, mouth craning to reach her stemlike neck. The most beautiful woman the world had ever seen. The sound of the shimmying curtains drawing everyone’s eyes, the actress’s face untufting from the girl’s skirt and turning to face June. And the actress smiled, cooingly. 'Join us,' lulled the movie actress, mouth gleaming, wet. After a long time of walking in circles that seemed to knot tighter and tighter, she stopped and leaned against a wall. Listening to her stertorous breaths, she knew that she had reached some kind of droppingoff point. She had—one foot still hitched on the steps of that Greyhound—she wanted something, thought she’d do anything for that thing. Until now that the thing was here. And it surrounded her. But then she realized something was hiding behind the wall. Like a scurrying rat. The wall itself then moved, like a carapace clicking loose, and out came a young girl, long-limbed and sylphlike. A slipper of a girl in a pale-blue nightgown threaded with ribbon.

With furring braids and eyes winsome as Margaret O’Brien’s. Now, at nightclubs, at parties, coming out of powder rooms at private homes, June was the one who made the introductions, facilitated the transaction, occasionally procured the goods. The girls. “Do you think I could try your coat on sometime?” the girl asked her. They both looked down at June’s smoky gray pelts. June was remembering something. The girl in the story her father used to tell, the girl with no hands. And how a king heard what had happened to her and because she was so beautiful and pure, he fell in love and had silver hands made for her, and took her as his wife. As June watched her, something was happening inside. She was seeing a girl age seventeen, plaited hair and middy blouse, slipping off a bus at Sixth and Los Angeles Street a dozen years ago. June slipped the pearl-gray pelts around the young girl’s shoulders. “I didn’t think you’d really let me,” the girl said. The girl tried to stop under the heavy hanging red bell tree. “You can’t stop here,” June said. And she grabbed the girl’s hand tighter, which was cold as silver.In the courtyard, with all the stone faces turning, all the ivory heads lifted, tusks raised, June pulled the mink over the girl’s head. No longer lost, June guided the girl through the flaming center of the house, which she knew better than her own. Better than anyone. She didn’t let anyone see the girl." -"The Girl" by Megan Abbott, from "L.A. Noire Collection" (2011)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Hollywood's Dangerous Dames, Barbara Payton: "Bad Blonde" (Full Movie)

The Film Forum series includes “Angel Face” (1952), in which Otto Preminger, a rationalistic master of hidden madness, stages a conflict between two feminine tropes, the evil stepmother and the predatory vixen, and a male one, the freelancer with a roving eye. A writer (Herbert Marshall) who was widowed during the London Blitz lives in California with his second wife (Barbara O’Neil), a wealthy woman who clashes with him and his viperish daughter, Diane (Jean Simmons). The sexually swaggering Frank (Robert Mitchum), an ambulance driver whose irrepressible lust is his point of vulnerability, is called to the house, where he falls under Diane’s spell and gets pulled into her plot to kill her stepmother. Preminger, who studied law, builds tragic results from the evenhanded workings of the judicial system. Source:

New York City's Film Forum is taking a comprehensive look at lovely but lethal beauties throughout film history with its series Femmes Noirs: Hollywood's Dangerous Dames. Although the programming includes films from the silent period (Pandora's Box) to the age of modern neo-noir (Body Heat), classic-era films noir dominate. The iconic roles of this series comprise wicked women portrayed by legendary actresses: Barbara Stanwyck's borderline psychotic Phyllis in Double Indemnity; Joan Bennett's singularly manipulative and slatternly Kitty in Scarlet Street; and Mary Astor as congenital liar Brigid O'Shaughnessy in John Huston's adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon. There are also surprising against-type performances by movie stars: Gene Tierney in Leave Her to Heaven, Jean Simmons in Angel Face, Marilyn Monroe in Niagara.

Joan Crawford plays the victim of devious women twice, in Mildred Pierce and Sudden Fear. The B-girls also get their due, with screenings of Gun Crazy and Detour, featuring two of the greatest female performances in noir, Peggy Cummins and Ann Savage respectively. See the Film Forum's website for details on the series, running Friday, July 18 through Thursday, August 7. Source:

As Wade Williams explains in a Filmfax magazine article from July 1988, “Media critics have labeled 'Detour' as everything from cynical, to surreal, to perverse, to absurdist, to paranoid and nihilistic.”
Based on a 1938 Martin Goldsmith novel, 'Detour' is recognized as a salient prototype in the film noir genre, beginning with Neal’s lead character — a downand- out antihero of the first order. As a hard-luck musician named Al Roberts, who, while traveling cross-country, becomes involved in an accidental murder, the actor expertly conveys the ordeal of an ill-fated loser who blindly follows a pre-destined path to an ominous outcome. In addition to the trouble-plagued Roberts character, the film features the most strident and venomous femme fatale in screen history, Vera (played in mordant style by B-movie actress Ann Savage). Detour arguably contains the definitive Tom Neal performance, and remains his best remembered film.

In her first starring role ("Trapped"), Barbara Payton looks gorgeous and performs well as a young woman whose ardent loyalty to her lover is matched only by her unmitigated greed. “Money… there’s just never enough of it,” she purrs in one scene, as she slowly massages Bridges’ shoulders. Not the typical film noir femme fatale, her character seems much more devoted than duplicitous. She is willing to go along with her boyfriend’s unlawful schemes so they can be together, with barely a thought to the possible consequences.

Acclaimed NYC stage director and writer David Drake, the star of one of off-Broadway’s longest-running one-person shows, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, recently saw Trapped for the first time and agrees with the positive reviews that Barbara received at the time of its release: “Without question, Barbara displays a lot of raw, able talent in the film. I found it very telling that her best scene work was with Lloyd Bridges (with whom, I understand, she was rumored to have had an affair). She really knows how to play the act of seduction, not the phony ‘Hollywood’ indicating that so often passed as seduction in Barbara’s era, but the real stuff. It is in the way she caresses Bridges’ hair and shoulders. Very real. Very true. She clearly understood the who, what, where, when and why’s of grasping and accepting and playing a character’s intentions and actions in a script. This was a smart girl with solid acting instincts."

In the years prior to his meeting Barbara, Tom Neal's name was linked to a bevy of Hollywood stars, starlets (and strippers), including Ava Gardner, Joan Crawford, Lana Turner, Lorraine Cugat (the wife of Cuban bandleader Xavier Cugat) and Dixie Dunbar. In the early 1940s he even flirted with American aristocracy for a time when he was engaged to Gay Parkes, a member of the wealthy DuPont family of industrialists.

In a brilliant stroke of reality-based typecasting, the plot of "Bad Blonde" (aka The Flanagan Boy) in 1953 found the real life femme fatale playing her cinematic counterpart — surely the film’s main point of interest today. When, in a guttural tone of voice, she berates her weakwilled boyfriend for initially backing down on their murder plans, Barbara seems to be drawing on a familiar emotional scenario. “Get lost,” she sneers, in a voice dripping with venom.

Barbara’s wonderfully subtle performance in 'Murder Is My Beat,' though unheralded at the time of the film’s release fifty years ago, is well-regarded today by a myriad of film critics. Even though her second-billed part is relatively small, Barbara’s character is the axis on which the plot’s crucial elements revolve and her underplaying of the role, whether intentional or not, proved effective in creating an interesting character whose guilt is questioned throughout much of the film. Authors Alain Silver and Robert Porfirio, two highly respected experts of film noir, applaud the careful nuance and skill in Barbara’s performance and write in Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to The American Style, that “…Payton’s portrayal of Eden in a neutral manner permits the suggestion of instability beneath the surface calm of her character’s visage.” -"Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye - The Barbara Payton Story" (2013) by John O'Dowd

PLAN9CRUNCH: What contemporary star is most like Payton as an actress?

O'DOWD: I’m not sure I can answer that question as I am nearly completely unfamiliar with the work (and even the names) of most contemporary film actresses (especially those in their 20s and 30s). There is a film project on Barbara’s life (titled “Bad Blonde”) that is currently in development in Los Angeles, and I am trusting that the two producers who are shepherding the project (Ira Besserman and Barrett Stuart) know a lot more about today’s actresses than I do, because unfortunately, I know very little. I am not a big fan of the majority of today’s films, as they seem to concentrate more on special effects than on character-driven storylines (which is what I prefer). I am far more interested in, and have more knowledge of, the films and stars of Classic Hollywood. Source:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Joan Crawford: a bewitched creature of extremes

Joan Crawford in her prime was a bewitched creature of extremes. If Crawford’s relentless pursuit of perfection kept her youthful, then it also trapped her inside an impossible time capsule from which there was no escape. All five of Crawford’s marriages were more short-lived than some of her ephemeral film plots. Although Crawford remained on amicable terms with all her former husbands she was also quick to recognize that there was only one great love in her life – her career.

Joan Crawford’s relationship with men in general had always been very complex. Arguably, she craved their affections and attention, yet quickly grew tired of them once the initial flourish of excitement had ended; somehow unable to reconcile her private life within her own career. In truth, Crawford’s career had always been paramount and would remain so until her death. In 1935, Crawford made I Live My Life – a minor melodrama in which she emerged as a truly independent woman of the world. In reality, she was preparing for another marriage – to Franchot Tone on October 11, 1935 – despite the fact that she had recently told a fan magazine that “…if anyone catches me marrying again, I hope they give me a good sock in the mouth!”

Crawford’s marriage to Franchot Tone could not have been more different from her first to Fairbanks Jr. The newlyweds spent quiet secluded evenings at home. Tone introduced Crawford to high culture; art and literature and even encouraged her to expand her range and do radio-plays of imminent stage classics by Ibsen and Shaw. Ironically, with this newly acquired sophistication, a sudden downturn in Crawford’s box office popularity occurred. MGM cast her with Gable once again in Love on the Run (1935) a romantic comedy in which their usual sexual chemistry was strangely absent.

For The Bride Wore Red (1937) – costarring Tone - Crawford adopted an entirely new look that failed to gel with her fans. Tone’s frequent dalliances with starlets (at one point he was accepting calls on Crawford’s dressing room wire while she was being made up in between takes), eventually broke both Crawford’s spirit and the marriage. Each began to rapidly deteriorate.

When Ladies Meet (1941) casts Crawford as a thoughtless authoress, Mary Howard, who begins an affair with her married publisher, believing his lies that the wife (Greer Garson) is a terrible person without ever having met her. Thankfully, Crawford’s own boyfriend (Robert Taylor) decides to intervene, introducing the wife to the mistress before either knows who the other actually is. A friendship ensues and Mary realizes what a little fool she’s been. Playing the ‘other woman’ was not good for one’s career, however, and Crawford could see the writing on the wall. Although she deeply resented Mayer for giving up on her career, Crawford asked to be released from her MGM contract. Unfortunately for Jack Warner, he underestimated Crawford’s own resilience in refusing projects until she was absolutely satisfied with the material being offered. Although the ink of Joan’s contract had dried in 1942, she would not appear in a Warner Bros. movie until nearly three years later.

Crawford’s personal satisfaction eventually settled on Mildred Pierce (1945) a film noir based on James M. Cain’s scathing novel of family incest and marital deceptions. Originally, the project had been offered to Davis, and then Rosalind Russell. Both turned it down. Told of Crawford’s interest in the property, director Michael Curtiz was less than enthusiastic until she agreed to do a screen test. The test won over Curtiz almost immediately and the resulting film became both a critical and financial success, winning Crawford her one and only Best Actress Academy Award.

For the next few years, Crawford continued to dominate with a string of hits – an achievement not lost on Bette Davis, whose own box office and backstage clout continued to slip in proportion to Crawford’s success. Crawford’s next two movies Humoresque (1946) with John Garfield and Possessed (1947), a psychological melodrama costarring Van Heflin, elevated both her stature and her popularity. She was suddenly the grand dame at Warner’s; a note of distinction once exclusively occupied by Davis. Crawford’s next two films were almost as good.

In Flamingo Road (1949) she plays a sideshow performer who refuses to be chased out of town by co-star Sidney Greenstreet’s corrupt city official, and in The Damned Don’t Cry (1950), Crawford ran the gamut of emotion and situations to deliver a high caliber performance as a sales girl masquerading as a socialite. In between Crawford even found time to spoof her own image with a cameo in It’s A Great Feeling (1949) – slapping costars Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan across the cheek. When asked why she had struck them, Crawford shrugs her shoulders and coyly replies, “I do that in all my pictures!”

During Flamingo Road, Crawford had begun a behind-the-scenes affair with married director Vincent Sherman. It was fleeting at best and ended bitterly when Sherman refused to divorce his wife. Crawford could perhaps forgive the snub. But she would never let Sherman forget it. By the time the two collaborated on The Damned Don’t Cry, director and star were at odds. At one point during the shoot, Crawford was admonishing her son Christopher for a minor indiscretion. When Sherman quietly suggested that perhaps there was another time and place for such hysterics, Crawford redirected her anger at Sherman, attempting to trip him as he exited her trailer. In retaliation Sherman turned around and severely struck his star in the face.

Esther Williams has told some interesting tales about what occurred before, during and after the cameras stopped rolling. Crawford had come to Williams’ dressing room to beg for the services of director Charles Walters who was finishing up Easy To Love (1953) for Williams; then shooting on another part of the MGM back lot. Crawford made it known that she intended to pursue Walters romantically. “But Joan, he’s gay,” Williams reported told Crawford. “Oh, hell what does it matter?” Crawford is rumored to have replied with a sly wink. Another story told by Williams has Joan standing alone on a soundstage after cast and crew had gone home for the day, screaming, “Why have you left me? What have I done?” presumably to the imaginary audience that had stopped going to see her pictures.

Robert Aldrich had his hands full on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). “Joan never hated Bette as far as I could tell,” long-time friend Betty Barker once said, “The animosity was all the other way.” Indeed, Bette Davis repeatedly challenged Crawford and Aldrich throughout the shoot, trying the director’s patience. “It was odd to see how intimidated Crawford would get,” costar Victor Buono once commented, “They would rehearse a scene together and Bette would look at Joan from under her eyelid and say something like ‘Is that the way you’re going to play it?’ and Joan would say ‘yes’ and Bette would just shrug her shoulders. I could see Joan losing her nerve. It was belittlement – subtle. But it worked.”

Davis did, in fact, have the more plum role in the movie and she relished its theatricality. After Davis ‘accidentally’ kicked Crawford in the head during their confrontation scene Crawford was taken away to get stitches, sobbing and heard saying “I just don’t know why she hates me so much.” In another scene, where Davis binds Crawford to a hook to keep her from leaving her bedroom, Crawford declared that the rope around her wrists was too tight, to which Davis simply replied “It has to look real” before applying a tape patch to Crawford’s mouth to stifle any further objections while Davis and Aldrich discussed the scene.

While it is true that Crawford adored her fans, she was also not reserved in her condemnation of all that Hollywood had become by the early 1960s, telling guests during a televised interview with Dick Cavett in 1968 that the industry had changed for the worst. “Today they are little cliques full of little people and you may have it!”

Crawford once told a reporter, “When I hear people say, ‘There’s Joan Crawford’ I turn around and say, ‘Hi! How are you?’” Indeed, the public always came first in Crawford’s estimation. Perhaps, it is one of Hollywood’s small ironies that a similar code of career ethics belonged to Crawford’s arch rival - Bette Davis. In retrospect, both Crawford and Davis seem to have run parallel courses, converging as a train wreck on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Both Crawford and Davis were prone to extremes and personal obsessions. Each was driven to excel at their respective alma maters and both ended up with unrepentant children who wrote unflattering alternate truths to their lives from the skewed perspective of a parent’s shadow.

The undoubted reality is that Joan Crawford ought never to have considered becoming a mother. She was, after all, a driven creature of varying ambitions; all energies converged on attaining and maintaining her peerless screen image. Yet, despite Mommie Dearest, Joan Crawford’s star is much more pervasive and everlasting today. “There’s that ‘you’re only as old as you feel business’”, Joan once suggested, “…which is fine to a point. But you can’t be Shirley Temple on the good ship lollipop forever! Sooner or later, damn it, you’re old!” Yet, Crawford never quite took her own advice.

In the 1960s and 70s she readily appeared to be tempting the specter of youth with flashes of flirtation as she waxed affectionately about the good ol’ days in Hollywood while on the talk show circuit, all the while unconscious of the fact that her own youth had passed. Her stardom was by then practically a relic from that bygone age. -Nic Zegarac for "The Hollywood Art: Joan Crawford" (2013)