WEIRDLAND: Joan Crawford: Glamour & Outsiderism

Friday, August 22, 2014

Joan Crawford: Glamour & Outsiderism

During the first year after her 1925 arrival at MGM, Joan Crawford's career was workmanlike but not spectacular. However, her special treatment continued. She was given a starring role in the film Sally, Irene, and Mary and small roles in a dozen others. But even with a light resume, publicity man Smith arranged for her to be named one of 1926s Wampas Baby Stars, the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers' list of the dozen most promising newcomers. Among the others were Mary Astor and Fay Wray.

MGM's cautious stance on "talkies" continued into early 1928. During that time MGM turned out some of its finest movies, such as Garbo's Woman of Affairs, Crawford's Our Dancing Daughters, and Lon Chaney horror films like London after Midnight. In 1926 Crawford also caught Paul Bern's eye. Like Barbara LaMarr before her, Crawford became a target of what John Gilbert called Bern's "Mary Magdalene complex; he does things for whores."

Paul Bern sent Crawford gifts like a $10,000 ermine coat and made sure Thalberg became aware of her. He got her bigger films in 1926 and 1927 and more money, raises from $75 to $500 a week. MGM people knew Crawford was sleeping with Bern. In late 1926 Mayer ordered an $18,000 loan for Crawford to purchase a house at 513 Roxbury Drive. Owning their stars' homes gave MGM even more leverage in disagreements, but it was unusual for the studio to do it for a young actress at such an early point in her career.

Joan Crawford momentarily grabbed everyone's attention when she surprisingly married Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. During the previous year she had risen from small roles to marquee status, and as stardom grew so did stories of Crawford and sex. There were rumors the studio "encouraged" the Fairbanks union. Her image needed scrubbing; she had been named in two divorce suits for alienation of affection.

Fans thought the June 3, 1929, marriage made her part of Hollywood's royal family, but Fairbanks was on the outs with parents Doug and Mary. At the time an old rumor raged through Hollywood that Crawford had starred in a pornographic movie made in New York when she was called Billie Cassin. Harry Rapf heard the story soon after he met her and it had enough credence that he engaged MGM's local offices to search for copies. Eddie Mannix took charge of the project, and according to Maurice Rapf, son of Harry, the studio later had to buy the negative. Fairbanks told friends that during his Paris honeymoon he tried to find a copy. The Fairbanks story ran in Confidential magazine, an early tabloid.

When Crawford eventually left MGM in 1943 she paid the studio $50,000, which was extremely unusual. She was obviously paying back something. The only real evidence that the film did not exist is that a copy never turned up publicly. Her sexual antics were a problem for Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling during her entire career. She had lovers of both sexes and slept with virtually all of her costars and had a long affair with Tallulah Bankhead that began in New York and lasted into the late 1930s, through marriages to Fairbanks and Franchot Tone. In an interesting coincidence, Bankhead also had affairs with Fairbanks and Tone. When Tallulah met Joan Crawford and Doug Fairbanks Jr. Tallulah said to Joan, "Darling you're divine. I've had an affair with your husband and you're going to be next."

Mayer never liked Bankhead. When he called her into his office in 1932 to fire her, she told him she was "done with MGM. I slept with your six biggest stars." She told a mortified Mayer that Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck were among the half dozen. During a dinner party later in her career Crawford told Mayer that Bankhead was telling the truth. Joan’s bisexuality was also confirmed by Adela Rogers St. Johns, Ruth Waterbury, Hedda Hopper, and others. -"The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine" (2004) by E.J. Fleming

Joan Crawford reminded Larry J. Quirk (author of Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography) that she played heterosexual characters with which the general public could more easily identify. Quirk pointed out that while the characters she played may have been heterosexual, they were often outsiders from the wrong side of the tracks. “They were looked down upon by girls from the middle class, girls who laughed at the cheap clothing and perfume” —as Joan had herself been laughed at by the girls of her youth.

“Outsiderism takes many forms, but it does help create a kind of identification. That’s what gays are identifying with, in many of your movies. Being out of the mainstream but fighting for happiness in spite of it.” Despite her friendship with William Haines and his long-time partner, Joan wondered if gays were generally as romantic as all that. “Think of all the kids,” Quirk told Joan, “who come to big towns like New York to get away from small-town prejudices and meanness. They get off at Grand Central or the Port Authority Bus Terminal. They are raw, fearful, roughly defensive, just like the vulnerable girls in your earlier movies. They weather the comeons of predatory older men, they bond in mutually supportive friendships with others like them —just as your girls did—

they meet Mr. Right, they love him and lose him, and so on.” Joan agreed that many of her films had a gay-identification element to them, but more importantly, Quirk noted, they reflected the universal verities of the human condition. -"Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography" (2002) by Lawrence J. Quirk and William Schoell

Paid (1930) directed by Sam Wood, starring  Joan Crawford and Robert Armstrong. The role of Mary Turner was initially given to Norma Shearer, however when she found out she was pregnant, her husband, Irving Thalberg wouldn't allow her to do another film until after the baby was born. It was Norma Shearer's 'delicate condition' that opened the door for Joan.

Joan Crawford and Walter Huston give powerful performances in this drama "Rain" (1932) directed by Lewis Milestone. Controversial for its time, the film tells the story of prostitute Sadie Thompson and the lustful preacher who tries to 'save her' when their ship makes an unscheduled stop over on the South Sea island of Pago Pago.

Joan Crawford "Always The Star" 1996 Documentary uploaded by The Concluding Chapter of Crawford

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