After a short time at Stephens College, Crawford left to pursue a dancing career, a pastime to which she’d dedicated herself. She eventually danced in the Broadway show ‘Innocent Eyes’, and in 1925 started to work onscreen for MGM. She starred in a number of silent films during this period and was given the name “Joan Crawford” from a magazine contest sponsored by the studio. The actress hit it big with the smash ‘Our Dancing Daughters’ (1928), in which she played a rich, lovelorn girl who moves to Charleston.
A prolific and long-lasting film career was to follow, with Crawford ultimately going on to star in more than five dozen films. She took on talking roles with projects like ‘Hollywood Revue’ (1929) and ‘Grand Hotel’ (1932), and her dancing skills were prominently displayed with Fred Astaire in the 1933 hit ‘Dancing Lady’. Clark Gable was also featured, and was a recurring co-star in works like ‘Possessed’ (1931) and ‘Strange Cargo’ (1940).
Though garnering a series of notable roles, by the late 50s, Crawford’s career had grown quiet, only to be revitalized yet again with the 1962 horror classic ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’, co-starring with Bette Davis. Crawford subsequently starred in several other thrillers and did television work. She also penned the 1971 memoir ‘My Way of Life’.
Joan Crawford died of a heart attack on May 10 1977, in New York City, leaving a multifaceted film legacy that would inspire analysis for years to come.
Crawford was married four times, with three marriages to actors, one of whom was Douglas Fairbanks Jr. In 1956, she wed Alfred Steele, chairman of Pepsi-Cola. After his death in 1959, Crawford joined Pepsi’s board of directors, becoming the first woman to do so, and went on to work as a spokesperson on behalf of the company.
Crawford adopted four children, one of whom, Christina, wrote the 1978 memoir ‘Mommie Dearest’, in which she writes of enduring highly erratic and abusive behavior from her mother during childhood. The book was adapted into a 1981 film starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford.