She was born in the family of laundresses, but became a star of American cinema. The clapperboard girl who created the new “jazz” image of a young American woman in the 20s and won the screen in the 30s. One of the most beautiful, sexy and loving actresses of classic Hollywood.
1. Difficult childhood
Lucille Fei Lesur, this is the real name of the actress, was born in 1908 in a family of laborers. Parents broke up before she was born, and for a long time Lucille considered her real father a stepfather — the impresario Henry J. Cassin, whom her mother had married shortly after her first husband left her.
Cassin ran a small opera house in Lawton, Oklahoma. It was there that Lucille first became involved in pop art. She enjoyed watching how vaudeville actors rehearse and perform, and she dreamed of being in their place.
Stepfather encouraged Lucille’s interest in art, but he played an ambiguous role in her life. According to some evidence, Cassin got too close to his stepdaughter, and when she was 11 years old, he sexually abused her. However, to establish the authenticity of this information is problematic. There are many publications that Crawford slept with her stepfather as a child, but the actress never spoke directly about it. One of the authors of the biography of the star Lawrence Quirk argues that Crawford has never concealed “abuse from his stepfather, and this is actually mentioned in almost every book about her.”
And yet these books are based on indirect data and interviews of people close to the actress, Crawford never put forward direct accusations. Moreover, apparently, she herself was not aware of the sexual relationship with her stepfather (if we assume that they were) as something wrong. This interpretation is offered by Jessica Lang-produced the series “Enmity,” which raises this question. In it, Joan seems to be proud of his alleged connection with his stepfather and protects him as a person who has shown what “true love” is.
But even if you omit the episode with possible sexual violence, it is difficult to call the childhood of a Hollywood star prosperous. After several years of living in Lawton, Henry Cassin was accused of embezzlement, and the family again had to move. Shortly thereafter, mother Lucille divorced him, and she was sent to the Catholic school of St. Agnes, where the girl had to work out the costs of training.
Mom was not able to pay for school – earned in the laundry was barely enough for food. With such a workload, there was almost no time left for Lucille to study. Under the same conditions, she studied at the Rockingham Academy, and without really finishing school, under the protection of a classroom tutor, she entered the college. However, a few months later I realized that I was not ready to study.
Leaving college, Lucille decided to fulfill her dream of becoming a professional dancer. She won in one of the amateur pop dance competitions and began performing in traveling revues. She danced in the clubs of Chicago, New York, Detroit and other cities of America. Soon, it was noticed by producer Jacob Schubert and offered a role in his Broadway production of Innocent Eyes.
Through this work, Crawford met with producer Niels Granlund, who organized screen tests for her and sent them to Hollywood. After some time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio sent an offer: $ 75 a week. Crawford agreed without hesitation and went to conquer the factory of dreams.
She started the way to the cinema from the bottom, first appearing on the screen in the film “Lady of the Night” as the understudy of Norma Shearer. Then there were a few more episodic roles (for example, in the films “The Merry Widow”, “The Big Parade” and others), however, Crawford was not even listed in the credits as their performer. One of the first pictures where Crawford appeared under her own name (then real – Lucille Lesure) became “Beauties” with Seyza Pitts in the lead role.
3. Hollywood Star
By the end of the first year in Hollywood, MGM studio management acknowledged that a novice actress could have become a star. However, to begin with, she should have found a more sonorous name. Readers of one of the weeklies about movies have even been connected to this process. With their help, the pseudonym “Joan Arden” was first chosen, but it turned out that another actress was already claiming him. Then they stopped at “Joan Crawford”. Under this name, the actress appeared in the films “The Only Thing” and “Sally, Irene and Mary”, where she played her first notable roles, not yet the main ones, but already of the second plan.
In 1926, she starred in several films, the most notable of which was “Tramp, Tramp, Tramp”, where she played in a pair with Harry Langdon. And yet Joan did not like how slowly her career was moving. She wanted the main roles, she wanted to be a star.
Seeing that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer was not ready to really invest in it, Crawford began to act independently. In her free time, she regularly participated in dance competitions in Charleston and Black Bottom, which were held in Hollywood hotels nearby. She often won, which attracted additional public attention. The studio management finally appreciated the potential of Crawford and began to offer more significant roles to it.
Later, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer screenwriter Frederic Sagor Meuse recalled: “No one made Joan Crawford a star. Joan Crawford became a star because Joan Crawford decided to become a star. ”
Already in 1926, Crawford was among the most promising novice actresses. But real success came a couple of years later, when Joan played a major role in the film Our Dancing Daughters. The success of the picture opened for Crawford the way to the top of Hollywood. By 1929 she was already on equal terms with such stars as Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Norma Shearer. Crawford successfully moved to sound film (she played the first role in sound in the film “Touchy” in 1929) and in the 30s strengthened her position, becoming one of the most popular actresses in the world.
Having achieved success in the late 1920s, Joan Crawford became one of the most expressive symbols of the culture of flappers or crackers – young emancipated girls who appeared in America during the jazz era. She embodied on the screen (first of all, the picture became “Our Dancing Daughters”) an image of a modern young American – bright and independent, independent and free, dancing and elegant.
Francis Scott Fitzgerald rightly called Joan Crawford “the best example of a flapper — the girl you can see in an elegant nightclub. She is dressed highly sophisticated, stands at a distance and rotates a glass of ice in her hands, with a slightly bitter expression. She dances delightfully, constantly laughing with her wide-open, pain-filled eyes. Young thing with a talent to live. “