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Not The Girl Next Door, Joan Crawford: A Personal Biography
Written by Charlotte Chandler   

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Review by James Colt Harrison  

Nice, juicy biographies about classic movie stars are always anticipated best sellers. Author Charlotte Chandler has written Not The Girl Next Door, Joan Crawford: A Personal Biography and titillates our sense of voyeurism. Chandler has taken a little different view and mostly shows the good side of the much-maligned Crawford. When Crawford's daughter Christina Crawford wrote the devastating Mommie, Dearest years ago, the monstrous portrait she painted of her mother was taken as truth and ruined the star's image to this day. Many of Crawford's close friends were horrified by that book and are interviewed in the new release to straighten out the public's image of the MGM icon.

When Faye Dunaway played Crawford in the movie version of Dearest, she became a camp classic when she was screaming "No wire hangers!" and allegedly beating her daughter over the head with them. Yet, in the new biography, many of Crawford's friends insist she never had any wire hangers and only treated her and her children's clothes with care on padded hangers. One myth destroyed.

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Charlotte Chandler
Author Chandler, who also wrote a revealing book about Crawford's rival Bette Davis (The Girl Who Walked Home Alone), goes rather easily on Miss Crawford and shows the kind, generous and caring side of the mega-star. She balances all the nasty rumors about the star by countering with examples of her love affair with her fans. Never one to miss writing a thank you note or signing an autographed photo, she became a beloved figure to her millions of fans. Always a star, she would never leave her house without being dressed and glamorous as she knew her fans would like to see her.

 

The book does not dwell on one of MGM's long-time stars' personal life, but rather emphasizes her screen roles. Great details given for each of her films and the casts and plot lines are described for the rabid Crawford aficionado. This has apparently not been done in other Crawford biographies and lends a helping hand to the history buff. Chandler reveals extensive interviews with Crawford herself. Crawford's own words reveal the real woman underneath the movie star image.

Just how did the little dancing lady become the epitome of Hollywood glamour? She was born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio in 1908. As a little girl she loved dancing and later wanted to grow up to become a professional. She was good at it and finally made her way to Hollywood as a pretty young lady after she was discovered by MGM executive Harry Rapf in late 1924.

Along came the bouncy young Crawford to balance the "lady-like" image of Norma Shearer, Queen of the MGM studio. Crawford had been schlepping around the studio making silent movies. She went from being a flapper in Our Dancing Daughters (1928) to perfecting the role of a common shopkeeper, waitress, or various other working girls.   Even though she played a ribbon clerk at the five and dime, she was always outfitted in smart little frocks that could be found in Bonwit Teller or Bergdorf Goodman, all on a salary of $25 a week.

MGM believed in glamour, not reality. Whether she played a secretary or a struggling seamstress, Crawford clawed her way to the top, frequently through a pile of satin bedsheets. Coiffed by MGM hair stylist Sydney Guilleroff, she never had a hair out of place.

Crawford loved men, too, and knocked her four husbands over with her massive football-padded shoulders. In the 40s, Crawford became famous for her ankle strap, open-toed pumps. One of her husbands was actor Franchot Tone, who was from an aristocratic family. He was famous for having one of the largest endowments (not the one from the trust fund) in Hollywood. He liked playing polo and one day he strayed from the field and pole-vaulted over to Bette Davis' house. This caused Crawford to hate Davis. Crawford deflated Franchot's massive charms by dumping him.

joancrawford-mpierce.jpgAfter being at MGM in Culver City for about 18 years, Crawford asked to be let out of her contract. Rumor has always been that mogul Louis B. Mayer wanted to get rid of her, but that is the opposite of the truth. He begged her to stay, but Crawford wanted to try her wings elsewhere. She signed with Jack Warner at Warner Bros. in Burbank and moved to Bette Davis' turf. Davis had been Queen of Warner Bros. for years. It is said Davis turned down the part in Mildred Pierce and gave the leftovers to Crawford. Not a good move on Davis' part, because Crawford won the Best Actress Oscar for it in 1945. The two independent actresses teamed later in 1962 in the smash hit Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

Many of Crawford's directors are interviewed in the book and other people on the set who had worked with her for years. They all had nice things to say. That is not to imply the book is saccharine and gooey; it is not. It is another side of the star that needed to be told to erase many previous and erroneous impressions.

DATA ABOUT THE BOOK

€’ Not The Girl Next Door, Joan Crawford: A Personal Biography

€’ Simon & Schuster

€’ ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-4751-8,

€’ Hardcover (available in softcover)

€’ 316 pages

€’ $26.00

PHOTO:

  • 1. Cover Art: Jacket design by Michael Accordino
  • 2.  Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce - credit: Warner Bros. Pictures
  • 3. Author photo by Charles William Bush
 



                       

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