IT WILL probably take another 20 years of our being exposed to Joan Crawford's film career (much of it very good!) before the trauma inflicted on her reputation by the book Mommie Dearest fades a bit.
Mommie was Christina Crawford's vengeful recounting of Joan's less-than-stellar parenting skills as an adoptive mother of four. Christina, and her equally critical brother, Christopher, ran away, misbehaved, acted out and ended up cut out of Crawford's will, "for reasons best known to them," as the star put it.
But there were two other children, Cathy and Cindy. Both girls repudiated Christina's tales of wire coat hangers and other abuse when Mommie was first published. Now, Cathy has gone on record, in Charlotte Chandler's new book about Joan, titled Not the Girl Next Door. An excerpt of which appears in the annual Hollywood issue of Vanity Fair for March.
Miss Chandler and Cathy (Cindy is now dead) make a good case for Christina and Christopher, the older children, being willful and unremittingly resistant to Joan's strict - but not violent, her friends aver - brand of discipline. Crawford pulled herself up out of poverty and became a self-created star. Her life and 50-year career was a phenomenal act of will. She never had anything handed to her, and when she did, she repaid that kindness. (Crawford never ever forgot a favor or welched on a promise.) She perhaps expected too much, of herself and others. But she felt "her way" was correct and would build character. It had certainly built hers, she insisted. Underneath the lacquered mask - the terrifying eyebrows, the over-dominant mouth - she was terribly insecure. But she believed that hard work earned you your life, and even if her adopted children were privileged - thanks to her - they could not take it for granted. (The worst things Cathy can recall are being sent to bed without supper - because she wouldn't eat what was prepared - or was forced to stand in a corner.)
I had my own experience with Crawford and several of her children many years ago. It was Christmas, and it was surreal, with the children marched out like reluctant little martinets. They were all dressed up and did not look the way children on Christmas morning are supposed to look! Years later, when Christina's book came out, I thought back to this. I was inclined to believe Joan was misguided in her attempts to "mold" her children - and was vain and self-absorbed like most great stars - but the stories of beatings and near-madness were over the top.
Charlotte Chandler has probably come too late to rescue Miss Crawford here on earth. But somewhere, the great star of The Women, Mildred Pierce and Humoresque, is looking down and saying, "Bless you, dear."
Oh, that little expression of Joan's used to drive Bette Davis absolutely crazy!
Madonna still moves
Today, Madonna presides over "A Night to Benefit Malawi and UNICEF" at the United Nations. This event is dear to her heart - her adopted baby boy, David, was an impoverished resident of Malawi. The fete happens on the North Lawn of the United Nations. Gucci is sponsoring. The program includes a live auction, hosted by Chris Rock, and performances by Alicia Keys, Timbaland, Nelly Furtado and Rihanna.
Madonna has just wrapped filming her video with Justin Timberlake, "4 Minutes to Save the World." This will be the first single off Madonna's next (and last) studio album for Warner Records. Mrs. Guy Ritchie and young Mr. Timberlake are said to have raised the roof and scorched the earth with their mutual writhings.