Joan Crawford: The Truth and Controversial Life

Joan Crawford, or Billie Cassin as she was briefly named after her mom remarried, was the kind of star that’s born only once in centuries. She loved dancing right from her childhood and that’s how she began her career. She is ranked as the 10th greatest female celebrities from Classic Hollywood Cinema. She saw the ups and downs in her career that every celebrity does not get to see. The lowest of her career was when she was named “box office poison” because nearly all the films she appeared in flopped. But Joan proved them all wrong in the early 1940s.

Joan Crawford celebrity homes
Joan Crawford in 1936

Joan Crawford’s Biography

Her birth name was Lucille Fay LeSueur. She was born on March 23, 1904. There is a dispute as to the year of her birth, but only a year or so. Her father’s name was Thomas, and her mother was Anna Bell. Trouble began early when Joan’s father left the family before she was even born. Her birth father never returned and Joan was raised by her mom and her stepfather. Joan Crawford’s first movie role was in Our Dancing Daughters in 1928.

joan crawford celebrity home
Joan Crawford in 1928 during her first film role in “Our Dancing Daughters”

No More Ladies, Sadie McKee, Love on the Run, Grand Hotel etc. were some of her biggest hits and were made in the 1930s. By the end of the 30s she wasn’t getting good roles, but she rose to the top again as soon as the next decade started. It was in 1945 in Mildred Pierce that she received her Oscar Award. While she was nominated on several occasions for best actress, this was her first and only Academy Award award. Joan Crawford’s last film was Trog, and it was an unfortunate way to end her career. She began drinking heavily which snowballed the demise of her health. Her addiction caused serious damage to her internal organs. Crawford died in 1977 from a heart attack when she was 73 years old. She was battling cancer at the time of her death. 

Joan Crawford's last film role in Trog
Joan Crawford in “Trog” – her last role.

Joan’s Traumatic Childhood

Joan’s childhood was a traumatic one. Her biological father was gone before she was born and it wasn;t until years later she found out Henry J. Cassin was not her biological father. Hal, Joan’s brother, at one point told her the truth. Joan had a sister called Daisy LeSueur who had already passed away before Joan came into the world. Continuing the trauma, Joan’s stepfather, Cassin, abused her sexually and continued to do so until Joan joined a Catholic School.

 

Joan Crawford as a child
Joan Crawford around 1915

Strained Relationship with her Children

Joan Crawford’s life was a battle against the world, and her personal issues. She wasn’t able to have children, but she adopted 5 children. Later, she proved to be a troubled mother and struggled to keep her children happy. These are the name of her children, and the year she adopted them:

  • Christina, 1940
  • Christopher, 1942
  • Christopher, 1943
  • Catherine, 1947
  • Cynthia, 1947

Joan Crawford and her children

Her son Christopher, who she adopted in 1942, was taken back by his mother not very long after the adoption. Catherine and Cynthia were twin sisters. Not much is known about the children after Crawford’s death but Christina stayed known to the world due to her memoir, Mommie Dearest. The memoir was quite controversial as Christina painted a very negative image of her mother. While she claims in her memoir that Crawford was a controlling mother with no care for her kids and all her attention on fame, Catherine and Cynthia have completely disagreed with these claims. There could be some credibility to the claims though. Crawford specifically disinherited Catherine and Christopher and all of her earnings and assets were given to charity. 

Joan Crawford and her children
Joan with her children – Christopher and Christina standing, the twins Cathy and Cindy sitting.

Married Life

As you read more and more about Joan Crawford you realize that her family life was not very pleasant. She married 4 times and unfortunately, none of her marriages were successful. Her last husband was Alfred Steele, the then chairman of Pepsi-Cola, but this marriage did not survive for more than 4 years. Not due to anything Joan did – Alfred died unexpectedly leaving Joan to resort back to film. 

Joan Crawford and Alfred Steele
Joan and her 4th husband, Alfred Steele, in 1955

Crawford and MGM Reunite

One of the most notable times in Joan Crawford’s life was when she performed a leading role in an MGM movie after 10 years of separation from the studio. The movie was Torch Song and it was a romantic musical drama. It required a lot of singing, so India Adams dubbed the voice for Crawford’s songs – she wasn’t known for her voice. One of the most memorable songs from the film is Blackface. Although Joan recorded all the music as well, it was decided that India’s was more talented. 

Joan in a press photo for "Torch Song"
Joan in a press photo for “Torch Song”

Joan Crawford’s Net Worth

Just before her death in 1977, the net worth of this legendary star was $8 million. That may seem like a small amount, but $8 million in 1977 is equivalent to $33 million today. She was among the highest paid female actresses of Hollywood. While she had completely disinherited Christopher and Christina, after a lawsuit, they were able to get $55,000 from her estate.

Are Joan and Cindy Crawford Related?

Joan Crawford did adopt twin sisters one of whom was Cynthia Crawford. Cynthia was also called Cindy and this often creates confusion for people that Cindy Crawford is Joan Crawford’s daughter. This is not true. Cindy Crawford is not related to Joan Crawford in any way.

Mommie Dearest House

If you search for Joan Crawford houses, the first thing that will pop up is the Mommie Dearest house, a house that was used in the movie Mommie Dearest in several shots. In mid-2016 the home was listed on the market for $35 million. It’s a huge 6,077 square foot house with 6 bathrooms and 5 bedrooms. It’s got a lush green lawn, a beautiful swimming pool and luxuriously spacious rooms in it. Even if you can’t visit the house personally, watch Mommie Dearest for a quick peek!

Mommie Dearest Joan Crawford House

Mommie Dearest Joan Crawford House

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3 thoughts on “Joan Crawford: The Truth and Controversial Life

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