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Some of Joan Crawford’s friends disputed the version of events presented in Mommie Dearest. Among them Van Johnson, Cesar Romero, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Guilaroff, Ann Blyth, Gary Gray, and in particular Myrna Loy, Joan’s friend since 1925, became staunch defenders. While acknowledging that Joan Crawford was highly ambitious and an alcoholic for much of her life, critics have suggested that Christina embellished her story. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Crawford’s first husband, described the book by stating, “The Joan Crawford that I’ve heard about in Mommie Dearest is not the Joan Crawford I knew back then.” The two younger Crawford children, Cindy and Cathy, born 1947, have stated categorically many times that they did not witness or experience any events as described in the book. However, their brother Christopher always staunchly defended Christina’s claims, and said “I never for one moment believed our mother loved any of us. It was all about publicity for her.”

Liz Smith said, “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.” [1] Crawford’s secretary for nearly fifty years, Betty Barker, also stated that, while Joan was strict, Christina and Christopher were never abused.[2]

However, Joan’s friends Helen Hayes,[3] James MacArthur,[4]June Allyson,[5] Rex Reed,[4] and Betty Hutton[6] have verified some of the stories in Christina’s book and claimed they also witnessed some of the abuse firsthand. Hutton had previously lived near Crawford’s Brentwood, California, home and has stated that she saw the children during or after various moments of abuse.[6] Hutton stated she would often encourage her own children to play with Christina and Christopher to draw them away from their challenges at home.[6] Crawford’s Mildred Pierce co-star, actress Eve Arden, sided with Christina about Crawford’s parenting abilities, saying that Crawford suffered from bipolar disorder; a good woman in many ways but, as an alcoholic with a violent temper, simply unfit to be a mother. In the book Understanding the Borderline Mother, author Christine Ann Lawson suggests that Joan Crawford may have had Borderline personality disorder (BPD),[7] along with an obsessive compulsion with cleanliness.

via Mommie Dearest – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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  1. May 9, 2013

    My mother bought the book, so of course I read it. I’ve been afraid of using wire hangers ever since. hah

    • Anonymous
      May 9, 2013
  2. May 9, 2013

    I buy the whole thing, hook, line and sinker. What Christina describes is textbook and could not have been conjured in someone’s head. I have known many with the same personality disorder. Coupled with her OCD and insatiable need for winning and approval, Joan Crawford is like the perfect storm of bad parenting. I think she was likely incapable of real love. You can almost see the “madness” in her face.
    You can be sure that the private Joan never showed her monster self to her friends and public. When people step forward in defense it means very little – only that they were duped.

    • May 9, 2013

      I’ve heard recordings of Joan drunk and talking to a confidante – and it’s chilling. Also, some comments by Barbara Stanwyck that were off the record that laid it out in pretty damning terms. “Joan Crawford” was the performance of her life.

  3. May 9, 2013

    **My father definitely has BPD. He and Joan Crawford have much in common with regard to their parenting styles.

    • May 9, 2013

      Oh lord, and there you are – and your soul shines through. I’m sorry about your father. I hope your psychological training has given you compassionate distance from his disorder. Much love, V

      • May 9, 2013

        Thanks, Vickie. It’s definitely a multi-generational issue, at least pieces of it are. Those cycles can be ended with children who are willing to step forward and reveal the truth. Never an easy task…
        As with most mental illness, it’s never about blame, but about understanding and compassion. 🙂

      • May 9, 2013

        Probably one of the most courageous and important things a person/child can do… Thank you.

  4. May 9, 2013

    The tragedy of real life for some people is that it doesn’t come with a rehearsal period, however many takes and a “cut” and edit to put it all in the can.

    • May 9, 2013

      Well said – I never thought of it that way, but we’re all doing improv…

  5. May 9, 2013

    Thank you for this, Vickie and for opening up the comments that followed…Perspective is so subjective. In cases of mental illness where the person is of obvious intelligence as Joan was…the lines can be so easily blurred one way or the other…

  6. George Kaplan
    May 9, 2013

    Fascinating comments from you all, perspicacious ladies. I do feel sorry for her children, and I have some sympathy for her in being that way (*up to a point*). Interesting that Clark Gable was crazy about her when they were young (and, he at least, married to older women who’d been helpful to his career).
    It is kind of gratifying that I *was* correct in my suspicions about the off-screen Ms Lesueur… The Shadow Knows… Ahem. Didn’t she originally dislike the “Joan Crawford” name because she thought it sounded like “Joan Crawfish”? God knows what she thought her given surname sounded like…

  7. May 9, 2013

    Dearest V
    How very sad. Ultimately for all concerned.
    Pain is an unforgiving thing, both desperately particular and utterly commonplace all at once.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy

    • May 10, 2013

      As Ms. Lisa mentioned this pain was inter-generational – Joan/Lucille learned these behaviors from her own family. Very sad, indeed.

  8. May 9, 2013

    I had no idea that she may have been or rather had a BPD diagnosis.Quite fascinating at one level and disturbing at another.Sadly a disproportionate number of women of women as opposed to men are classified this way.Its quite an old term first appearing in the thirties,although the understanding of it has evolved.

    For a long time it was also regarded as treatment resistant,although today a few approaches have been developed to work with this disorder.One I am familiar with one,developed from CBT{cognitive behavioural therapy} known as DBT{dialectical behavioural therapy}.

    As these were not available during Joan Crawfords day I think it likely that had she recognised her situation and sought psychological help it might have been limited.

    I am at the disadvantage of not having read the book.Does anyone know whether she ever recieved any treatment?Related question that someone may be able to help me with is this-Its not at all uncommon for BPDs to be self harmers,does anyone know whether Joan Crawford as a matter of history was.

    Please excuse my questions here as I know rather a lot about the condition and absolutely nothing about Joan Crawford.Perhaps one of the well informed people here can fill me in a little.

  9. May 9, 2013

    Hmmmm just noticed a typo.Oh well hope my meaning shines through.Yes I too would feel sorry, very sorry for the children.BPD can effect every level of a persons life,although like most other problems it can fortunately for some, vary in its intensity

  10. May 9, 2013

    Reading again the above information I also note that Joan Crawford may have been Bi-Polar.Diagnosis is often very tricky and it not unknown for BPDs to first have a diagnosis of Bi-Polar have that changed to BPD as understanding evolves or even recieve both diagnoses.

    • May 10, 2013

      Good morning, Edward –
      I did a bit of research and I think Miss Crawford went undiagnosed by the medical profession. Among her friends she was talked about (off the record) as being mean as snake at times, a liar, and an alcoholic. Perhaps at the time people weren’t as cognizant of mental health issues? What is the difference between Bi-Polar and Borderline Personality Disorder?

  11. May 10, 2013

    Vickie,thanks for your reply.I have had a very long shift at the hospital and am really tired.Just as soon as I recover and have slept I will formulate a reply giving some of the present understanding of the two conditions.

  12. May 13, 2013

    Whether it is fact of fiction “Mommie Dearest” makes for an interesting story. I don’t think any of us will ever know the truth of what happened in that house.

    • May 13, 2013

      Sorry, WordPress was playing tricks with your comments this morning! Yes, Jenna – I have often thought the same, and considering I also am one of four children I realize we each have our own version of our parents – to make things even more complicated 😉 Thank god our parents never rose to the *dramatic heights* of Miss Joan.

  13. June 18, 2014

    I suspect she was all these things and yes, we certainly do have different memories. Thanks so much for following First Night Design! You might also be interested in my theatre/film blog, Rogues & Vagabonds:

    • June 18, 2014

      Interested? You bet I am! How fascinating…

      • June 18, 2014

        I’m on Amazon UK right now sending a friend in New Zealand a copy of my novel… May I send you a note to the email address associated with your comments? If you would give me your address I can send you a copy too. I think of them as my ambassador copies flying out into the world 😉 .

      • June 18, 2014

        My email will probably get to you before this 😉 !

  14. markus
    July 15, 2014

    Very interesting reading…but it does present a new question.
    For so long it’s been acceptable to simply dismiss Joan Crawford as a one-dimensional monster. The comment that “A Gripping Life” posted here highlights that- apparently not only was she incapable of loving anyone, but you could SEE the madness in her face!

    First of all, I dismiss that “incapable of loving anyone” as garbage. If Joan did have BPD, in all the research I’ve done of symptoms and characteristics, i do not recall ever reading that someone suffering from this illness is “incapable of loving” people. Yes, the illness may render their ability to maintain meaningful or stable relationships incredibly difficult (near impossible), but that doesn’t mean the person cannot “love”. As for “seeing the madness in her face”, really? I’ve never seen a pic of Joan Crawford actually looking “crazy”, with the exception of in-character film stills. I’m sure we all have taken a candid photo where we look “mad”. So, that to me is just plain silly.

    Finally we have a paradox- if this is all true, then Joan Crawford was suffering from a serious mental illness, and she went her entire life with it undiagnosed and untreated. In fact, in those less-enlightened times a psychiatrist may have very likely misdiagnosed her. My question- in light of all of this, is it fair to go on characterizing her as a one-dimensional monster? I truly believe some of it is projection- people NEED Joan to be this evil monster, as her old story has been a cathartic mirror for abuse victims over the years.

    PS- as for whether or not Christina’s story is true, I have no doubt much of it is. However, in her subsequent public statements she has continually contorted her tales, at times with an apparent intent to keep people hating her mother. A few years ago on Larry King she flat-out implied that Joan murdered her last husband. Without a shred of anything resembling tangible evidence. But of course, because her mother was the evil, horrible Joan Crawford this seems to be perfectly acceptable to some.

    I’m sure in the future Christina will wield further accusations. No doubt Joan rigged the plane that Carole Lombard was on, or she’s the one who killed and hid Jimmy Hoffa. Who knows what that horrible woman was capable of!? Yes, I’m being facetious here, but the point still stands.

    • Anya
      October 25, 2014

      Thank you, Markus for taking the words right out of my mouth. I was an adopted child in the 60’s & my foster/adoptive mother suffered the same disorders as did Joan & being raised by her alone, after my adoptive father passed on, was very stressful for her. Now, I, many years later, sit in a therapists office twice a month as I, too, suffer from OCD, Depression & PTSD due to much abuse from childhood on,
      & although people must think me “incapable of loving” at times, I have raised 2 healthy & happy grown children , on my own, because I chose to leave & divorce their abusive, alcoholic father. I want to thank you Markus, for your empathy & compassion for those of us who suffer from these often debilitating & very misunderstood disorders. If more people in this world were such as yourself, perhaps those of us who are judged so harshly, no matter what degree of mental illness we suffer from, would, themselves, feel & be loved & genuinely understood as we so need to be. Thank you, Markus for your comment. Truly. Kindest Regards, Anya.

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