Joan Crawford’s life and career were dominated by ambition. She wanted to succeed at all costs. Her relentlessness paid off as she was called the first “Queen of the Movies” in 1937.
Despite her fame, her relationship with her first adopted daughter Christina was not as rosy. Christina revealed this and more in the memoir she published after Joan’s death.
Christina revealed that her mother attacked her after she thought Christina was flirting with her fourth husband, Alfred Steele. When Joan died, her will told that she had cut Christina off.
Joan Crawford and Christina at the “About Mrs. Leslie” premiere | Photo: Getty Images
Born Lucille Fay LeSueur, she spent her childhood with her mother. Her mother was married to a man that sexually abused her. After completing her studies, she started dancing in traveling companies.
In Detroit, a producer writing for a show on Broadway noticed Crawford and put her in the chorus line for his show, “Innocent Eyes,” in 1924.
Her need for more work and ambition led her to sign a contract with MGM. She made her movie debut in 1925 in “Lady of the Night” before changing her name to Joan Crawford through a “Name the star” contest.
Portrait of Joan Crawford | Photo: Getty Images
Joan, who began her career in silent cinema, became one of the most famous Hollywood stars of all time. She reached the peak of her career ten years later and played proud women with strong-willed characters.
Joan became a foster mother in 1940, welcoming Christina into her life. Christina was initially named Joan Jr. before her mother changed her name.
Joan won her first Oscar in 1945 for “Mildred Pierce,” and while married to her third husband, Phillip Terry, they adopted a son, Christopher.
Joan Crawford circa 1940 | Photo: Getty Images
Christopher was also initially named Phillip Terry Jr., after his adoptive father, but Joan changed his name after their divorce.
In 1947, she had two more adoptions as she took in Cynthia and Catherine. The second son she adopted was reclaimed by his mother after a year.
Joan Crawford with her children Christina, and Christopher, at the premiere of “The Hasty Heart” in Hollywood | Photo: Getty Images
Christina was Joan Crawford’s adopted child. A baby broker handled her adoption process because social services had formally denied Joan.
She attended Chadwick School but was later transferred to Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, where she graduated. After school, she attended Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and Neighborhood Playhouse.
Seven years later, Christina graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California. After 14 years as an actress, she earned her master’s from Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California.
Christina Crawford on December 12, 1978, soon after the publication of her book “Mommie Dearest” | Photo: Getty Images
Christina’s acting career started in the late 1950s and 1960. She had a supporting role in the film “Force of Impulse.” In the industry, she was seen as a capable actress who was stubborn.
In 1968, Christina starred in “The Secret Storm,” a soap opera. However, she suffered from a medical emergency, and during her recovery, her mother took over her role without telling her. Feeling betrayed and hurt, she decided to quit the soap opera.
After her mother died in 1977, Christina discovered that Joan had disinherited her and Christopher. Both siblings contested the will and were each compensated.
Photo of Christina Crawford circa 1978 | Photo: Getty Images
In 1978, Christina released her memoir titled “Mommie Dearest,” where she wrote down all the eventful moments she experienced as a child. She described Joan as a mean and selfish person.
A film adaptation of the book was released in 1981 and recorded a high level of success. In 2000, Christina became an entertainment manager at an Idaho casino and stayed there for seven years.
Christina Crawford at the documentary screening of “Christina Crawford: Surviving Mommie Dearest” on November 20, 2013, in New York | Photo: Getty Images
CHRISTINA AND JOAN’S COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP
When Christina released her book, she portrayed Joan as an abusive mother who made her go through hell. The book was immediately a bestseller, strongly tarnishing Joan’s glamorous image.
She revealed that her mother made her starve because she refused to eat the undercooked steak Joan had given to her. She wrote that the steak was still bloody.
Christina also said she once looked death in the eye when she was 13. She realized that Joan didn’t love her and could not love anyone.
Joan Crawford and Christina at the piano, July 1947 | Photo: Getty Images
Christina said that her mother grabbed her and began assaulting her physically on that fateful day. She said this was something she would never forget, and she would also never forgive Joan.
Worst of all, she couldn’t get help from the authorities because child protection laws only came into force in 1974. When Joan was married to her fourth husband, Alfred Steele, she attacked Christina because she thought Christina was flirting with him.
Joan Crawford poses with Christina, June 1944 | Photo: Getty Images
Christina knows that if Joan had been alive and had acted the way she did then today, she would have been sent to jail for attempted murder. She believes that Joan deserved jail time because she had no excuse for behaving as a terrible mother.
Although Christina strongly believed that Joan was an abusive mother with murderous tendencies, her siblings, Catherine and Cynthia, disagreed with this view.
Joan Crawford reads a book to Christina, June 1944 | Photo: Getty Images
The twins said they grew up in a loving household with a mother who always supported them. They said they never experienced the beatings and punishments Christina had mentioned.
Catherine could only recall going to bed without dinner once because she had rejected the served dinner. She added she didn’t think that was a terrible punishment.
The only sibling who had corroborated her story is her brother, Christopher. He was also the one that Joan had cut off from her will along with Christina.
Joan Crawford with her daughter Christina (left), her son Christopher (left) and her adopted, identical twin daughters, Cindy and Cathy, circa 1949 | Photo: Getty Images
Before her death, Joan knew about the book Christina was writing two years before she published it. Joan had no idea of the book’s exact contents and felt Christina wanted to use her name to make money.
However, she had no plans to read the book. Joan believed that as a Christian scientist, people were out to hurt others. She preferred to cut off the people who wanted to hurt her.
Despite the difficult childhood, Christina said she had, she overcame it and learned to live her life without dwelling on the past.