When you think about Joan Crawford—if you think about her—you may actually visualize the image of another actress playing the role of Joan Crawford: a slapstick Carol Burnett on her variety show, a hysterical Faye Dunaway in Mommy Dearest, a simmering Jessica Lange in FX’s newest series Feud. With her signature strong eyebrows and broad shoulders, she’s come to represent all things campy, vampy, and bitchy. The truth is somewhat more complicated and definitely more stylish.
Born into poverty in 1905 as Lucille LeSueur, Crawford came up the hard way, working odd jobs that included both laundress and chorus girl, before hitting the big time as a movie star. From her early parts as the dancing ingénue in silent pictures to her turns as a grand dame of the silver screen in the fifties, Crawford’s stardom and style would draw on that scrappy working girl persona. According to film historian, Molly Haskell, she was very much a product of her era. “She grew up in and was formed by the Depression, and that experience permeated the films she made and explains the intensity of her appeal to millions who were living through hard times.”