In 1978 Christina Crawford shocked the people with the very first tell-all celebrity memoir, in i m sorry she exposed her Hollywood filmstar mother Joan together a cruel, abusive alcoholic. Thirty years on, and about to reissue she explosive book with new material, she gives her an initial interview in a decade. Yet why this obsession to return to her painful previous - specifically when so many world don’t think her?


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Actress Joan Crawford and her daughter, Christina, playing with each other in April 1945 Photograph: Peter Stackpole/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Actress Joan Crawford and her daughter, Christina, playing with each other in April 1945 Photograph: Peter Stackpole/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
Christina Crawford was 13 when she quit believing her mother loved her. It was a young period at which to pertained to such a frighten conclusion, to have one’s id in the benignity that the human being so profoundly altered. But it to be at this period that she remembers her mother got hold of her through the throat, punched her in the face and slammed she head against the floor.

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‘You never ever forget that,’ Christina says now, 55 year later. ‘It was up close and also personal. She came this much from my face, and you could see the in she eyes, you can see if who is trying to death you.’

It to be a next of her mom that no one else ever saw. To the wider public, Christina’s mom was no the abusive parent, vulnerable to uncontrolled bouts the fury. She was not the alcoholic, provided to sometimes bursts of sparse violence. She was no the tyrannical harpy who reportedly let rip behind closed doors. To everyone else she was merely Joan Crawford, Hollywood movie star.

At the elevation of her fame in the 1940s, Crawford had a considerable reputation come uphold. She was among the original studio ingenues, an actress who overcame an impoverished childhood to end up being one of the highest-paid ladies in the business. Over a job spanning five decades, she starred alongside Clark Gable in Possessed, Bette Davis in What ever before Happened to infant Jane? and won a 1945 ideal Actress Academy Award for the title role in Mildred Pierce. She stayed in a sprawling house in Brentwood, Los Angeles and used her wide range to take on and raise 4 children, consisting of Christina, an act lot lauded in substantial magazine spreads around her happy family life. Yet to Christina, the public photo was a gilded lie.

‘It to be the hypocrisy of it the was so difficult,’ she says. ‘People fantasised around who or what i was; the I had this privileged, wealthy, film-star family members life. Ns didn’t have any type of of that.’


A year after her mother’s fatality of a heart assault - age 69, 72 or 73, follow to i m sorry birth date you think - Christina’s disappointed at the discrepancy between her mother’s exclusive existence and also her public call bubbled over. In 1978 she released Mommie Dearest, a blistering autobiography that shown Joan Crawford together a sadistic perfectionist, an alcoholic vulnerable to unpredictable squalls the maternal fury who would punishment the mildest misdemeanours with disproportionate force.

It was the first tell-all celebrity memoir, the an initial book to speak so open or through such clarity about a childhood allegedly punctuated by psychological and physical abuse. It led to a sensation, left an indelible imprint ~ above the cultural consciousness and also stayed at the top of the brand-new York time bestseller perform for 42 weeks. In the years that adhered to the youngsters of Bette Davis and also Bing crosby wrote similarly excoriating parental memoirs, and the 1981 movie adaptation starring Faye Dunaway became a cult hit. Joan Crawford’s call took a battering so ferocious that it has never totally recovered.

To this particular day most human being associate her through an notorious scene in both the book and also the movie in i m sorry she launches into a vicious tirade after discovering Christina’s dresses held on wire garments hangers. ‘No cable hangers!’ entered the vernacular as shorthand because that neurotic maternal instability. On another occasion Christina recalls her mom dragging she from bed in the middle of the night, age nine, to beat her over the head through a can of scouring powder because that leaving soap streaks on a bathroom floor.

Now, 30 year after publishing Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford is reissuing the publication with a brand-new introduction and afterword, supporting testimonies indigenous contemporaries and more than 100 pages and also photographs that were cut from the 1978 edition.

She is no without she detractors. End the years number of of Joan Crawford’s peers, consisting of her very first husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, and the actress Myrna Loy, have discussed Christina’s recollections, accusing she of embellishments and also make-believe. Two of Crawford’s other adopted children, pair sisters Cathy and Cindy, publicly declared Christina lied, insisting their mommy was a love parent, firm however never abusive. Although three decades have passed, the sibling feud is unresolved. Both Cindy and also Crawford’s adopted son, Christopher, died recently however mutual animosity remains deeply entrenched across the generations. Casey LaLonde, Cathy’s 36-year-old son, speak me through phone native his home in Philadelphia the his mother still remembers ‘a really loving household. She to be a really affectionate, supportive, doting mother, a exorbitant person. Ns have constantly been an extremely careful no to call Christina a liar but plainly she had a fully different experience from mine mother and also my Aunt Cindy.’

In march a new biography of Joan Crawford cast Christina in an even less flattering light. No The Girl next Door through Charlotte Chandler contained interviews with the actress it s her in i m sorry she railed against her adopted daughter, accusing she of ingratitude. Cathy Crawford was quoted as saying the Christina ‘had her very own reality ... I don’t recognize where she acquired her ideas. Ours Mommie to be the finest mother anyone ever before had.’

Until now Christina, 68, has not responded. However when I meet her at her house in Idaho because that her first newspaper interview in 10 years she is unrepentant. Return she acknowledges the she can be a stubborn, occasionally obstreperous child, she points out that her variation of events was sustained by her adopted younger brother, Christopher, v whom she common a room until she to be 10. ‘Cathy has been really vocal about her experience, and that’s she privilege, however there was eight years’ difference between us. She to be two as soon as I was sent to boarding school. She couldn’t have actually known anything around my or Chris’s experience - zip, nothing. She wasn’t there - she wasn’t also born when I to be adopted.’

Perhaps, ns venture, the pair had much more docile personalities and also were much more capable of submitting to their mother’s regulating nature? She laughs sharply. ‘Maybe. What my mommy wanted to be fans and also puppies, not person beings. She was together close to gift a entirely manufactured person as I’ve ever before met.’

From the beginning Joan Crawford was a fabrication; a myth developed by the movie moguls. She to be born Lucille LeSueur in mountain Antonio, Texas, and also her dad walked out when she was a couple of months old. The household scraped by however it was a deprived upbringing, and also it left Crawford with an abiding hatred of dirt and disorder. Figured out to escape she background, she came to be a Broadway chorus girl and also was spotted by studio bosses in ~ Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1924. They offered her a contract and also ran a newspaper competition to select a new name after ~ deciding her surname sounded too lot like ‘sewer’. Joan Crawford was the to win entry. She cut off ties with her family, clawed her means to the top and reinvented herself as a legend there is no a past.

Photographs from this time immortalise very striking woman, cheekbones thrown right into relief by dramatic lighting, lacquered eyebrows arching over lambent dark eyes. Over there is additionally a determination in her jaw-line and also the intimation of an obstacle in she gaze. The photos are arresting rather than beautiful, strong rather than delicate.

Her forceful personality and strident physics attractiveness intended she was supplied to obtaining what she wanted. She married four times and had a string of affairs through both men and also women, including a one-night stand with Marilyn Monroe. Unable to have actually children, she adopted, employing personal brokers come ensure that the typical restrictions versus single, divorced females did not apply. One of the five kids she originally absorbed was reclaimed through his furious birth mom within days. Christina to be successfully embraced in 1939, Christopher in 1943 and also the twins four years later in 1947.

It was, from the exterior at least, a fairytale family life for four unwanted babies that otherwise would have languished in care homes. But all was no as that seemed. Return Joan told Christina that her biological mother had died in childbirth, she was, in fact, still alive. The was only in the early 1990s, when Christina began researching she own household history, the she discovered the truth. By now both her parents (a female student who had actually an affair v a married engineer) to be dead.

Christina remembers a childhood shame by she mother’s violent mood swings - one minute buying she extravagant party dresses, the next spanking her so hard with a hairbrush it damaged in two. ‘At first I cried and then i didn’t. The just power I had left was no to present anything.’ at night she states her brothers Christopher to be strapped into bed through a canvas exploit to protect against him native walking come the toilet.

Does she believe Joan Crawford ever before loved her? ‘Maybe in the very, really beginning however I think she wasn’t a healthy and balanced person. If a many what she did had happened today, the woman would be arrested and also taken come jail.’

Why did no one intervene? ‘That to be the worst point - the nobody did. Since everyone knew. Ours staff, details neighbours ... Yet she was a celebrity, they had jobs castle didn’t desire to lose, and by the finish there to be no hired aid any much more because she to be so daunting to work for. The agency stopped sending people.

‘It to be complete and total hypocrisy between the public and also the private. She embraced us because that the publicity,’ she says. ‘I have tremendous concerns around celebrity adoptions by civilization like Madonna and also Angelina Jolie. From the adoptee’s allude of view, that is vitally necessary to know who lock are, where they came from, or it have the right to have extensive medical and psychological effects.’

When i ask if she thinks today’s stars are adopting for publicity, she snorts derisively. ‘What do you think? Why space they for this reason keen on gaining the preferably newspaper and magazine coverage?’

Joan Crawford’s fits of anger, she drinking and obsession through cleanliness got an ext pronounced together her career started to unravel. In ~ 37 she was declared ‘box-office poison’ by studio executives and also her self-esteem never truly recovered. For a mrs whose own sense of worth had actually been predicated on she work, it to be a disastrous loss.

All the while, the Crawford family’s celebrity way of living was routinely shown in lavish magazine photographic stories detailing the children’s numerous birthdays and Christmases. Behind the gloss and also the popping flashbulbs, however, the fact was really different, states Christina. Each year the kids were enabled to choose one gift while every the others to be repackaged and given far to local hospitals or charities. They to be then forced to compose an unlimited round of thank-you cards for the presents they had not been permitted to keep, and also each card would certainly be checked by their mother, returned to them through annotations and also corrections until they eventually met her exacting standards. ‘The procedure was turned into a compelled march,’ states Christina. ‘It to be all about power and deprivation. As a child, ns was completely without trust. I felt totally alone.’

She came to be used come loneliness. At 10 she was sent to boarding school yet the bizarre, arbitrarily outbursts that maternal rage continued through the holidays. After graduation she briefly came to be an actress before training in communications and also working in the marketing room of Getty Petroleum. Since the publishing of Mommie Dearest she has actually written several more books on son abuse and is currently an advocate for adoptees’ rights. She has three failed marital relationships - her second to the movie producer David Koontz, through whom she increased a stepson - and also made a mindful decision not to have youngsters of she own.

‘I’d never seen a working marriage or connection so I simply didn’t know just how to execute it,’ she says. ‘I really didn’t have actually the an abilities for parenthood, and also for a when I had actually a ferocious temper. Those 2 things are not a good combination so ns took a logical, reasonable decision not to have children, and also it’s one I’ve never regretted.’

For the past 15 years Christina has lived in countryside Idaho in a usually clapboard residence on a vast Indian Reservation, surrounding by conifers and grassy mountainside. The only other buildings surrounding are a church and also a dilapidated basic store. She does not entirely fit in here. She is dressed in a smart moss-green trouser suit, with a low-cut top and espadrille wedges in the very same shade of pink. She hair is dyed blond and also her eyes, a clear, watery blue, space obscured for lot of the moment behind sepia-tinted wraparound sunglasses. She is very polite and also hospitable, provided to the occasional unforeseen fit of guttural laughter.

She is also, ns think, very mistrustful. Many of her answers are delivered with a penetrating stare, a wariness in she voice. As soon as I asking if money was a motivating element for reissuing the book, she looks at me directly on for number of seconds. ‘The reason I am reissuing that is since it remains among the just real, authentic story of household abuse, and it is crucial it is continuous available.’

Inside her open-plan sit room, that strikes you immediately that there room no photographs, as if the interior has been stripped bare of anything that could remind she of the past. The walls are hung with anonymous knick-knacks - a framed print of Shakespeare, a clock that chimes through birdsong top top the hour. Yet while Christina says she has spent many of she life trying to extricate it s her from she mother’s control, it appears the two are locked in a perpetual grim embrace. Despite a quick rapprochement in Joan’s later on years, both Christina and also Christopher were created out of her will, which stated the decision had actually been taken ‘for factors which are well known to them’. Return she successfully contested the will, Christina has never been able come shake turn off the uncertainty that the book was revenge for her disinheritance, nor, when I ask her around it, walk she entirely disabuse me that this notion. ‘The attorney told me that the language in that will went way back to the Sixties, and also every time the will certainly was rewritten the language was brought forward for sure intact. So none the the later years had actually had any impact on her emotionally whatsoever. All the efforts I’d made had actually been because that nothing, and I chose that was enough, and I was going to tell the truth as i knew it.’

She speak me she stopped referring to Joan together her mom several years ago and now calls her ‘my embraced parent’. She has clearly never forgiven her. ‘I think she take it absolutely no responsibility for changing her behaviour. Forgiveness is a two-person process.’

But the is tough to escape the conclusion the if Christina really wanted to sever the ties that bind her she would certainly not it is in reissuing the publication that web links her permanently with the mommy she now disowns.

Certainly, Cathy’s next of the family have to be left infuriated by she decision to republish. ‘Christina has said what she said, and also everybody heard the the first time round,’ says Casey LaLonde. ‘The publication was together a juggernaut, and it ruined an individual and experienced career. I just remember her together a normal, love grandmother that would babysit because that us and also make us lunch and also give united state gifts. There was never anything strange or mean about her.

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‘The worst part was the Joan wasn’t roughly to defend herself, which to be the most horrible thing ever to have actually done. It wasn’t courageous.’

Neil Maciejewski, a film historian who runs a Joan Crawford tribute website, concedes the the actress ‘was an alcoholic, she was controlling and she most likely wasn’t the best mother, however I’ve speak to so many people who knew her, and also my emotion is Mommie Dearest was no an honest portrayal. One human being I talked to newly is Betty Barker, that was Joan Crawford’s secretary from the 1930s and also knew she till she died. She’s an enlarge woman that would have actually no factor to lie, and also she said that Joan had actually her faults yet she certain did no abuse her children.’

Still, that is feasible that a movie star for this reason obsessed v protecting her own image, that was so rigorously perfectionist in all the she did, would go to great lengths to conceal any type of abusive behaviour indigenous outsiders. Christina could be plenty of things - disillusioned, sad, a bit protective - but she does no strike me as either a fantasist or a liar. And also she has actually her supporters too. The so late actress Helen Hayes, whose child played with Christopher, wrote in her autobiography the Joan was ‘cruel’ to she children and that her Hollywood contemporaries were ‘worried to death’ around them. ‘It would have actually been effective for me or anyone else to protest,’ she wrote. ‘Joan would certainly only gain angry and probably vent her rage on the kids.’

Perhaps she could, prefer so many, have actually intervened and pricked the bubble of silence, but Joan Crawford to be a formidable opponent. When, on that long-ago night, Christina claims that her mother tried to throttle her, a secretary at some point pulled lock apart and summoned a youth officer to the house. Follow to Christina, the officer said there was nothing he can do; the she would have to sit the out until she to be 18 and also could leave residence of her very own accord; if one much more call to be made to the authorities Christina would end up in a detention centre. ‘That changed my people view,’ she says, dryly. ‘That the victim could be punished while the perpetrator acquired away scot free. That made me type of cynical.’

Cynical, but no longer terrified. ‘The most gratifying part of obtaining well is that I’m not afraid,’ she says. ‘If she to walk in the door currently I’d tell she she’s not welcome and also could she you re welcome leave. Because that’s what i couldn’t do as a child.’

Her voice dips and cracks, so that she is talk in one almost-whisper. She holds my gaze because that a few seconds climate gets up and busies herself in the kitchen. Also now, so plenty of years later, Christina Crawford does not desire anyone to see her cry.