I am of two minds about Joan Crawford. When I was a young impressionable girl, I watched old Joan Crawford movies on TV. In those days, mid to late fifties, early sixties, you could see old movies all the time on TV, you didn't have to pay for it. Those movies were already old when I saw them. But what was amazing, especially in the fifties when housewives like my mother, pre-Betty Freidan, were bustling about the kitchen, Joan Crawford was showing what a totally strong and dominant woman could be.
Particularly in the movie, Mildred Pierce, Joan did it all. She became a C.E.O. She was more ruthless than any man. She murdered the man who stood in her way. Sitting there watching, I felt empowered. No, murder and ruthlessness aren't right. I wasn't condoning that. But the broken child in me was rising up as I saw Joan give it to any man who stood in her way.
Later, in real life, she became like the characters she played. She became the C.E.O. of Pepsi Cola and truly became Mildred Pierce in real time.
Attaching to that outer strength of hers gave me inner strength. Because I wasn't one to express anger, I let her express it for me.
Then horror of horrors she turned into Ms. Hyde. MOMMY DEAREST came out, and with it, Joan's dirty secret. She was a child abuser. She was unbearably cruel to her adopted daughter. Had probably only adopted her for the publicity. I have never read the book or seen the movie, because it is too painful for me. But I totally believe and validate Joan's daughter.
So where does that leave us? I don't know. I only know Joan Crawford was an amazing actress who captured something unique only to her. She wasn't masculine or mannish, yet she was strong and ferocious. A woman of steel. She represents something that has always fascinated me. No one is totally evil or totally good. We all have a shadow side. And Joan, was a great example of that. A real Dr. Jekyl and Ms. Hyde.
What triggered my recent painting of her (see top), and this blog, was Ann Blyth's brief film shown on TCM, about how good and great Joan was to act with and how kind and loving Joan was to her. Joan treated her like a daughter, but not like she treated her actual daughter. What this tells me, which is actually something I already know, is that we are compartmentalized. We can be loving and giving to some, and sadly, cruel and unloving to others. Most of us, hopefully, strike a middle ground, but not Joan. She was all out, again something that showed on the screen. But I believe inside that fierce edifice, was Joan's own broken child.