For over a hundred years some of the greatest video treasures of all time have been produced. Some have been lost in the sands of time and others, soon to be rediscovered, will become fan favorites for a whole new generation.
Each week we will feature just one of the many hidden gems that you can see on ATVN with insights and commentaries on classic television shows and legendary cinematic performances.
In honor of Women’s History Month, the Showplace is featuring prominent female-driven classic programs and women who “changed the game”, making a lasting impact in the Golden Age of Hollywood.
While her personal life and parenting skills have been a subject of controversy for decades, there’s no denying that Joan Crawford was one of the most dynamic and versatile actresses for nearly 50 years.
Initially a dancer on Broadway, Crawford signed a contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer for $75 a week in 1924. Credited as Lucille LeSueur, her first film was Lady of the Night as a body double for Norma Shearer, MGM’s most popular female star at that time.
After appearing in several more silent films (sometimes in “unbilled roles”), MGM ran a “name the star” contest for her, as the studio’s publicist said her name sounded like “sewer.” The initial “winning name” was Jane Arden, but she later changed her last name to Crawford.
Upset with small roles she felt were beneath her and not getting any assistance from the studio, she began taking dance lessons in the afternoon and competing (and winning) dance events around Hollywood and at venues on the beach piers. Her strategy worked and MGM cast her in the film where she first made an impression on audiences, Edmund Goulding’s Sally, Irene and Mary.
MGM became the last production company to embrace “talkies,” but its first foray into sound pictures was The Hollywood Revue of 1929. Crawford was among a dozen of the studio’s stars to showcase their abilities utilizing the new innovation.
She was “loaned” to United Artist to play a prostitute in the film, Rain, which was a film version of the popular 1923 John Colton play. Shortly after the time of that film’s release, Crawford was voted the third most popular actress at the box office.
As the 1930s went on she continued to build her star power, eventually outshining her longtime nemesis and the person she originally “body doubled” for, Norma Shearer. The decade culminated with a role in the all-female cast of The Women, gaining her praise from critics and audiences alike. Her success continued with a performance as a facially disfigured criminal in the melodrama A Woman’s Face, which garnered her even more critical acclaim.
In 1945, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the hard-working, divorced, protective mother in the title role of Mildred Pierce. Crawford also received two Best Actress Award nominations as recognition for her work in Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952). In 1954, she starred in the Western Johnny Guitar, although unsuccessful during its original release, the cult film has found new life with younger audiences. In 1962, she starred alongside another long-time rival Bette Davis in the horror film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which once again returned her to critical acclaim and box office success.
She continued to act in movies and added television appearances throughout the 1960 but slowly started to recede from the limelight early in 1970s and eventually declined all interviews and refused to be photographed all together.
Joan died of a heart attack on May 6, 1977, leaving behind four children–only two of whom were left anything in her will.
Several less than flattering “tell-all” books (including one from her disinherited daughter, Christina, that was turned into a movie) have come out since her passing detailing some troubling stories about her personal life. Many of her on-screen colleagues have come out to defend her reputation as an abusive mother which tarnished her overall image. But her contributions on the big screen have not diminished.
In 1999, 12 years after her death, she was ranked 10th on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest female stars of Hollywood’s Classic Cinema Era when AFI began ranking their “greatest ever…” listings prior to the millennium.
You can see Joan Crawford star in the 1932 motion-picture, Rain, in the “ATVN Movie Vault” on ATVN. To view the complete rundown of classic programming on ATVN, check out the weekly listings here.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Astound Broadband or any other agency, organization, employer or company.