TCM Star of the Month
As a relatively young fan of classic movies, my introduction to Hollywood stars is not always through their films. More than once, I have encountered the myth of a movie star before catching a glimpse of the star him/herself. I knew John Wayne was a picture of manliness before I ever saw a picture of him. I knew James Dean was a rebel without a cause before seeing said rebel’s face. And I knew Joan Crawford was a histrionic narcissist with bushy-eye brows and an uncanny hatred for wire hangers before the age of 10.
Yes, that was my introduction to the great Joan Crawford: Mommy Dearest. Before watching Humoresque, before watching The Grand Hotel, before watching Mildred Pierce, I saw Mommy Dearest at the tender, and probably way too young age of nine. As a fan of all things corn and campy since the age of birth, I absolutely loved the movie. I watched it multiple times over the next few years, often times reciting Faye Dunaway’s lines and, yes, maybe grabbing a wire hanger once or twice. To me, this campy, crazed representation of one of Hollywood greatest stars wasn’t representation: it was truth. Or at least, the version I chose to believe.
It would be years later before I would see an actual Joan Crawford film and even then, I barley recognized her. Surely this young, beautiful, non-bushy browed actress starring opposite Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, and Lionel Barrymore couldn’t be Joan Crawford. Could it? Where was the camp? Where was the mania? Where was the eyebrow? I became intrigued about the star I thought I knew and soon set out to watch more of her films. Within the month, I sat myself down to watch three more Crawford films and saw a Crawford that I had never seen before. I saw her as an able businesswoman and caring mother in Mildred Pierce. I saw her as a vulnerable, terrified and disabled sister in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. I saw her as a fierce and independent woman in Johnny Guitar. Finally, I saw Joan Crawford’s representation of Joan Crawford. And it was like a whole new woman.
I discovered a woman who spent hours a night personally responding to fan mail; a woman who worked herself from nothing to become one of Hollywood’s most glamorous stars. I discovered a woman with more determination and grit then I could ever imagine. In a way, I rediscovered Joan Crawford.
This month, you too will have the chance to rediscover Joan Crawford as Turner Classic Movies celebrates her as its Star of the Month. Every Thursday you’ll have a chance to watch Crawford at her very best, doing what she does best: Being a Star.
Joan Crawford responding to fanmail
Some of you may be at a loss for which of her films to watch and that’s O.K. The woman did make over 100 TV/Film appearances. But don’t you worry about that. That’s why I’m here. If you want to see young Crawford, a starlet still in the process of clawing her way to the top, I would suggest you tune in on Thursday, January 2nd, at 8:00pm for The Unknown opposite Lon Chaney. Then of course, there is the glamourous MGM version of Crawford, best typified in the aforementioned Grand Hotel, which you can catch Thursday, January 9th at 8:00pm. But if you want want to see Crawford at her Oscar best, be sure to watch Mildred Pierce on Thursday, January 23rd at 8:00pm on Turner Classic Movies.
Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub