“Joan Crawford Lives Role of A Benevolent Desperate” by Joyce Haber, November 2nd, 1971
“We’ve got you right at the top of the list, but Joan’s so booked it doesn’t look good,” said Joan Crawford’s press agent. Miss Crawford was coming to town for two days to publicize her new book, “My Way of Life,” which she has characterized as “more my philosophies than a biography.”
Now Everyone knows Joan Crawford is busy. As a board member and ambassadress of goodwill for Pepsi-Cola, she has all these bottling plants to visit, not to mention all the bottlers. She’s on the boards of some 15 charities, and she’s always receiving awards.
Obviously, Miss Crawford keeps busy. On this trip she was visiting with bottlers and lunching with bookstore owners and holding a conference for the press. But I was anxious to see if she’d see me.
She says in her book, “If you have 12 things to do, and 12 hours to do them in, don’t spend the first 10 hours doing just one thing or you’ll find yourself in an awful mess at the end of the day.
Plan - and everything will get done.”
Miss Crawford came through. She called me on Friday morning to arrange a time for an interview. “Now let’s see, I’m autographing books at lunchtime, I’m seeing Mr. X (she mentioned a bibulous member of the press) at 4 – oh, not for an interview, he’s an old friend. That shouldn’t take more than an hour. Why don’t you come at 6:30? Then I’ll have time to pack. I have to catch a very early plane in the morning.”
Joan plans, but the best laid plans can go awry. Her suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel was guarded by a good-looking young man in a uniform; he sat at a desk and eyed me suspiciously as I knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” asked a voice from inside. Only when I gave my name did the young man relax. The door opened by Miss Crawford’s California secretary, Joan keeps one on either coast. Joan’s bibulous friend was still there, still imbibing.
She rose to greet me, indicated the easy chair I was to sit on, and offered a pillow from the couch. “Take this pillow for your back.”
The chair was orange, the pillow bright orange. She changed it for a darker shade. “No, take this one. It looks better on that chair.”
Miss Crawford’s solicitous welcome doubled as a gesture of dismissal to her previous companion. Quite pointedly, she offered me a drink (“Betty, get her a drink,” she told her secretary by way of offering). She didn’t offer another drink to the friend who’s stayed on and on. In fact, she bid him goodbye and saw him to the door.
“Bring your drink in the bedroom so I can pack,” Joan ordered, When Joan gave an order, I noted, everyone around her scurried. I scurried, by sheer force of intimidation, I suppose. But, she wasn’t to pack herself. She introduced me to Elvira; “She’s marvelous. I couldn’t do it without her.” Joan said. She told Elvira to pack, and we returned to the living room.
I have 18 pieces of luggage,” Miss Crawford, who wore a gray flannel, sleeveless dress (the matching jacket was thrown across a chair). She was barefoot, her shoes – clear plastic with gray high heels were on the floor nearby.
“Eighteen pieces of luggage for three cities – Washington, San Francisco, L.A. You never know about the weather. You need so many types of clothes.” L.A. was having a heat wave. “I can’t stand heat. Everywhere I go I bring hot weather. Maybe that’s because I’m with Pepsi and we’re seasonal.”
Miss Crawford took a sip of her all-weather vodka on the rocks, “Betty, order more ice. Three buckets. And see what’s happened to the hors d’oeuvres,” said La Crawford.
“We’re getting some hors d’oeuvres,” she told me. “At least we’re supposed to. There’s a foul-up. It’s so annoying. The maitre d’ who was on last night is off tonight and tomorrow. I got this new man and asked for the same stuffed olives I had last night, before I did the Merv Griffin show. They were delicious. He said he’d never heard of stuffed olives. I said, ‘You have the same cook tonight as last night, don’t you? Well, tell him make for Miss Crawford what you made last night.’ “
The star who began in the Silent Era (Scott Fitzgerald called her “the best example of the flapper”), the veteran of more than 80 movies, said “I can’t eat before I go on TV. I can have an olive like we hope to get tonight, I hope. I always will get nervous. You can’t fake humility. You can’t fake wanting to be liked,” said the lady executive whose darkish read hair was reminiscent, like her, of another era. It was a short and cut unevenly in the manner of the Italian clip so popular in the last decade.
“Those people out there know,” she continued. “And mostly the camera knows. It records. You can’t fool a camera. I was on Griffin with my old dear friend Luis Dominguin. I’ve known him for 11 years. He’s SO attractive. He put his hand on my knee but Merv made him remove it. Damn.
“I met Dominguin when he performed especially for me in Spain. Pepsi-Cola had a big do over there at a big ranch, it may have been his.
I hate bullfights. All the way to the ranch I was thinking, ‘How do I tell this man I don’t like bullfights?”
It turned out he knew. Someone had told him. So he fought only with the cows that day because he knew I didn’t like bulls. Wasn't that a dear thing? And we danced and danced and danced barefooted.
Betty, hasn’t the ice come yet? And where are the hors d’oeuvres? See what they’re doing down there.”
The telephone at the desk kept ringing throughout the interview. “No, I’m busy, I’ll have to call back,” Miss Crawford told her secretary almost every time. She did accept two calls – one from Sherill Corwin and one from Vincent Price, “Oh, there’s Vincent. Hi butcher.”
If anything, Joan Crawford is over programmed. She stresses discipline in her book, as she has throughout her life, and with her 5 adopted children, who are all now grown.
An acquaintance remembers visiting her house years ago in Brentwood. The children, or two of them, were seated before a TV set, which was turned 10 some ghastly show. The children, who couldn’t have been less interested, started talking to the stranger. Their nurse appeared, “Remember what mother says. Never talk during television,” she reprimanded sternly.
La Crawford’s friends call her “The Empress”, she’s a depot whom friends find benevolent. Her detractors say she was perfectly cast in all those arrogant roles at which she excelled. “Queen Bee,” says Joan, “was the best bitch I’ve ever played. Really, I love playing bitches.”
When Joan does a TV guest spot, she says, “I live at the studio. The dressing rooms are turned into bedrooms for me. The guards are told to watch it. I can concentrate more. I save driving time, and I don’t have phones ringing.”
Now she picked up the phone herself to check on the hors d’oeuvres. “Look, you stuff the olives with pimento and circle them with bacon and bake them. Don’t boil them,” she told the substitute maitre d’.
Crawford hung up, a grin replaced her displeasure, “Now I’ve giving cooking lessons,” she said.
The food – and the ice –arrived at last. La Crawford ordered (her suggestion is an order) her secretary and packer to take a plate of the hot canapés and have a pre-dinner drink.
“Betty, be sure the waiters take the empty buckets of ice. Put them outside the door. And have them give the guard a menu so he can order his dinner.”