“Joan Crawford Busy On TV Film” by Cecil Smith’s Column “Television And Radio”, August 7th, 1972
Hollywood – Joan Crawford is making one of her infrequent television films. She’d like to do more.
“Three or four a year.” She said. “And perhaps a two-hour TV feature. I've been earning my own living since I was 9. I like to work. I need to work. But they usually call me in New York on a Thursday and ask if I can catch a plane Friday and be able to work Monday. I say ‘What about wardrobe?’ What do I bring? What do I wear?’ It’s impossible. So unprofessional. So what I do are only things written for me. Such as ‘The Virginian’ I did and ‘Night Gallery’ and this.”
This is a play written for her by Merwin Gerard “Dear Joan; We’re Going To Scare You To Death.” It’s being made at Universal by John Newland, that most elegant of directors for ABC’s ‘The Sixth Sense’.
Strange, I first knew Newland a decade ago when he was both host and producer – director of an eerie series called ‘One Stop Beyond’. Gerald was one of its primary writers.
‘I wondered; what you call this spooky business of ‘The Sixth Sense’ involving psychic phenomena and ESP?’ John shuddered.
Working with Crawford is an immense pleasure for him. Here’s the ultimate professional, the most durable star of them all. She virtually spans the history of moviemaking, the last workable bridge back to the silents. She made her first movie “Pretty Ladies” 46 years ago.
She’s been a star since “Our Dancing Daughters” (1928), she starred in one of the first talkies “Untamed” (1929).
She’s made 82 movies from “Grand Hotel” and “Rain” to “Mildred Pierce” (which won her the Oscar) and “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?”
Not necessarily a great actress – she made a few memorable pictures though she says “I love them all!” - but a great star Humphrey Bogart once said the most misused of terms is “moviestar” – “There are damned few of them worthy of it. Gable was one. Cooper another. Joan Crawford is one!”
You can measure the Crawford career on this set. In Gerard’s script, she plays an asthmatic woman whose daughter has drowned and who is forced through a car accident to spend the night in a sinister old mansion overlooking a lake among a flock of “ESP freaks.”
Led by a diabolical youth (Scott Hylands), they literally try to scare her to death by conjuring up visions of her drowned daughter who comes dripping through the walls.
The daughter in chalk-white makeup with green lips and darkened eye sockets is played by 18-year-old Anne Lockhart.
Joan Crawford acted with Anne’s grandfather, Gene Lockhart. Anne’s mother, June Lockhart, once played Joan’s daughter.
Also, in the cast is David Ladd, son of Alan. “I was at your forth birthday party.” Joan told him. “I know,” he said – and pulled out snapshots.
The professionalism is the key to her durability.
I watched a very tricky scene in which Newland was using a technique they tell me hadn't been used since the days of World War I. The camera shoots through a polished glass in which we not only see Crawford but the apparition of her daughter moving toward her, literally melting into her body.
Anne, doused with water, long hair dripping, actually approaches from one direction while Joan, horrified, stares in another. “I’m cold, Mommie, so cold…” Under the lights, you shiver.
A very complex, highly emotional scene. But one take and it’s done. “Nice,” says Newland, “Very nice. That’s it for today” Looking at Crawford, he murmurs “There’s some kind of actress.”
Back in her dressing room with a ball of fluff of a dog, a shih-tzu, Joan kicks around the past.
There’s a film she made with Gable of which I am inordinately fond, “Strange Cargo.” She liked it, too.
“Nine men-and me. I loved it. It’s like the Pepsi-cola board, 19 men and me.
This is a thirsty set. We go through eight cases of Pepsi a day.”
She supplies it. She’s still Pepsi’s traveling ambassador, just back from “goodwill” trips to Copenhagen and Sal Paolo.
“I wouldn’t live in Hollywood now.” She says. “Too depressing. The movie industry to which I owe everything hardly exists.
All my friends are out of work. But I do like to come do a part on television. It’s hard work – like the movies were when I started. You had to learn to work fast to survive at MGM. That’s the way of television.”