Early life and family
Betty Barker was born in Los Angeles, California on September 30th, 1916. Her parents were Fletcher Barker Sr. and Virginia Shearon Barker.
Fletcher Barker was a gentle, mild-mannered man. He was born in Louisville, Kentucky to George M. and Linda M. Barker. Following his birth, Fletcher's family moved to St. Louis, Missouri. Of interest, Fletcher was the second cousin, twice removed of American President Abraham Lincoln. Fletcher's great-grandmother was a cousin to Lincoln's mother and the Barkers had a family heirloom oil painting of Lincoln in their home.
As an adult, Fletcher worked for a St. Louis newspaper. Fletcher met Virginia Shearon in St. Louis and they married on June 10th, 1915 in the home of Virginia's parents. Afterword, Fletcher and Virginia moved to Los Angeles, California to live with Fletcher's parents on South Figueroa Street, where he's parents had lived since 1913. After Betty's birth, her parents moved into their own home on Bushnell Avenue.
At the time of Betty's birth, her father was a confectionist at a baker supply company. Afterward, he worked as an accountant at the Charlie Chaplin Studios. Later, he became an accountant at Title Insurance and Trust Company before he was promoted to vice president. After a 24-year career with the company, he retired in September 1957.
Betty's mother, Virginia, was a lifelong housewife and mother to her two children. She was involved in various social clubs in the Pasadena area.
Virginia was born in Texas to William and Lilly Shearon. After Virginia's birth, her family moved to Webster Groves, Missouri (a suburb of St. Louis), where they had a son, William Shearon Jr.
In 1927, William Sr. divorced Lilly to marry Marjorie O'Connell, a noted historical political figure and scientist with whom William was having an affair.
Following the divorce, Lilly and William Jr. moved to California to be close to Virginia. In California, William Jr. worked as a gas station attendant, and Lilly remained a homemaker until her death at age 88 on November 7th, 1956.
Meanwhile in 1935, William Sr. and his second wife, Marjorie, moved to Washington, D.C. Marjorie O'Connell was a PhD graduate of Columbia University and held various political jobs in Washington, D.C. throughout her life. She was a researcher for the Republican National Committee, a researcher for the Work Project Administration Bureau of Research & Statistics, an analyst for the Social Security research bureau and a legislative consultant to Senator Robert A. Taft.
In 1947, William and Marjorie founded a political periodical entitled "Challenge To Socialism" (Click here to read a sample of this publication, courtesy of Columbia University). William worked as an editor on the periodical until his death in August of 1960 at age 88.
Betty's younger brother, Fletcher Jr., (nicknamed "Dick") was born on December 6th, 1917. Fletcher Jr. was born with a heart aliment and was confined to his bed for much of his youth, which also prevented him from attending public school. Betty's mother was very attentive to him throughout his life.
Despite his health condition, at the age of 15 Fletcher Jr. was awarded a certificate and a gold scholarship pin for excellence by the Los Angeles superintendent of schools after he successfully completed his elementary school course in only 2 1/2 years through home schooling. Fletcher continued his home schooling education, and as an adult he worked as a cataloguer in the library of the University of Southern California college. He never married, but did have a girlfriend/companion.
Friendship and employment with Joan
As a teenager, Betty developed a fan obsession with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and she began writing fan letters to Douglas Jr. and Joan. At age 12, Betty found Joan's home address on Bristol Avenue by using a movie star map. Shortly thereafter, using the money her parents had given her to go to Sunday school, Betty would make the 26-mile journey to Joan's home using the street car or buses. Once at Joan's house, Betty would sit on the curb and watch for Joan and Douglas. After accomplishing this feat several Sundays in a row, Joan saw Betty and she walked out to where Betty was sitting on the curb and invited her inside for milk and cookies. Joan told Betty she could comeback anytime, thus beginning a weekly occurrence of Betty visiting Joan and Douglas Jr.
During her visits, Betty would ask Joan if she could help with some task. Joan said of young Betty, "She always insisted on helping with something. She'd address photo mailers or type envelopes, whatever there was to do. But more importantly, she became a friend."
Standing at 5'9, Betty was nicknamed "Bettina" by Douglas Jr. The nickname stuck, and "Bettina" is how Joan would referred to Betty for the rest of her life.
Of Betty, Joan said in her 1962 autobiography "A Portrait of Joan":
"Betty Barker, now my secretary, was one of our first fans. Bettina was a little twelve-year-old freckle-faced child. We'd find her sitting out on the curb after Sunday School. Bennett the chauffeur would slow down and Betty would chat with us. Sometimes she'd come into the kitchen and have a glass of milk and a cookie. She was a gay, friendly girl and she obviously loved us. You couldn't resist that. I think that when Douglas and I split up, Bettina was bereft. We had looked as happy ever after to her as we did to ourselves."
After Betty graduated high school, she attended Pasadena City College. In the early-1940s, during World War 2 Betty moved to Washington, D.C., where she worked for two years for Admiral Frank Gorman. When she returned to Los Angeles in 1944, Betty was hired by RKO studios and became a personal secretary to Howard Hughes. During all of this time, she and Joan remained friends, and Betty was a frequent visitor to Joan's house.
In 1955, when Howard Hughes and RKO Studios moved their headquarters to Las Vegas, Nevada, Betty had no desire to move, therefore Betty became a full-time secretary to Joan. By this time, Betty had worked part time for Joan as a secretary/assistance since 1938.
When Joan moved full-time to Manhattan, New York in 1957, Betty's address at 8008 West Norton Avenue became the address for Joan's fan mail correspondence. This continued until Joan's death in 1977.
In 1954, Joan said of Betty: "She's the kind of friend you dream about having, the kind you'd like to be to your friends. The type of friend who always wants to give and never asks for a thing. Bettina's friendship is one of those wonderful things that burns bright through the years. On her account I am indeed grateful."
Betty's many duties as Joan's secretary included planning Joan's itineraries when traveling; making travel accommodations with hotels, car services and airlines for Joan's travels; making travel plans for Joan's children; corresponding with the children's schools when any issues arose while Joan was traveling, this included escorting Christopher to new military schools after he would be expelled from the prior one; receiving and answering fan correspondence; talking with Joan by telephone on most days to update one another on current issues and situations; assisting Joan on the sets of her film and television productions; and also checking on Joan's Brentwood house (until April 1960), and Joan's Fountain Avenue apartment (until April 1972), following Joan's move to New York in 1957.
In all regards, Betty proved herself to be exceptionally well-prepared and organized for all facets of Joan's life, and Betty remained a loyal friend and employee to Joan until Joan's death in May of 1977. Two of the very last items Joan was to sign were payrolls checks to Betty. Both dated May 9th, 1977, one day before Joan's death.
Following Joan's death, Betty traveled to New York for Joan's funeral and memorial service. While the family was at the Drake Hotel, Christopher approached Betty and apologized for his behavior as a child and teenager, telling her "I am sorry, Aunt Betty, for everything I did." Betty reassured him by saying, "Don't worry, all is forgiven." Joan's final will bestowed an allotment of $35,000 to Betty.
Betty remained in regular contact with Joan's daughters, Cathy and Cindy, and also remained in contact with Joan's niece, Joan Lowe. However, she did not remain in contact with Christina and Christopher.
In August 1977, Betty was hired as an assistant to Eva Gabor. Betty enjoyed working for Gabor, and described Gabor as a "very sweet lady with a lovely disposition." In addition, Betty liked that it was easier work tasks and shorter hours than what it had been working for Joan. However, while working for Joan, Betty had the luxury of working from home. When Betty worked for Gabor, she did so in Gabor's home, which was five miles from Betty's apartment.
In the early 1980s, Betty moved from the Norton Avenue apartment to what would be her final home; an apartment on Fuller Avenue in Los Angeles.
Because Betty's unit was the nicest one in the building, the landlord at Norton Avenue wanted to give Betty's apartment his own mother.
In early 1982, Betty retired from working at age 65, with Ava Gabor being her final employer.
According to her closest friends, Betty was a frugal person throughout her life. Her standard meal plan for the day was oatmeal in the morning, cottage cheese with pineapple for lunch and steamed vegetables for dinner.
Betty never married, however, she maintained lifelong friendships with many people, including fellow Crawford fans she came to meet while working for Joan. Betty also visited her parents each Sunday until their deaths in 1983. Betty's primary companion for 21 years (1960 - 1981) was her black cat, Ming.
Fletcher Sr. and Virginia passed away from strokes within weeks of one another. Betty's brother, Fletcher Jr., passed away at age 69 on May 23rd, 1987. Betty had her parents and brother buried in the family plot in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
After retirement, Betty remained active as a volunteer at The Cinema Glamour Shop, which benefited film industry charities, until its closure in 2005.
Betty was also a longtime member of Women of The Motion Picture Industry, and received an award from the organization for her contributions.
In early 2006, Betty had hip surgery and recovered; however by 2007, her health started to decline. Betty gradually began to stop going out socially, entertaining friends in her home and driving. Betty's final social outing was on February 25th, 2008 to UCLA's "Tribute to Screen Legend Joan Crawford."
The event was held in the James Bridges Theater, and served also as a book publication event for the Joan Crawford biography "Not The Girl Next Door" by Charlotte Chandler.
In October 2011, Betty had a transient ischemic attack (otherwise known as a TIA or mini stroke) which affected her hand. Betty went to a rehabilitation facility and successfully regained the use of her hand. However, on December 23rd, 2011, Betty had another stroke while she was living in assistant living. Betty was transported to the hospital where she remained until her death at age 95 on January 27th, 2012. Betty was laid to rest alongside her parents, brother and maternal grandmother in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Betty had good longevity genetics in her family. Her mother lived to be 89, her father lived to be 90, her paternal grandfather lived to be 84, both of Betty's maternal grandparents lived to be 88, and her maternal great aunt lived to be 97.
Betty's response to "Mommie Dearest"
Betty's loyalty to Joan as a former employee, friend and confidant was extremely honorable and forthright. After the publication of the book "Mommie Dearest" in 1978, Betty categorically refused to be interviewed on the topic of Joan Crawford. She turned down multiple requests from writers and journalists, including Bob Thomas, who published a rather false narrative biography on Joan in 1978.
In 2009, Betty was approached by Cathy LaLonde's son, Casey, to be interviewed on-camera for the exploitive documentary show "The Will: Family Secrets Revealed." Betty declined the request. Afterword, Casey made no attempt to remain in contact with Betty, and he did not know that she had passed away in 2012 until some time later. Cathy LaLonde was notified the day Betty passed away, but Cathy did not have a way to contact Casey due to the estrangement of the mother and son. Such was also the situation when Joan's daughter, Cindy, passed away in October of 2007. Casey did not learn of Cindy's death until he read about it on a Joan Crawford website. Despite this, Casey publicly claims he maintained a close relationship with Betty, and even refers to her as "Aunt Betty," while he presents himself as the "spokesperson" of Joan's family.
The only known interview Betty ever gave to a writer in regard to her employment and friendship with Joan was on September 24th, 1978. The interviewer who was a trusted friend to both Betty and Joan, and was planning a book to counter "Mommie Dearest" with facts to debunk several of the claims in the book, along with interviews by those who were first-hand eye-witnesses, friends and household staff.
Ultimately, the book was never published. However, this Webmaster has obtained the research materials of that book and has made the decision to release short excerpts from Betty's interview directly regarding some of the allegations in "Mommie Dearest." Betty intended for her words in this interview to be made public, and now, for the first time ever, Betty's words are made public exclusively through this website. The abovementioned excerpts can be read here.