Joan Crawford is an interesting, and marketable, topic, therefore over 20 biographies have been written about her life and career.
With so many biographies, it's hard to know which ones are useful resources, and which ones are inaccurate and should be avoided. This page will document all of the biographies, along with a brief review by this Webmaster. These reviews and opinions are based on my 20-plus years as a Crawford researcher. Beyond Joan's own autobiographies, there are only two biographies I recommend as decent biographies on Joan; "Joan Crawford" by Bob Thomas and "Crawford: The Last Years" by Carl Johnes. However, I think the definitive Crawford biography, which does her justice and states the true facts, has yet to be published.
(Biographies are listed in chronological order by the date of their publication)
"A Portrait of Joan" by Joan Crawford and Jane Kesner Ardmore, 1962 (Published by Doubleday) (202 pages)
"A Portrait of Joan" is the warm, sincere account of an underprivileged Kansas City girl who, through hard work and determination, rose to become an honored actress of great magnitude and a respected figure in American industry. It is full of glamorous moments, heart-warming episodes and exciting personalities."
Joan's first autobiography is typically ridiculed as being "whitewashed," however, she is rather straightforward in the telling of her life. This autobiography was published before the time when it became fashionable to shock the reader with personal confessions in order to sell the book. Joan does not present herself as perfect, or as someone who always made the right choice. She cites her faults, but does so with class and taste.
"The Films of Joan Crawford" by Lawrence J. Quirk, 1968 (Published by Cadillac Publishing Co., Inc) (220 pages)
This biography was published at the end of 1968, therefore, Joan' final film "Trog" is not included in the first edition. However, subsequent editions published after 1971 include "Trog." It is a nice resource to chronicle Joan's film career, and includes a synopsis, photos and cast listing for each of Joan's films. Quirk would later also publish "Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography" in 2002.
"Joan Crawford" by Bob Thomas, 1978 (Published by Simon & Schuster) (273 pages)
"Here, at last, is the complete and extraordinary story of Joan Crawford's life, her films, her marriages, her secrets and her loves, in an intimate biography that delineates the character and the personality of the Ultimate Star."
This is the first complete biography published about Joan Crawford in America. It was written by reporter Bob Thomas, who used many of his own published articles and some of his personal accounts with Joan to compile the book. Thomas conducted over 150 interviews for this book in 1977. However, the book's writing suffers due to it being written by a columnist who is obviously accustom to writing articles with as few words as possible. Therefore the book focuses more on Joan's film career rather than Joan Crawford the person. The book's writing feels rushed and this may have to do with it being written quickly in order to be published at the same time as Christina Crawford's "Mommie Dearest," which was October 1978. Thomas' book was published in November 1978.
In my opinion, this is the most complete Joan Crawford biography available, despite its many errors of fact and lack of real insight into Joan the person. In addition, Thomas implemented a biased viewpoint throughout the book to portray Joan as a temperamental movie star diva. After I obtained all of Thomas' research material, I discovered that his biased approach included omitting use of many, if not most, of the positive stories he was told about Joan, and taking other stories out of proper context to create a negative persona of Joan. This biased narrative almost found its way into the book's title. Thomas' original title for the biography was "Joan Crawford: The Dark Side of A Star." Most of the Crawford biographies published after this one took the bulk of their material from this book and simply re-worded it.
"My Way of Life" by Joan Crawford, 1971 (Published by Simon and Schuster) (224 pages)
"Written for every woman who wants to live beautifully and successfully, by a woman who has triumphantly done both, this fascinating and wonderfully revealing book by our greatest star is both an autobiography and much more than an autobiography."
This autobiography is an interesting one because it's more of a "how to be Joan Crawford" guide than an actual autobiography. Though, Joan does offer a great deal of personal information about her life within the pages. It's a rather unique book from a celebrity, particularly from an actor.
"Joan Crawford" (A volume in the "Pyramid Illustrated History of the Movies" series) by Stephen Harvey, 1974 (159 pages)
There was a series of these Hollywood actor books published by Pyramid during the 1970s. Each had a different writer. For Joan's volume, Jeanne Basinger, a Wesleyan University professor who taught a Joan Crawford film class, was originally offered the writing assignment, but she turned it down due to other commitments. Stephen Harvey did an acceptable job chronicling Joan's film work, but I believe it would have been much better had Basinger been the writer.
"Joan Crawford: The Raging Star" by Charles Castle, 1977 (Published by New English Library, London, England) (186 pages)
The first biography published after Joan's death, the book bares the bold, and untrue statement "Charles Castle's Authorized Biography" across its cover, however, no proof or accounting is presented within the book to demonstrate that Joan had any involvement with the book's research or writing. The content is highly sensationalized, with numerous errors of fact. Much of the biography's information is suspect due to the author's claim of it being "authorized" by Joan. This book was, in no way, "authorized." This claim by Castle resulted in a lawsuit against the author and publisher by Joan's estate, who discovered that the Joan letter to Castle depicted at the beginning of the book had been doctored by Castle.
Click here to read further about this book's publication, and to read the book in its entirety.
"Crawford: The Last Years" by Carl Johnes, 1979 (Published by Dell Publishing Co.) (172 pages)
"Carl Johnes was as new to his job at Columbia Pictures as he was to the sophisticated world of New York. Joan Crawford was the towering star who dominated the screen with her explosive blend of beauty and talent for nearly forty years, the rare friendship that would bring Johnes into Joan Crawford's very personal life. Thus begins a rare memoir that illuminates the real Crawford."
This is my most highly-rated biography of Joan Crawford. This is because I have personally validated much of its information via my interviews with many of the people mentioned within the book's pages. It is written by a first-hand source and exhibits a neutral point of view on Crawford. The only drawback is that it only pertains to the last five years of Joan's life - particularly the years of 1974 through 1975 when Johnes' friendship with Joan was at its height.
Click here to read the book in its entirety.
"Jazz Baby" by David Houston, 1983 (Published by St. Martin's Press) (203 pages)
"A biography documenting Crawford's formative years in Oklahoma as Lucille LeSueur. The biography contains several rare photos of Crawford's youth, and photos of relevant locations relating to Crawford's youth."
This biography does offer some interesting research that the author conducted in Lawton, Oklahoma and Kansas City, Missouri. However, the author also includes fabricated conversations and situations where he had no source (i.e undocumented conversations between Joan and her mother and stepfather when she was a child). Therefore, the book is sullied due to the author inserting his own baseless perceptions of what may have occurred between Joan and her family. This book is definitely worth reading, but I advise not taking the unsourced, and obviously fabricated, conversations as fact. I suggest looking past these incidences and focusing on the actual statements of facts contained within the book - therein lies the book's strength.
"Conversations With Joan Crawford" by Roy Newquist, 1980 (Published by Citadel Press) (175 pages)
This biography is written using alleged interviews Newquist conducted with Joan from 1962 until her death in 1977. However, the true authenticity of this book is to be held in great question. Newquist states in the preface there were no audio recordings of the conversations (interviews) he conducted with Crawford over the 15 year span, and he claims to have documented the interviews via shorthand. This is in direct contrast of Newquist's confirmed interviews with celebrities, whereby each interview was audio recorded.
Of the book's 175 pages only 108 pages (62% of the book) actually contain Joan's "interviews." A very minimal amount considering Newqust allegedly interviewed Joan for over 15 years. Furthermore, it has been stated that Crawford's secretary, Betty Barker, claimed to have no records of any appointments Newquist ever had with Crawford, and no records of any interviews he conducted.
This Webmaster can confirm, from first-hand knowledge, that Newquist's name is not within either of Crawford's voluminous telephone directories from the 1960s and 1970s. The fact remains there are no aspects contained within this book that were not previously told, or alluded to, in Joan's own autobiography "A Portrait of Joan," or Bob Thomas' biography, thereby making this book very easy to have manufactured from prior published sources. I have personally interviewed Newquest's children, who refer to their father as an alcoholic "con artist." I wholeheartedly contend this book is completely fraudulent.
"Joan Crawford The Ultimate Star" by Alexander Walker, 1983 (Published by Harper & Row)
"Superbly designed and including over 250 often rare pictures, the book is both critical study and a collector's item."
An attractive picture book filled with quality photos of Joan. The book does offer written insight into Joan's life, however, some of the passages contain factual errors, and many quotes are taken from the fictitious book "Conversations With Joan Crawford."
Through my own research in obtaining all of Walker's original research and documents pertaining to the book's publication, I discovered the title of the book was originally "Joan Crawford: A Pictorial Biography." It was then changed to "Joan Crawford: The Life-Style of A Star," before it was titled "Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Star."
Click here to view documents pertaining to the pre-publication of this biography, including correspondence, book order communications and the contract between Walker and his literary agent.
"Legends: Joan Crawford" by John Kobal, 1986 | American edition 1988 (Published by Little, Brown & Company)
A tastefully-presented picture book with full-page photos of Crawford throughout her life and film career. I do think it is a shame Kobel did not include some photos of Joan during the 1960s; the last photo in the book was taken on the set of "Autumn Leaves" in August 1955, therefore, the book only covers a little over two-thirds of Joan's life.
"Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" by Shaun Considine, 1989 (Published by Dutton Adult) (415 pages)
"A joint biography of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford which follows their deadly rivalry throughout their careers. They only worked together once, in the film "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane" but their real life dislike of one another transcended even the antagonism depicted in the film."
This book offers decent insight into the timeline of the careers of Joan and Bette Davis. However, it is littered with baseless, unsourced rumors, false second-hand information and the author's narrative - which is to amplify Joan and Bette Davis' alleged "feud" to more than it was in reality. This book is better viewed merely as entertainment than biographical due to the many exhibitions of erroneous rumors provided therein. The rear of the book does offer citations for sources, however, the most outlandish claims found within the book conveniently does not offer any source citations by Considine.
"Crawford's Men" by Jane Ellen Wayne, 1988 (Published by Prentice Hall Press) (237 pages)
"Drawn from innumerable interviews with people in the entertainment industry - including Crawford herself - Crawford's Men presents a compelling portrait of a driven. power-hungry woman and the men in her life."
One of the shortest of all the Crawford biographies. The book is poorly researched and skips through Joan's life, giving a sloppy summary of the highlights, but lacks any real information on who Joan was as a person or actress. The book is essentially a shortened rip-off of Bob Thomas' 1978 biography. Incidentally, Thomas' biography is cited throughout as the source material; and, coincidentally, it repeats some of the same factual errors found in Thomas' biography. In addition, the book also contains un-sourced conversations between Joan with her various friends and co-workers. These conversations appear to have simply been fabricated by Wayne. The only distinctive aspect of this book is the preface by Wayne regarding three interviews she conducted with Joan for a biography she was writing on actor Robert Taylor. However, due to this author's tenancy to include obviously fabricated dialogue into her book, I am not convinced much of the preface dialogue is legitimate. Nor does the author give a date for these encounters, which were, presumably, conducted one year prior to Wayne's publication on Robert Taylor in 1973. My advice: skip this one.
"Joan Crawford: The Last Word" by Fred Lawrence Guiles, 1995 (Birch Lane Press) (202 pages)
Webmaster's review: This biography attempts to help present a better image of Joan than other biographies, however, it is a mess of inaccurate information. For example, in the biography’s first few pages, Guiles makes inexcusable, sloppy errors of facts such as claiming Joan’s brother, Hal, had died in the winter of 1963 (he died on May 3rd), that “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” began filming in June 1963 (it began in June 1964), and claiming Joan was living in her house on Bristol Avenue during the filming of “Charlotte” (Joan had sold the house in April 1960). The only redeeming quality of this biography is that Guiles interviewed a few people who knew Joan, first-hand, and who had not already been quoted in the preceding Crawford biographies. However, this small amount of research isn't enough to hold this book together. My advice: Don't waste your time.
"Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography" by Lawrence J. Quirk & William Schdell, 2002 (Published by The University Press of Kentucky) (270 pages)
"Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography explores the life and career of one of Hollywood's great dames. She was a leading film personality for more than fifty years, from her beginnings as a dancer in silent films of the 1920s, to her portrayals of working-class shop girls in the Depression thirties, to her Oscar-winning performances in classic films such as Mildred Pierce."
Webmaster's review: Quirk knew Joan from the 1950s until her death, however, their friendship is not documented very much in Quirk's biography for a very good reason; their friendship was not much more than an acquaintanceship. However, Quirk and his partner/lover William Schoell use his association with Joan in order to offer outrageous accusations within this biography. Namely the claim that Joan confided in Quirk that she and her stepfather, Henry Cassin, engaged in a sexual relationship starting when she was 11. This biography is the genesis of this sexual abuse rumor which is now widely-circulated online and in the media, particularly in the television series "Feud Bette & Joan." I reject the claim by Quirk that Joan ever told him such a story. Not only was Quirk merely an acquaintance, but he was also a frequently out-of-work writer who would ask Joan for money, although Quirk, conveniently, does not document this aspect of their association in his book. In my opinion, Joan was entirely too savvy and guarded of a person to have revealed such a shocking revelation to a struggling writer who could have sold the story to a tabloid or newspaper. Additionally, Quirk does not indicate when Joan told him this, the context or setting of this alleged conversation, or any other distinguishing description for why Joan would have randomly confided such a secret to him. I believe that if Joan told Quirk of any sexual issue she may have had with one of her mother's suitors, it would have been Harry Hough. Joan stated in "A Portrait of Joan" that Hough became inappropriate with her during her teenage years in Kansas City. For the benefit of the doubt, perhaps Quirk is confusing the details all these decades later. However, Quirk plays-up all sexual aspects of Joan's life in his biography, including the unfounded, and unsourced, claim that Joan's brother, Hal, had homosexual encounters. This element is in keeping with Quirk's seemingly obsessive need to play-up homosexual elements. Otherwise, this book is another sensationalized Bob Thomas biography knockoff, and is not worth the time it takes to read it.
"Not The Girl Next Door" by Charlotte Chandler, 2008 (Published by Simon & Schuster) (294 pages)
"She was beautiful, talented, irascible, ruthless, vulnerable, and a true Hollywood legend. Now, Charlotte Chandler gives us a revealing and often surprising portrait of Joan Crawford, much of it in her own words."
Author Charlotte Chandler attempts to whitewash Joan's entire life to the degree that the book is laughable. The research efforts of this book are enormously lazy, and Chandler adds nothing new to the already published material on Joan. It's most likely that Chandler obtained much of her material for this book from Bob Thomas' 1978 biography. The only new information offered within the book is the erroneous claim that Christina began writing "Mommie Dearest" prior to Joan's death, and that Joan knew and told Chandler. This is my main issue with this book. Chandler is outright lying. I base this assertion on factual evidence to the contrary. For instance, Charlotte Chandler was, by no means, a close confidant to Joan. I believe Chandler interviewed Joan only once in the mid to late 1960s for an article (which was never published). Chandler actually recalls this ONE meeting with Joan in her 1984 autobiography, "The Ultimate Seduction." However, by 2008, Chandler claimed she met with Joan several times throughout the late 1970s. I reject this claim by Chandler. This is primarily because Chandler's name is not located in either of Joan's voluminous telephone directories. One of which was written in long-hand by Joan, and was frequently updated by her until 1977. If Chandler was a "close friend" to Joan, then her name would have been in this telephone directory, which lists every person Joan was in contact with at the time. Secondly, Chandler claims she was introduced to Joan by publicist John Springer, and that each time she met with Joan (from 1974-1977), Springer was present. I have found documentation that Joan had no further interactions with John Springer after September 1974, when he announced Joan as the hostess for his book's publication party without her consent.
In addition, I have interviewed several close confidants to Joan during her last years and none of them were ever told by Joan that she had any knowledge of Christina writing a book. Therefore, it is extremely odd that Joan would have shared this personal information with Chandler, who was, at best, an acquaintance. Furthermore, Chandler was already an established writer by 1978, and if her claims that Joan told her this information was true, it is extremely suspicious that she did not publish an article to this effect at a time when it would have made national news, or even in "The Ultimate Seduction" in 1984. Instead, Chandler wrote this information in her own biography on Joan, which wasn't published until 2008 - 30 years later, and after John Springer's death. Making Chandler's claims even more suspect. My advice: Don't waste your time. There is nothing to learn from this book.
"Joan Crawford: Her Life In Letters" by Michelle Vogel, 2005 (Published by Wasteland Press) (217 pages)
"From published author, Michelle Vogel, comes Joan Crawford: Her Life in Letters. The letters derive from Ms. Crawford's meticulous attention to her fan base. She encouraged letters from her adoring fans and made the uncanny effort to answer them. What emerges is a chronological biography of filmdom's ultimate movie star."
A useless book that is comprised primarily of letters the author took off the internet. The author's editorial, and the letters chosen for the book, does not offer any real insight into who Joan was as a person or actress. This biography adds nothing to Joan's legacy, or knowledge of her life. In an apparent attempt to "validate" this poor book, Vogel had Joan's grandson, Casey LaLonde, provide the book's foreword. However, LaLonde is too much of a novice on his grandmother's life to authorize a biography.
Additionally, Vogal makes factual errors in the book and on photo captions. She also includes letters that weren't even written, or signed, by Joan, but rather signed by Joan's secretary, Betty Barker. My advice: Don't waste your time or money.
"Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr" by David Brent, 2009 (Published by Da Capo Press) (261)
"Drawing on a wealth of unpublished material and interviews with stars like Marlene Dietrich and Douglas Fairbanks, David Bret presents a fascinating portrait of a single-minded, uncompromising woman."
One of the worst (if not THE worst) biographies written about Joan Crawford, and that is saying a lot.
It is poorly written and extremely poorly researched. Like Lawrence Quirk's 2002 biography, this book includes a lot of unsourced sensationalized material that I believe David Brent fabricated himself. In simplest terms, it is yet another sensationalized rip-off of Bob Thomas' 1978 biography.
When confronted with these facts about his biography on social media, Brent's response was that he "limped all the way to the bank." This is aside from the usual degrading names to which David Brent regularly refers to women in comments on social.
My advice: Don't waste your time.
"Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star" by Peter Cowie, 2009 (Published by Rizzoli Intentional Publications, Inc.) (218 pages)
"Drawing from archives around the world and including more than a hundred photos unseen in the past twenty-five years, Joan Crawford: The Enduring Star reintroduces us to this ultimate Hollywood legend."
A decent coffee table book. I would not categorize this as a biography as much as a picture book, similar to "Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Star" by Alexander Walker. However, it seems more effort and time went into Walker's book than this one.
"Just Joan: A Joan Crawford Appreciation" by Donna Marie Nowak, 2010 (Published by Bear Manor Media) (574 pages)
"Illustrated with over 300 photos, many of them rare and never before in print, JUST JOAN is a compilation of over four years of comprehensive research, culled from rare Lincoln Center archives, original magazines and those who knew her."
This biography is obviously written by an admirer of Joan Crawford, which is nice. However, the book is composed primarily of subjective opinions by the author and reads more like a fan blog than a biography. The author may have conducted some limited research for this biography, however, the majority of the information offered within this book's pages is taken directly from the previously-published Crawford biographies. This biography is what the title states, an "appreciation" by a fan. I do not consider this book to be a valuable resource for Crawford fans who are hoping to learn about Joan Crawford. There are other Crawford biographies better written than this one.
"Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford" by Donald Spoto, 2010 (Published by Harper Collins) (292 pages)
"New York Times bestselling author Donald Spoto has already brilliantly explored the lives and careers of numerous Hollywood stars Possessed is a fascinating study of the real Joan Crawford, a remarkable actress, businesswoman, mother, and lover."
This biography was written by an author who publishes biographies every year or so on a different person. Spoto, who appears to fancy himself as a respected intellectual, published six biographies (including this one) on six different people within a time frame of four years. A reader of this biography will gain no further insight into Joan than can be obtained from Bob Thomas' 1978 biography, Considine's "The Divine Feud" and Johnes' "Crawford: The Last Years" - all of which Spoto took material from for his book.
Spoto simply rewrote what had been previously published, and included information from some transcribed magazine articles he took from Crawford websites, as well as Spoto taking photos off the interent to use in the book, many of which appear in the book heavily pixilated. Spoto apparently equates blatant theft from prior works as "good research."
The only redeeming factor to this book is what Spoto did not do, which was to introduce new erroneous rumors on Joan in the way Lawrence Quirk and Charlotte Chandler did with their biographies. However, do not misunderstand, Spoto's biography is still filled with the same erroneous information he copied from the preexisting Crawford biographies. Most of which were also written by writers who did not do proper research.
"What Ever Happened To Mommie Dearest?" by John William Law, 2012 (Published by Aplomb Publishing) (202 pages)
"Filled with photos and rare details from behind the screen, What Ever Happened to Mommie Dearest? offers a look at Joan Crawford's evolution from movie star to horror queen and literary monster and back to Hollywood icon."
An unneeded book. The majority, if not the entirely, of the information for this book came directly from previously-published Crawford biographies and the internet. Despite its claim to offer "rare details," this book offers nothing in terms of new information.
"Four Fabulous Faces" by Larry Carr, 1970 (Published by Arlington House(1st edition hardback) (492 pages)
Webmaster's review: This is a beautiful picture book that exhibits many photos of Joan, Marlene Dietrich, Gloria Swanson and Greta Garbo throughout their lives and careers. Joan was not happy with one of the photos displayed in the book of her from 1969. She cut out the photo before signing a copy of it. The later publications of the book used an alternate photo in place of the one Joan did not like.
Click here to read more into the photo Joan removed of herself from this book.
"They Had Faces Then" by John Springer and Jack D. Hamilton, October 3rd, 1974 (Published by Citadel Press)
"Springer and Hamilton comprise this book well-written book which details the actresses of the golden age of Hollywood."
The book documents many actresses of the 1930s, including Joan. However, in relation to Joan, the most interesting aspect of this book is that Joan hosted the publication party for this book on September 23th, 1974 at the Rainbow Room in Manhattan, New York. John Springer had announced Joan as the party's hostess without her consent. Springer was an accomplished promoter, and it is not typically known that his "Legendary Ladies" at Town Hall, which included Joan, was for early promotion of this book. The book was originally scheduled to be published in the summer/fall of 1973.
"Mommie Dearest" by Christina Crawford, 1978 (Published by William Morrow & Company, Inc.)
"Mommie Dearest is the story of the relationship between a child trying to stay alive and a ruthless, cunning, lonely woman who knew every trick of survival."
Christina Crawford's memoir about her life with her adoptive mother, Joan Crawford. So much has been written about this book that I won't attempt to dissect its legitimacy here. Rather I will present the facts of its publication. It was published in October 1978. It became an instant best seller. In the 1990s, Christina formed her own publishing company, Seven Springs Press, and subsequently published three anniversary editions; a 20th, 30th and 40th. In the anniversary editions, Christina added additional material that was originally edited out of her original manuscript to William Morrow.
"Survivor" by Christina Crawford, 1988 (Published by Donald I. Fine, Inc.)
"Survivor is an intensely personal interior landscape chronicling one woman's journey through the unknown, searching for the elements of personal transformation to discover hope and the ability to love and a deep sense of belonging."
"Survivor" documents Christina's life after the publication of "Mommie Dearest" in 1978, including Christina sell of the film rights to the book, her divorce from her second husband, David Koontz and her stoke, that occurred in 1981.
"The Other Side of My Life" by Gary Deatherage, 1991 (Published by Winston Derek Publications, Inc.)
David Gary Deatherage chronicle's his journey into his past, which includes discovering he had been adopted by Joan Crawford in 1941, before being returned to his biological mother. Deatherage had no memories of his time with Joan, but includes details about Joan's aboption of him, and his birth mother's attempt to extort Joan, only for Joan to give him back and his subsequent adoption to another family.
Click here to read excerpts from this book pertaining to Joan Crawford.