Was Joan Crawford a lesbian or bisexual? The answer is: There is no proof
The question of Joan Crawford's sexuality has been raised in several Crawford biographies, as well as several books on the topic of classic film actors.
However, the majority of the biographers who have broached this topic have never actually researched Crawford's life, and have simply borrowed the information from other previously-written biographies that claimed Joan was a bisexual.
In order to trace the origin of the Joan Crawford bisexuality allegation, we must first establish the first instance when Joan Crawford's sexuality was called into question.
In October 1978, Christina Crawford published "Mommie Dearest." In the book, Christina Crawford relays a story that she claimed was told to her by a woman who was their nanny for a period of time.
Page 129 "Mommie Dearest":
"Years later I saw [one of my former nannies] in New York. I was about nineteen at the time [Webmaster's note: therefore this alleged conversation took place in or around 1958]. She told me the real reason she'd had to leave our house many years before. The former nurse told me that one night Mother came into her room and wanted her to have a drink. The woman said no, Mother got angry and stormed back into her own room, slamming the door behind her. A few night later the woman was already asleep and woke up to find Mother standing next to her bed. Again, my mother asked her to join her in a drink. Mother was unsteadily on her feet and must have been drinking alone half the night. Then she said that Mother invited her to come into her room and sleep with her. The woman said no to that proposition. After a few choice words, Mother left. From then on, the woman locked the door to her room at night. But, when Mother got drunk she'd come and pound on the door immediately to let her in. The woman would say nothing and not move from her bed until finally my mother left. The woman decided she couldn't stay with us any longer.
It didn't shock me because I already knew about my mother's lesbian proclivities, and this only added to what I had already figured out for myself."
After reading this account, automatically several red flags are raised regarding the validity of the claim. First, this is a secondhand account by an unnamed source. It is not a firsthand account by Christina Crawford. Secondly, nowhere within this account is any sexual conduct, or actual sexual "proposition," mentioned to warrant the immediate assumption that Joan visiting this woman's room at night was sexually motivated, rather than motivated by Joan's loneliness and desire to talk to a friend.
However, the largest issue with this statement is that it was apparently not even Christina Crawford's words, but rather the invention of Christina's book publisher, William Morrow, and this statement was redacted from Christina's Anniversary Editions of her book.
In 1998, Christina Crawford published a "20th Anniversary Edition" of "Mommie Dearest." In the preface of this edition, Christina Crawford stated:
"The 20th Anniversary edition of "Mommie Dearest" is taken from my original manuscript, much of which was never published [by William Morrow in 1978].
This is very important because among the changes between the 1978 edition and the 20th Anniversary Edition of "Mommie Dearest," the sentence:
"It didn't shock me because I already knew about my mother's lesbian proclivities, and this only added to what I had already figured out for myself." is not in Christina's 20th Anniversary Edition; Nor in the book's subsequent 30th and 40th Anniversary Editions.
In her 20th Anniversary edition, the above sentence is replaced with:
"It didn’t shock me because I’d already seen so much my mother had done that having someone tell me they thought she was also a lesbian made little difference to me at this point."
Therefore, according to Christina, she had no knowledge of any bisexual conduct by Joan; and she knew of no other situation like the one told to her in 1958 by a former nanny. Therefore, according to Christina herself, the sentence "I already knew about my mother's lesbian proclivities..." was inserted into her book by the book's publisher, William Morrow, and it did not align with her actual statement, nor the essence of her statement, in her manuscript.
In chronological order of publishing date:
"Mommie Dearest" by Christina Crawford (William Morrow) 1978
Contains the claim that Christina knew her mother had "lesbian proclivities." (Page 130)
This statement was later redacted in the book's 1998 anniversary edition. (Page 139)
“Legend: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe” by Fred Lawrence Guiles (Stein and Day) 1984
“Crawford’s Men” by Jane Ellen Wayne (Prentice Hall Press) 1988
“Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud” by Shaun Considine (Dutton) 1989
"The Sewing Circle" by Axel Madson (Birch Lane Press) 1995
"Joan Crawford: The Last Word" by Fred Lawrence Guiles (Birch Lane Press) 1995
"Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography" by Lawrence Quirk and William Schoell (University Press of Kentucky) 2002
Published Sources Cited In This Debunking Page
In spite of the fact that Christina Crawford's manuscript did not include this allegation regarding Joan's sexuality, this passage from "Mommie Dearest" became the original "seed" for calling Joan's sexuality into question. Prior to the publication of "Mommie Dearest" in 1978, no source had ever claimed that Joan Crawford was a homosexual or bisexual.
This original seed was noted by Crawford biographer Fred Lawrence Guiles. In the 1995 biography "Joan Crawford: The Final Word," Guiles stated:
"As time passed on, and women stars began to dominate the screen in the 1930s and throughout the 40s,...all figured in stories circulating in Hollywood which linked them romantically with another woman. None of these stories can be confirmed. A suggestion that Joan Crawford might be among this not very exclusive circle of strong leading ladies came from her daughter, Christina."
Indeed, Guiles was correct in his perception because following the publication of "Mommie Dearest" in 1978, other Crawford biographies have alleged Joan was bisexual, but those biographies never offered any verifiable source or evidence to support this allegation; this includes Guiles' own biography on Crawford and Monroe, whereby Guiles alleges Joan made a "sexual pass" toward Monroe.
When one researches the bisexuality allegation in these biographies, one will find this allegation to be completely devoid of sources and lacking merit.
A prime example of this reckless misinformation by biographers is "Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography."
In 2002, 79 year old Lawrence Quirk and his younger gay lover, William Schoell, published their sensationalist, sexually-charged, and heavily inaccurate biography, "Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography." In this book, Quirk and Schoell make many outlandish and unsourced claims regarding Joan's sex life and her sexuality; As well as unsourced claims regarding Hal LeSueur's sexuality.
As a demonstration, I call your attention to pages 41-42 of "The Essential Biography. These pages contain alleged quotes by press agent Helen Ferguson regarding Joan's alleged bisexuality. According to Quirk and Schoell, Ferguson "confirmed" that Joan was bisexual.
Ferguson, who died in March 1977, had been a friend and press agent to actress Barbara Stanwyck. Quirk and Schoell claim that Ferguson stated, "There is no doubt in my mind that Joan and Barbara were intimate on more than one occasion." However, several red flags are raised with this alleged quote by Ferguson.
When one researches into the life of Helen Ferguson, it is revealed that she was well-known for her integrity as a professional and her immense discretion and protection for her clients, which garnered Ferguson the title "Hollywood's Mother Hen."
In 1961, writer Robert de Roos wrote an article detailing this aspect of Ferguson's personality, stating:
"Press agent Helen Ferguson fiercely protects her brood against any intruder, even the press."
Therefore, it seems unlikely that Ferguson, who died before either Joan or Barbara Stanwyck, would have gossiped about Stanwyck's sexuality to anyone who would potentially publish it. Unsurprisingly, when one reviews the sources used in "The Essential Biography," which are listed on pages 275-282 of the book, one will find there is no citation whatsoever for this alleged quote by Helen Ferguson. As a source, Quirk and Schoell merely state:
"Joan's bisexuality was also confirmed by Adela Rogers St. Johns, Ruth Waterbury, Hedda Hopper and others."
This is false. After researching, I have found there are no publications or quotes by Adela Rogers St. Johns, Ruth Waterbury or Hedda Hopper that alleges Joan was bisexual; Nor is there is a source cited by Quirk or Schoell of such a publication.
Located on pages 283-284 of "The Essential Biography," there is a section listing the publications used as sources for the biography. Roger St. Johns' "The Honeycomb," (1969) and Hopper's "From Under My Hat" (1963) are listed here. Both of these autobiographies do contain passages regarding Joan, however, neither book makes any claim whatsoever that Joan was bisexual.
In addition, this Webmaster has personally researched the paperwork collections of Adela Rogers St. Johns and Hedda Hopper that are held in research facilities. Within these collections, I discovered documents, letters and unpublished writings by these women that pertain to Joan, and some of the content was not flattering toward Joan. However, there was nothing whatsoever in either collection alleging Joan was bisexual.
The mention of Ruth Waterbury by Quirk in his Crawford biography is interesting because Waterbury did write articles on Joan in the 1930s, however, she never published any material alleging that Joan was bisexual.
Additionally, Quirk and Schoell claim on page 3 of "The Essential Biography" that Waterbury stated that Hal LeSueur told her:
"[Joan] explored my pants and every other kid's."
As with the many other outlandish claims by Quirk and Schoell, no source is given for this alleged quote by LeSueur to Waterbury.
Interestingly, this is the sum total of Waterbury's mention in "The Essential Biography" considering she had written articles on Joan for "Photoplay" throughout the 1930s, and her writings would have obviously been of interest in a Crawford biography.
In 2021, this Webmaster confronted William Schoell, Lawrence Quirk's lover and the surviving author of "The Essential Biography," regarding the sexual claims in their biography. Schoell told me that his primary contribution to the book was in regard to Joan's film career.
"I joined the book late in the process and concentrated on her career more than her personal life."
According to Schoell, the sexual allegations in the book came from Lawrence Quirk, and what he claimed to have been told over the years.
"Larry lived in Hollywood for years, was part of what one might call the gay underground, and knew where the bodies were buried, so to speak."
Therefore, according to the co-author of "The Essential Biography," there is no verifiable source for these sexuality claims; and the allegations are solely from secondhand gossip, rather than by a firsthand witness or factual evidence. Nonetheless, these aspects are presented in the biography as fact.
As with "The Essential Biography," other Crawford biographers have claimed Joan was bisexual, and these biographers based this claim on very suspicious information.
For example, both "Crawford's Men" (1988) by Jane Ellen Wayne, and "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud" (1989) by Shaun Considine, regurgitate the Marilyn Monroe "sexual pass" allegation in Fred Lawrence Guiles' 1984 Monroe biography, "Legend: The Life and Death of Marilyn Monroe."
To view an entire debunking page devoted to the Crawford-Monroe sexual allegation, click here.
Additionally, a fake quote by Jane Ellen Wayne in "Crawford's Men" was repeated in the book "The Sewing Circle" by Axel Madsen.
"The Sewing Circle" is a book focused singularly on bisexual and lesbian women in classic Hollywood. However, the only mention of any bisexual/lesbian allegation toward Joan is a repeat of the fake quote found in "Crawford's Men" regarding Greta Garbo on the set of "Grand Hotel":
"On the staircase one morning, Joan managed to meet Garbo, "What a pity, our first film together and we don't work with each other," Garbo said. She took Crawford's face in her hands and added, "I'm sorry you have a marvelous face." In recounting this stairwell meeting for publication years later, Crawford would comment, "If there was ever a time in my life when I might have been a lesbian, that was it."
Indeed Joan did tell many people, including her audience at Town Hall in New York in April 1973, the story about meeting Garbo and how she held her face and apologized that the two of them had no scenes together. However, Joan never stated: "If there was ever a time in my life when I might have been a lesbian, that was it."
Perpetuating The Lie
Tracing The Origin of The Allegation
To date, other biographies have been published that claim Joan was bisexual, however, the writers of those biographies have simply repeated the unsourced and erroneous claims made in the biographies mentioned above. As a researcher of Joan Crawford, I believe in verifying information regarding her life and all elements of it; and nothing to date has surfaced that comes close to confirmation that Joan was bisexual.
Meanwhile, due to so many published sources repeating the same false claims regarding Joan's sexuality, the public has taken these allegations as fact.
Throughout my research, I have repeatedly found that Joan Crawford's sexual interest in men was far too great for her to have been sexually interested in women.