MOMMIE DEAREST (Christina Crawford)

Joan_Crawford_in_Whatever_Happened_to_Baby_Jane_trailerSpoiled ungrateful adopted daughter or a victim of serious child abuse? What really happened behind the closed doors of Hollywood’s greatest diva?

She who put the C into camp itself. Who the hell cares ! It is captivating, but only because Joan Crawford makes it so.

Were this a book about a girl who was adopted by a wealthy un-famous mother it wouldn’t be half as interesting, nor would the “abuse” seem half as great. Christina wasn’t beaten or molested, she was treated strictly and punished when she didn’t obey. When Joan felt she couldn’t control her she took things away from Christina and ultimately sent her away to school. I do believe that, in outline form, the book is truthful.

I’m willing to accept, as others have said, that Joan was a narcissistic bitch. But I also believe that these were stricter and harsher times in terms of how parents tried to raise kids–almost everyone I know from my parent’s generation talk about how they got soundly whipped if they stepped out of line.

Today that would warrant a visit from a Child Protection Service, so in some respects it was the times. I don’t think Joan was a malevolent person. I think that she may have perceived the natural unruliness of children as a rejection of her authority and control,  which may have set off her neurotic fear that she was going to slip, to backslide, that only by exerting complete control over her environment could she keep from going back to where she came from.

Because of Joan’s own background of bitter poverty, she was determined that her adopted children, who were given a lavish Hollywood lifestyle, not become spoiled brats. In the case of Christina she obviously failed. This book is transparently motivated by Christina’s bitterness at not inheriting any money and the dismal failure of her own acting career, so she has chosen instead to become a professional victim and cash in on her mother’s name by dragging it through the mud.

Not terribly admirable in my opinion. Not terribly reliable either; much of her book recounts events that happened while she was too young to possibly remember what was happening or later events at which she wasn’t even present.

It would have been nice to see Christina make some effort to understand her mother in a compassionate way. The tone of the book is unrelentingly bitter and spiteful,  eventually Christina undermines her own credibility with her one-sidedness. An attempt to take at least one charitable look at Joan might have convinced me I could trust that her other perceptions are not distortions.

No one will ever know to what extent the allegations in “Mommie Dearest” are true or untrue, so arguing those points is pointless. Joan actually comes out of this much better than the daughter: cloying, alcoholic, damaged, pathetic, and only partly conscious of her well-earned status as a woman of ill repute.



  1. Very interesting points to consider! 🙂 Faye Dunaway did a phenomenal job in the film version.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks, I’ll have to see it sometime!


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