Happy Birthday Mommy Dearest: In Memory of Joan Crawford’s 105th Birthday 03.23.10

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MargOH Channing

By MargOH! Channing

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“I never go outside unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.”– Joan Crawford

Kids, that is the type of lady Lucille LeSeur was and much like her Academy Award winning character, Mildred Pierce, Joan Crawford epitomized the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who made it big.

As a fellow “wrong side of the tracks gal”–I grew up as a poor fish monger’s daughter from Bangor, Maine and went on to become the most decorated extra in the history of motion pictures and television–I really related to our lady Joan.   One of my fondest memories growing up was going to the pictures with my mother to see Joan in the film Strait-Jacket. I immediately went home and triedto strike a match on the phonograph to light my mother’s cigarette.  By the age of sixteen I could light a match on my mother’s Patty Duke albums with one hand while swigging bourbon on the rocks in the other.  Momma was so proud of me.

And that was just the beginning.  I have continued my quest to honor the Crawford inside throughout my life.   I often slink my way from my bedroom into my master bathroom, slip out of my luxurious silk robe (with shoulder pads of course) and six inch baby doll pumps and step into my gardenia and rose scented bath to drink dirty martinis until I’m good and drunk.   And then plunge my face into a sink of ice water to sober up. The only thing missing is Christina to make me a fresher… but I am considering adopting a Haitian baby and that should complete the picture…

Of course that was the Crawford of Mommie Dearest, the film based on daughter Christina’s book.  Although controversial, it secured Joan as one of the holiest of gay icons.  Whether truthful or exaggerated it only served to make her even more of a kindred spirit to me.  For instance my mother would slap me around for playing dress up and scuffing her heels or interrupting her trysts (so what if they seemed to always take place in our kitchen…against the refrigerator door).  I understood why and I deserved it.  And Christina, darling, anyone who has ever seen what a wire hanger does to an Adrian original should know that they are unacceptable!  Get over it!

The Crawford I truly admire and strive to be like is the take no prisoners, hard working movie star with a career that spanned 45 years and many reinventions;The woman who never stopped working, who went from silent movie glamour girl to camp queen, businesswoman to writer.

Later in her career after she had become Mrs. Alfred Steele and served as ambassador for her CEO husband’s Pepsi-Cola Company, Joan led us all into the light by describing what it took to be the best modern woman we could be in her book My Way of Life. This book has become my bible and I refer to it often when I want to shed a few pounds the hard way (on a wooden slant board), throw a spontaneous dinner party for 10 to 18 of my closest friends,   how to brush my naturally heavy and dark eyebrows so that they are neat or to remind myself that every dress should have matching gloves.   And of course without this blessed tome I never would have known to keep meatloaf, pot roast, beef bourguignon, lobster Newburg and creamed chicken cooked and frozen ahead of time for emergencies! Who else could I trust to teach me to be this fabulous? These are lessons one does not learn in the fish market!

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In 1974 I was lucky enough to meet Ms.Crawford at a party she threw at the Rainbow Room for Rosalind Russell.   I brought my dog-eared copy of her book and shyly approached her to have it signed.  She turned to me, smiled her movie star smile and, as she signed it, said, “Darling, haven’t you read the book? I would try not wearing your hair in an upsweep.” She reached up to my coiffure and, with a well-practiced hand, released my hair in a hailstorm of bobby pins. “Let it frame your youthful face so you don’t look like a Trog,” she said, peering at me. “And if I were you I would also use Max Factor medium beige foundation so you won’t look like Baby Jane.” She took my chin in her hand and added “Darling, make sure you always leave the house looking your best, it’s a woman’s duty”. Then she turned, a handsome young man materialized to take her arm, and she moved toward the elevator leaving behind a waft of jungle gardenia and vodka.I called to her “I promise to always look my best Ms. Crawford!”  Just as the door was closing I saw her smile and arch her brow…

Carrying on the promise I made (and the tradition she set forth for all women to carry on) I never leave the house without looking my best.  In keeping that promise I know a piece of Joan always walks with me.  And she is right…it IS my duty.

Kids, today is Joan Crawford’s 105th birthday–let’s all raise a glass of vodka and Pepsi in honor of the legacy of ambition, style, strength and beauty she left behind.  In 1973 at a special appearance at Town Hall in New York City she famously exclaimed “I never knew there was so much…love!”  Well there was and there always will be.  The girl from the wrong side of the tracks fought her way to the right side of all of our hearts and for that we will always love her.

Happy Birthday Joan darling!

MargOH! Channing

By MargOH! Channing

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