Joan Crawford (born Lucille Fay LeSueur; March 23, 190?[Note 1] – May 10, 1977) was an American film and television actress who began her career as a dancer in traveling theatrical companies before debuting as a chorus girl on Broadway. Crawford then signed a motion picture contract with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1925; her career spanned six decades, multiple studios, and controversies.
At different stages of her career, she was noted for her diverse roles playing sympathetic and unsympathetic characters, and for realistic yet multi-layered performances. Her greatest success and most popular performances came from melodramas and romantic comedies, but her filmography ranges in genres from film noir and historical costume dramas to musicals and horror films. In 1999, the American Film Institute ranked Crawford tenth on its list of the greatest female stars of Classic Hollywood Cinema.
In the 1930s, Crawford’s fame rivaled and later surpassed that of MGM colleagues Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo. Though she started by portraying flappers, Crawford often played wealthy women in distress (Dance, Fools, Dance, This Modern Age, Letty Lynton, No More Ladies, I Live My Life, Susan and God) or hard-working young women who found romance and success (Our Dancing Daughters, Paid, Laughing Sinners, Grand Hotel, Dancing Lady, Sadie McKee, The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, The Shining Hour, The Bride Wore Red, Mannequin). These characters and stories were well received by Depression-era audiences, and were popular with women. Crawford became one of Hollywood’s more prominent movie stars, and one of the higher-paid women in the United States.
In 1938, she was among a group of actresses deemed “box office poison” by theater owners, until her pivotal role in the all-female cast of 1939’s The Women gained her praise from critics and audiences alike. Her success continued with a performance as a facially disfigured criminal in the melodrama A Woman’s Face, which garnered her critical acclaim. In 1945, she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her portrayal of the hard-working, divorced, protective mother in the title role of Mildred Pierce. Crawford also received two Best Actress Award nominations as recognition for her work in Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952).
In 1954, she starred in the Western Johnny Guitar, although unsuccessful during its original release, the cult film has since been lauded. In 1955, Crawford became involved with the Pepsi-Cola Company through her marriage to company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alfred Steele, although she continued to act in film and television throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1962, she starred alongside long-time rival Bette Davis in the horror film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which once again returned her to critical acclaim and box office success, with many believing she would receive another Oscar nomination, however she did not.
In 1970 Crawford made her last theatrical film, and until a few weeks before her death, she continued to tape numerous regular radio spots and announcements for a variety of not-for-profit causes. Following a public appearance in 1974, she withdrew from events that required her to be photographed, becoming increasingly reclusive until her death in 1977.
Crawford married four times. Her first three marriages ended in divorce; the last ended with the death of husband Alfred Steele. She adopted five children, one of whom was reclaimed. Crawford’s relationships with her two eldest children, Christina and Christopher, were acrimonious. After Crawford’s death, Christina released a well-known but controversial “tell-all” memoir, Mommie Dearest (1978)