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June 20, 2008

"Mommie Dearest"

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When Christina Crawford published "Mommie Dearest" in 1978 the book caused a sensation. Christina -- who had been adopted and raised by the movie star Joan Crawford -- accused Crawford of having been a drunk, as well as a physically abusive parent. The book was one of the first warts-and-all celeb-offspring memoirs, and it was soon followed by many others. (It was a major publishing event, in other words.) Christina had herself a bestseller, and was celebrated for her courage. She was also accused of exaggerating and even lying about events.

On the 30th anniversary of its publication, "Mommie Dearest" is being reissued. Christina has given The Guardian's Elizabeth Day her first interview in a decade.



posted by Michael at June 20, 2008


never read but saw that movie cause i love faye dunaway. amusing camp performance too.

Posted by: t. j. on June 20, 2008 8:57 AM

Heh. Indeed.

Posted by: Brian on June 20, 2008 8:03 PM

First, I'm inclined to think that what Christina wrote was about 90% accurate. (I say 90% because, due to the imperfection of language and memory, even the most accurate person is probably only about 95% accurate, and I'm willing to deduct another 5% because of probably exaggeration due to anger.)

Second, I nevertheless kind of sympathize with Joan Crawford a bit too, as I think I understand (but certainly don't approve of) where she was coming from. I think in Joan's mind she truly believed she was helping Christina by teaching her what she, Joan, had had to learn hit and miss through the "school of hard knocks." She just didn't realize how much she was fooling herself and thereby doing great damage to a young child.)

But what really interests me here, is that no one seems to remember (including Christina!) the very well documented (I think?) incident when Joan Crawford lit into the young wife of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (Cathleen Heffernan) at a dinner party -- displaying just the kind of misguided idea of mentoring that Christina describes in her book and interviews. If I remember correctly, this incident happened at a dinner party in the 1960s or 1970s and was reported in the main stream press of the day.

Don't have time to go into the details, especially since my memory of what was reported is so sketchy, but I think Joan very aggressively tried to correct what she thought was Catherine Douglas' poor dinner table deportment. And I should mention that I believe Mrs. Douglas was a very beautiful young woman who had met the much, much older Douglas while she was in law school -- in other words she was young and beautiful, while Crawford was no longer young and beautiful, and I believe she was smart, educated and middle class, and thus probably did not really need much, if any, education in dinner table etiquette.

(Using Yahoo, and tying in "Joan Crawford" Catherine Douglas, nothing seems to come up --at least in the first five or six items. If I had time, I'd do a ProQuest search of the "New York Times" as I believe even the "New York Times" might have reported the incident.)

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 20, 2008 10:30 PM

I was able to find a "Time" Magazine article on 67 year old William O. Douglas' "scandalous" marriage to 23 year old Cathleen Heffernan, but not anything about that dinner party. (According to the article, when William Douglas met her she was a college senior at an all girls school -- not a law student, as I believe some other articles have described her. But I believe she did go to law school later -- but am not sure if this was before or after the Joan Crawford dinner party.)

Here's the URL to the "Time" magazine article:,9171,899281,00.html

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 20, 2008 11:27 PM

I notice that the most recent biography of Crawford, Not the Girl Next Door by Charlotte Chandler, disputes Christina's version of events, as did her two adopted sisters. (Though my research assistant, Ms. Google, points out that her adopted brother always backed her up.)

Posted by: Lester Hunt on June 21, 2008 9:01 PM

People wonder whether Christina Crawford's portrait of Joan Crawford, "Mommie Dearest," is accurate. When are they going to start asking whether Charlotte Chandler's biography, "Not the Girl Next Door," is accurate? The latter is full of chatty, never-before-published quotations attributed to long-deceased Hollywood figures whom Chandler claims to have interviewed, but which contain statements that occasionally contradict those already in print. Can she prove that her quotations are authentic, perhaps with tape-recordings, and not a product of the would-be playwright's imagination?

Posted by: Wet Blanket on June 24, 2008 2:38 PM

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