According to Rutanya Alda, Faye Dunaway was despised by the crew due to her unpleasant attitude. "Joan got her way in a ladylike way. Faye was despised because she was so rude to people. Everyone was on pins and needles when she worked, and everyone relaxed when she didn't. I wish Faye had learned from Joan." This does go along with what Bette Davis said about Faye in numerous interviews; that she was rude and unprofessional.
In her 1971 book My Way of Life, Joan Crawford stated: "Of all the actresses, to me, only Faye Dunaway has the talent and the class and the courage it takes to make a real star." This is ironic for several reasons 1) Because Faye Dunaway wound up playing Joan in a docudrama which absolutely and permanently destroyed her reputation. And 2) Joan's nemesis Bette Davis hated Faye Dunaway; maybe even more than she hated Joan herself. In a 1988 episode of NBCs The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson; Johnny asked Bette, the guest, who was her least favorite person in Hollywood. She replied "Faye Dunaway. And anyone else who sits here will say exactly the same thing". The fact that Bette said Faye and not Joan is a small miracle unto itself. Faye was said to have seen this, and was disturbed and angry about it; but decided not to take on Bette in some decades long fued. That might have been the right choice, seeing how long and bitterly Bette fought with Joan; and what wound up happening to Joan in the end!
Faye Dunaway mentions in her autobiography that she screamed herself hoarse during the filming for the notorious wire hanger tantrum scene in this movie. She called Frank Sinatra for help, and he gave her some pointers on how to get her voice back into shape.
A month after the film was released to bad reviews, audiences flocked to see the film armed with Ajax and wire hangers to actively "participate" with the film in a manner similar to The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). Paramount seized on this new found notoriety and began to bill the film as a camp classic, with ads and posters proclaiming, "Meet the biggest MOTHER of them all!" Producer Frank Yablans was infuriated at this ad campaign.
Christina Crawford's book, on which this film was based, was one of the biggest-selling memoirs in the history of American publishing, with more than 700,000 copies sold in hardback and more 3,000,000 in paperback..
The set of the soap opera Christina performs in is the same exact set of the Cunningham home from Happy Days (1974). The kitchen is identical and the very recognizable living room can be viewed behind the actor sitting at the kitchen counter.
Faye Dunaway truly felt she would win an Oscar for her performance as Joan Crawford. When the film was released to poor reviews and Paramount's promotion of the film as a camp classic, Dunaway was furious. To this day, she refuses to talk about the film. In fact, when she is interviewed, she submits a list of topics that are off-limits to the interviewer, one of which is 'Mommie Dearest.' She has been known to stop interviews if asked about the film. It has been stated by the real Christina Crawford that Dunaway claimed to have been haunted by the ghost of her mother and this has provided an explanation as to why Dunaway does not like to talk about the film.
Little love was lost between costume designer Irene Sharaff and Faye Dunaway. "Yes, you may enter Miss Dunaway's dressing room," Sharaff once said, "but first you must throw a raw steak in - to divert her attention." This is another colleague, including Rutanya Alta and Bette Davis, to say that Faye Dunaway was rude and unbearable to work with.
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Christina Crawford opened up about the film's famous title, saying that, "'Mommie dearest' was a term of enslavement. If we just called her 'Mother' or 'Mommy,' she corrected us over and over and over again."
In the documentary Mommie Dearest: Joan Lives On (2006), interviewees recalled the story about where the infamous "No wire hangers" line came from. Apparently, Joan Crawford's mother worked at a dry cleaner during a very difficult time in Crawford's life growing up, thus triggering bad memories. Crawford's thought process: Why have them in her home if she could afford better?
Writer of the film's source book, Christina Crawford, once said of this movie after she had seen it: "My mother didn't deserve that. (Faye Dunaway)'s performance was ludicrous. I didn't see any care for factual information. Now I've seen it, I'm sorry I did. Faye says she is being haunted by mother's ghost. After her performance, I can understand why."
The movie's line "No wire hangers, ever!" was voted as the #72 movie quote by the American Film Institute (out of 100).
To create the look of screen legend Joan Crawford, actress Faye Dunaway had a 4am make-up call each day of shooting for a minimum three-hour make-up and hair session.
According to Christina Crawford, there were several scenes in which the script had to make alterations for real-life events. For example, for the famous rose bush cutting scene Christina said that those manic occasions happened periodically due to no real cause. The producers wanted to use the scenes but had to write in that it was brought on by Joan being fired by MGM executive Louis B. Mayer. Also in reference to Joan helping the maid scrub the floor, Christina stated that Joan never cleaned floors that she could remember. Joan would make Christina or Christopher clean the floors while she supervised.
The character of Carol Ann is a compilation of Joan's longtime secretaries and nannies. The actress who played the nanny "Carol Ann" kept a journal during filming Mommie Dearest and later published it as a tell-all book called 'The Mommie Dearest Diary' by Rutanya Alda. Rutanya alleges that Frank Perry repeatedly tells the make-up team to make her appear plainer and less attractive because he fears that Faye Dunaway will have her fired if she is at all pretty. Dunaway is portrayed as a prima donna, who insists on controlling the camera blocking to almost always face her. Indeed, many scenes show most female characters from behind, side profile or out of focus, except for Faye.
In an interview in the Hollywood Royalty DVD, Rutanya Alda says she once looked in Christina Crawford's real closet, and she did have wire hangers.
Faye Dunaway did not always categorically refuse to talk about the film: in a late 1980s French interview, she stated that she felt the Crawford role was a sort of "Kabuki theatre performance" and later, when asked by James Lipton in her "Inside the Actors Studio" episode, she reluctantly admitted Mommie Dearest (1981) was an authentic "exploitation film."
Cult-film director John Waters recorded a commentary track for the film's DVD release. Ironically, Waters states immediately in his commentary that he feels the film's reputation as being a cult film is undeserved, and proceeds to give a mostly straight analysis of the picture as a drama.
A scene was filmed in which Joan and young Christina build a campfire on the beach and Joan initiates a soul-baring conversation with the girl. Faye Dunaway mentions this in her autobiography, and reveals that it was one of the first scenes they were required to shoot. She felt the scene was crucial because it made an attempt to explain some of Crawford's erratic behavior, and she was dismayed that the production required them to shoot such an emotional scene before any of the necessary history had been established between the actors. She took it as a warning sign that the production's priorities were in the wrong place, and ultimately the scene was cut from the film altogether.
The central role of Joan Crawford was originally to have been played by Anne Bancroft, who left the project once the screenplay was completed. Bancroft quit over creative differences about the script prior to principal photography, claiming to producer Frank Yablans that the scripts were "hatchet jobs" on screen legend Joan Crawford. The part had been previously turned down by many actresses in Hollywood for being "too unsympathetic".
The pressbook for the film goes into detail about several of the scenes, including one sequence that was cut from the film. Apparently they filmed an entire sequence where young Christina runs away from home and Joan goes out looking for her in her car. The classic cars that were necessary for the film caused a big stir in the neighborhood where the scene was filmed, and one of the people stopped in traffic so as not to ruin the scene was Barbra Streisand, who apparently spent time hanging out with Faye Dunaway between takes.
In a second, far less successful book about her tumultuous life, Christina Crawford writes that Faye Dunaway "auditioned" for the part of Joan by dressing herself up as the movie star, and showing up unannounced on director Frank Perry's doorstep. Christina also says that when the film opened, she hesitantly went to see it one afternoon by herself at a theater in Los Angeles. She was the only one in the audience.
To prepare for her role as screen legend Joan Crawford, actress Faye Dunaway watched her movies, researched her life and read many books and biographies on and about the actress and the period of her career.
The time-span of Joan Crawford's life portrayed by Faye Dunaway in this film is a 39 year period.
Only one of Joan Crawford's four marriages is portrayed in this movie, that to Alfred Steele, her last one, which went from January 14, 1956 to April 6, 1959 (ending with his passing).
The highest-rated film on IMDb to win the Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Picture, with a rating of 6.7/10 as of July 2016.
Franco Zeffirelli was approached to direct the film, but Christina Crawford disliked his vision of Joan as a glamorous Hollywood martyr.
Christina Crawford had no involvement in the script, and received no royalties whatsoever.
According to Rutanya Alda, Irene Sharaff walked off the set in tears because she was so "horrified by some of Faye's outfit decisions." When Sharaff left, an assistant mocked Faye Dunaway's constant screaming of "Clear the set!"
Publicity for this picture reported that actress Faye Dunaway once said of her role in this movie: "It was my most difficult screen role in terms of the time I am in the film and the emotional heights demanded by the part".
Howard Da Silva, who plays MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer, is the only actor in the film who actually worked for MGM at the same time as Joan Crawford during its 1930s/40s heyday, and in fact, he had a small role alongside Crawford in Reunion in France (1942).
The picture is only briefly mentioned in Faye Dunaway's autobiography. Dunaway maintains that she wished Frank Perry had had more experience to assess when it was necessary to rein in their performances. The movie is a cult classic with a reputation for over-acting by Dunaway.
Shortly after production began, when millions of dollars had already been invested in hiring cast and crew, building sets and creating costumes for the film, Faye Dunaway suddenly threatened to back out unless her then-husband, Terry O'Neill, was given a producing credit. Following tense and protracted negotiations, Dunaway got her way, and O'Neill received an executive producer credit - as "Terence O'Neill" - despite not doing any producing.
Christina Crawford has said in interviews that the main reason for writing the book; the straw that broke the camel's back was that she had spent years and years rebuilding her relationship with Joan at the end of her life. The abuse had stopped; the two were getting along much better at the ending; and Christina really believed there was a new level of peace and contrition between the two that resolved alot of the pain from her childhood. Christina was really ready to let bygones be bygones at this point. But then she said Joan passed away; and at the reading of the will, Joan's attorney revealed that Joan had given her nothing. And the symbolism of that gesture; of Joan's attempt to vindictively stick it to her child one last time after Christina spent years and years trying to make amends; this drove Christina over the edge; and prompted her to write the book in the first place. It wasn't really the abuse; because Christina had sort of forgiven Joan at that point. It was that last venal, petty act of hurting Christina from beyond the grave by denying her in her will that really poored salt on the wound and set all this in motion in the first place. Coincidentally; Christina and Christopher did effectively challenge this last stipulation in Joan's will; and is was overturned; Christina did wind up getting part of Joan's estate nonetheless.
Reportedly, when the Paramount Pictures studio changed their marketing plan for the movie from drama to comedy, Frank Yablans sued, as he had made the picture as a serious drama. Yablans said that the new advertisements (which emphasized the wire hanger scene with bold headlines reading 'No wire hangers...ever' and 'The biggest mother of them all'), were "obscene, vulgar, offensive, salacious, and embodied a racial slur of the poorest taste". Yablans claimed $5 million in damages, and demanded the ads be withdrawn.
The film was released three years after the source novel was published, and four years after Joan Crawford's passing in 1977.
In an interview with Gay City News, Rutanya Alda recounted her uncomfortable experience with Faye Dunaway. "When Jocelyn Brando (who played the journalist) saw me go down after Faye hit me, she said, 'I can't afford to be injured, I just spent six months in the hospital,'" Alda recalled. "Initially, Frank wanted both me and Jocelyn to pull her off Diana (Scarwid, who played Christina), but she saw Faye was out of control and said, 'No way.' We did maybe ten takes, and Frank had to deal with it, because Faye wasn't gonna change what she was doing. I got knocked down maybe twice-she hit me hard in the chest." Rutanya wound up writing her own tell-all book about the experience.
For the "Hollywood Royalty" DVD of this film, Faye Dunaway was the only top-billed cast member who declined to participate in "special feature" materials, thus continuing her decades long refusal to ever discuss her Razzie-winning performance in this cult classic.
This was Jocelyn Brando's final film before her death on November 27, 2005 at the age of 86.
The movie's line "No wire hangers!" was voted as the #89 of "The 100 Greatest Movie Lines" by Premiere in 2007.
Critically derided upon release, one of the more colorful reviews came from Variety who said "Dunaway does not chew scenery. Dunaway starts neatly at each corner of the set in every scene and swallows it whole, costars and all".
The scene where Joan gets out of the cab in front of Christina's apartment was actually the same exterior used for Laverne and Shirley's Milwaukee apartment, which was filmed at Paramount Studios.
As part of Faye Dunaway's contract for this film, Paramount was required to take out trade ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter touting Dunaway for an Oscar nomination as Best Actress.
The $300.00 paid for the dress put on wired hangers in 1946 would be the same as a $4,356.90 dress put on a wired hanger in 2020.
According to Vanity Fair, Christina Crawford's memoir, on which the film was based, outraged those closest to Joan. Even Cathy Crawford, Christina's sister, noted: "It makes me very sad. Every time Mommie's name is mentioned, that book is mentioned. I don't want to give it any more publicity than it's already had. Even when people say or write good things about my mother, that book gets linked to her name. It's so unfair."
The first film to nearly "sweep" the Golden Raspberry Awards (or RAZZIES), with five "wins" (including Worst Picture and three out of four acting awards) from a then-record nine nominations.
In a 1981 interview with Roger Ebert, Frank Yablans took the famed critic on a tour of the film's set, which he said cost $480,000. During the visit, he made sure to single out one particular piece of furniture. "This chair was originally built as a throne chair for Cecil B. DeMille for The Ten Commandments (1956)," he told Ebert. "What did we do? We painted it white. It looks perfect in this situation." All of this was for naught though. Ebert slammed the movie, giving it * 1/2 in his column. In his review he even said "I don't know why anyone would want to see this movie."
Several members of the cast and crew had previous personal experiences with Joan Crawford. Costume designer Irene Sharaff, make-up artist Charles H. Schram and Vivienne Walker all worked with Crawford during the peak of her film career, while actress Rutanya Alda, who plays Carol Ann, had seen Crawford on the set of Johnny Guitar (1954), which was filmed close to Alda's childhood home. Years later, Crawford introduced herself to Alda on the set of Rosemary's Baby (1968), where Alda was working as a stand-in for Mia Farrow and Crawford was filming a cameo that was later cut from the film. As well as this, as a child, first assistant director Michael Daves actually attended the lavish birthday party for Christina Crawford that is depicted in the film.
According to the LA Times, when Bette Davis received word of Joan Crawford's heart attack and subsequent death in 1977, she allegedly said, "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good... Joan Crawford is dead. Good."
Before Faye Dunaway was cast, Anne Bancroft was announced for the role of Joan Crawford with Franco Zeffirelli directing and James Kirkwood adapting Christina Crawford's book. Mia Farrow was briefly considered for the role of adult Christina. Pretty much everyone in this group eventually quit citing bad source material.
This film is listed among the Top Ten Best Bad Films ever made in Golden Raspberry Award founder John Wilson's book THE OFFICIAL RAZZIE MOVIE GUIDE.
In an interview on Donohue, Cheryl Crane, who is Lana Turner's daughter, said she confronted her mother after Mommie Dearest came out. She said, "'Mom, is this stuff about Joan Crawford true?'" And Lana answered, "'yes it is true. We all knew about that.'" And Cheryl answered, "'Why didn't you do something about it?'" And Lana said, "'Honey in this town we all rallied around eachother, we did not stab eachother in the back like that.'" Later in the program Christina conceded that everyone in Hollywood did know about it and nobody did anything about it. In fact she would go on to say that that's part of why there was a backlash to the book; because many of the people discrediting the book are covering up their own complicity in Joan Crawford's evil and abusive behavior.
Despite the immense criticism about Mommie Dearest, now and then the movie was very popular when it was broadcast on television, and then as a VHS rental. Meanwhile, John Waters, on the DVD commentary track, said that, with a couple of infamous scenes aside, it's a very entertaining motion picture.
The lobby cards issued for the film contain scenes from several sequences that were deleted from the final cut of the film, including: - Joan driving through the MGM lot in her car, apparently just before she visits Louis B. Mayer and finds out she's fired. - Joan talking to young Christina on the beach. - Adult Christina talking to Joan while wearing the same dress she wears to the awards ceremony at the film's conclusion.
In an interview with Dick Cavett actress June Allyson described an incident she witnessed at Joan Crawford's house which seems to support Christina Crawford's claims of abuse. Allyson said Crawford was an acquaintance of her's and she invited her to lunch one day. At Crawford's house she noticed Christina was looking moody and giving everyone the silent treatment. Joan Crawford ordered Christina to go upstairs and get the birthday present she bought for her friend, for a birthday party Christina was about to go to. Christina ran and got the present and brought it back downstairs for Joan. Then Joan said, "You remember how naughty you were this morning? You are going to go into the front hall with your present and sit there on the couch with it until the party is over." Joan did all of this in front of June Allyson, on purpose. Allyson was stunned by the incident. Dick Cavett then chimed in, "Well it sounds like Crawford was a real sadist, doesn't it?" Allyson then said she was telling this story because since Christina Crawford's book had come out, everyone seemed to be making fun of her; and she just wanted to show another side to the story. The interview can be viewed online on YouTube.
Natalie Schafer, tv star of Gilligan's Island as well as other movies and shows, told the media about an incident she witnessed at Joan Crawford's house which supports Christina Crawford's claims. She said she was a friend of Crawford's and was at Crawford's house visiting her friend. She said one of the maids brought in a very big box of chocolates. Christopher Crawford, who was Christina's brother, was sitting with the ladies, and Joan invited her son to take one chocolate; which he did. While his mother wasn't looking he sneaked another one. Joan, who noticed what he had done, told the boy he had to eat every single piece of chocolate in this box. The boy ate all 80 or so pieces; he promptly got sick and threw up. And Joan followed up by saying, "Now, you won't take any extra chocolates the next time will you?" All of this happened in front of Schafer, who was horrified; but she said Joan "looked very proud of herself over this."
According to a recent Vanity Fair article, these are some things that were in Mommie Dearest the book but were left out of the movie; "1. When Crawford first adopted Christina and Christopher, they were named Joan Jr. and Phillip Terry Jr., (after his adoptive father). But after Crawford's third marriage fell apart she renamed the children. 2,. Christina had a favorite dress until she provoked her mother into shredding it. Crawford then made Christina wear the dress for a week in order to humiliate her. 3.. Crawford attacked her daughter once when she thought Christina was making a pass at her husband, Alfred Steele. 4.. Christina wrote that when she was 15 years old, she was so depressed from her mother's treatment towards her that she tried to kill herself at boarding school by overdosing on pills. She claims her mother never contacted her or addressed the situation afterwards. 5.. Although Christina never flat out accused her mother of killing her fourth husband, Steele, she has pointed to the fact that the healthy man suspiciously fell down the stairs only three years after they had been married."
Rutanya Alda ("Carol Ann") met Joan Crawford years earlier, when Rutanya was a photo double for Mia Farrow in Rosemary's Baby. In a scene that was edited out of the final film, Guy and Rosemary attend The Fantasticks at the Sullivan Street Theatre and Joan Crawford and Van Johnson play themselves, attending the play. Rutanya was amazed that Joan Crawford introduced herself to her on set.
Paramount was the one major studio for which the real Joan Crawford never made a film, although she did come very close. In early 1953, Crawford was in talks to star as Sylvia Merril in a Irving Asher production of Lisbon (1956), an international spy tale adapted from a short story by Martin Rackin. But the film was shelved when Asher and Crawford weren't sure about the strength of the script, despite several rewrites. Joan Crawford and director Nicholas Ray (who had been hired to direct 'Lisbon') both went on to film the 1954 western Johnny Guitar (1954) for Republic Pictures. It was Republic that ended up making a film version of Lisbon (1956) with Maureen O'Hara playing Sylvia Merril.
In real life, Lee Marvin's future wife Betty was one of the Joan Crawford's kids' nannies.
In the John Waters DVD commentary, he mostly defends the film, but has to admit that several scenes go way overboard. Like when Joan cuts her daughter's hair off, he says, at first pointing out how much Faye Dunaway resembles Joan Crawford: "It looks like a Joan Crawford movie." Followed by, "It looks like a William Castle movie... That's the problem."
Christina Crawford told the media at different points that her twin adoptive sisters, Cathy and Cindy, were not real twins, but unrelated girls that Joan was pretending to be twins to drum up more publicity and attention around her "charitable" adoptions. Cathy Lalonde, one of the twins who has fiercely refuted Christina's claims of abuse over the years, took her to task for this; and sued Christina for slander and defamation. The case was decided out of court, in private mediation, and the arbitration group sided with Cathy, not Christina, and Christina was forced to pay her sister an undisclosed amount for damages. Cathy's attorney said of the decision, " Maybe Ms. Crawford will be careful next time not to make more false or slanderous comments about her family members in the future." Many believe, however, that while the claims about her sister were a tactical error; the bulk of the evidence that everyone has seen over the years; including corroborating accounts of abuse from people like June Allison; as well as Joan's own statements about her own horrific childhood growing up, and Christina's brother Christopher's corroborating testimony to the press and others as well about Joan's alleged abuse; do paint a strong and compelling picture that at least part of Christina's stories about Joan are true, even if some of the details are debatable.
In a recent interview Christina Crawford compares Joan's publicity driven adoption of her; which was just another "pr stunt" to endear Joan to the public according to Christina; she compares this to the high profile publicity driven adoptions of people like Madonna and Angelina Jolie. When a reporter asked if Madonna and Jolie were using the adoptions to sweeten their image; Crawford replied, "what do you think? Do you think they're holding all those press conferences for the kids, or for themselves?"
In her memoire Christina Crawford remembers visiting her mother on the set of Trog, a horrible 1970 sci-fi movie where Joan plays a scientist investigating a caveman like creature (the TROG-lidite in question) who might be the missing link. Christina says in her memoire that seeing her mother reduced to working in trash like this; when she used to be at the top of the Hollywood A List, almost moved her to tears. Joan Crawford never worked again after that and 6 and 1/2 years later she died.
Soon after this film was released came Frances (1982), another biopic about old Hollywood actress Frances Farmer. Jessica Lange, who portrayed Farmer, later went on to play Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan (2017)
Steve Forrest, the first romantic interest for Faye Dunaway in this film, is the younger brother of actor Dana Andrews, who played Joan's lover in Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon.
Paramount, hoping to secure a LIFE magazine cover story, had Faye Dunaway pose for photographer George Hurrell, recreating portraits that Hurrell had taken of Crawford in her MGM days. LIFE did a mock up issue with Dunaway as Crawford on the cover and tested it with consumers and found that most people were more interested in a story about the potential lack of fresh water mentioned in another story. The July 1981 issue of LIFE featured "Are We Running Out of Water?" as the cover story. The Hurrell photos were featured in the latter pages of the magazine.
Christina Crawford on Mommie Dearest (The 1981 Film): This isn't my life. This isn't my mother. This isn't my story... I was devastated by how it turned out, because it was a melodrama... It would have been great if they stuck with their original choice, Anne Bancroft.
Although Christina Crawford claims not to have even started Mommie Dearest until after her mother died, recent articles point to the fact that not only had Christina started the scorched-earth memoir before Joan's death, but Joan was aware of it, and she was aware it was nasty. Christina claims that she originally wrote the memoir as a short story to some friends; and eventually this snowballed into a big international publishing event, not what she originally planned. But according to other sources her plan was always to approach big publishing houses about this; and Joan was aware of all of this. In a recent Vanity Fair article, someone in Joan's entourage reported her saying the following about Mommie Dearest, the book: ""I think she's using my name strictly to make money ... I think this book will be full of lies and twisted truths. I don't think my adopted daughter is writing this book just to hurt me. If her purpose were to hurt me, she has already accomplished it without going to the trouble of writing a book."
Faye Dunaway has said in interviews that Mommie Dearest was an exploitation piece; and she said she thinks both the movie and the book were unfair to Joan Crawford.
Ironically Joan Crawford was voted Mother of the Year by USO, when she was still alive and raising her 4 kids. Originally Christina was going to title her book "Mother of the Year" (an ironic title, obviously). Later she changed it to another ironic title, Mommie Dearest.
Bette Davis, Joan Crawford's longtime frenemy in Hollywood, was an unlikely ally in the whole Mommie Dearest controversy. Davis said the following;" Davis was outraged by Mommie Dearest. She told me, "I was not Miss Crawford's biggest fan, but, wisecracks to the contrary, I did and still do respect her talent. What she did not deserve was that detestable book written by her daughter. I've forgotten her name. Horrible. "I looked at that book, but I did not need to read it. I wouldn't read trash like that, and I think it was a terrible, terrible thing for a daughter to do. An abomination! To do something like that to someone who saved you from the orphanage, foster homes-who knows what. If she didn't like the person who chose to be her mother, she was grown up and could choose her own life."
Among other inaccuracies in the wire hanger scene the movie has Joan literally beating Christina with the hanger. According to Christina Crawford this never happened.
This movie never even mentions the abuse Joan Crawford experienced at the hand of her step father for years and years, or the fact that her mother abandoned her; or the fact that she was farmed out to work at local schools and clean out the garbage and help with food service while the other kids ate; treating her like a servant. All of this horrific abuse she suffered would have contributed to any alleged abuse she inflicted on other people; if that happened.
In a recent interview with the Guardian, the reporter asked Christina Crawford if there might be some reason why the twins, Christina's little sisters, had such a wonderful time as Joan's children, growing up in her house. Whereas with Christina and Christopher it was literally almost a question of survival day in and out. Then the reporter said the following: "Perhaps, I venture, the twins had more docile personalities and were more capable of submitting to their mother's controlling nature? (Christina) laughs sharply. 'Maybe. What my mother wanted was fans and puppies, not human beings. She was as close to being a totally manufactured person as I've ever met.'"
"It just kills me whenever anyone hears my mother's name now, all they think about is that book. It's so unfair." (Cathy Lalonde, another one of Joan Crawford's adoptive daughters. Both she and her twin sister Cindy have said their mother's upbringing was wonderful; they've said they never saw the kind of abuse that Christina described; and totally repudiated Christina's claims to the press; Cathy even going so far as suing Christina for slander at one point. It should be noted that Christina's adoptive brother Christopher supported Christina's claims of abuse).
Later in life Joan Crawford was pressed by reporters to talk about her infamously bad relationship with her first two children, Christopher and Christina. "I adopted them," she said. "The problem is they didn't adopt me."
Fay Dunaway was recently fired from the Broadway production of Tea at Five; and the producers cited numerous incidents when Dunaway was abusive or inappropriate to her co-stars. This has led many people to think what many suspected all along, that Mommie Dearest was type-casting.
Despite being based supposedly based on true events, the end credits includes the disclaimer that this is a work of fiction.
Part of a cycle of movies made during the mid-to-late 1970s about Tinseltown, Old Hollywood and its Golden Age including the Silent Film era. The pictures include Fedora (1978), Inserts (1975), Valentino (1977), Nickelodeon (1976), Silent Movie (1976), The Wild Party (1975), The Last Tycoon (1976), Hearts of the West (1975), The Day of the Locust (1975), The World's Greatest Lover (1977), Gable and Lombard (1976), Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976), Bud and Lou (1978), and W.C. Fields and Me (1976). Bogie (1980) and Mommie Dearest (1981) would soon follow as well.
The location seen here as Joan Crawford's Bevery Hills mansion was also used as Jesse White's palatial home in the final "Beach Party" movie, Pajama Party.
Joan appeared on a 1968 episode of the Lucy Show, called Lucy and Viv Meet Joan Crawford (appropriately enough). In the episode Lucy and Viv, whose car broke down on the highway and who have been stumbling for miles, looking for help, accidentally come upon Joan Crawford's mansion. Crawford is wearing a sweatshirt and work clothes; and her house is a mess because she is having it remodeled. Joan leaves the room to get the ladies lemonaid while they are resting; at which point Viv whispers to Lucy that the house looks like a mess, and it's probably because Joan hasn't made a movie in years. The girls soon leave; scheming to get this destitute star out of the poorhouse and get her some work so she can support herself. Later Joan's agent calls, offering her another job. Joan refuses, saying she does not want to do anymore movies; she wants to take some time off and do volunteer work. What's interesting about all this is that the Desilu staff writers are basically broadcasting a big alibi to the audience as to why Joan Crawford's career tanked; helping her to save face. The episode is a big PR piece from William Morris. The audience already knows Joan has not worked for years at this point; by having her tell her agent onscreen that she's quit showbiz; and just wants to hang out with her family now, etc.; she's giving her apology/explanation as to her own career failure. Because of course Joan was not turning down work at this point. Just next year, in 1969-1970, she would agree to appear in one of the worst movies of the decade, Trog; so clearly she's desperate. In real life she would not be turning down any job offers from Lucille Ball, like she does on this show! But this episode makes it look like her career lull is voluntary.
"For all of her complaints about Joan, she never knew pure hatred until she met Faye". (Victor Buono to reporters after Bette Davis played Faye Dunaway's mother in The Disappearance of Aimee. Buono was a colleague and close friend of Bette's. Indeed, Bette Davis later told Johnny Carson in an interview on the Tonight Show that Faye was one of her least favorite people in the world. The interview can be viewed on YouTube online.) All of this is ironic since Dunaway wound up giving a scathingly negative and hateful portrayal of Bette's lifelong nemesis; Joan Crawford; in the tell-all docudrama about Joan's life Mommie Dearest. Bette would come out in support of Christina Crawford's poison pen memoire when it was released; saying she did not doubt that Christina's book was 100% fact. Dunaway's portrayal of Joan Crawford in the film adaptation was so negative that it forever poisoned the public's perception of Joan. As a matter of fact it was such an affecting and indelible performance that it forever shaped the public's perception of Faye Dunaway as well. People tended to think the performance was a little too convincing and that Faye had probably been typecast; and this damaged her career in Hollywood for many years after that. Also ironically, when she was alive, Joan Crawford reportedly knew Faye Dunaway and liked her. Although her daughter Christina was not quiet about the fact that she thought Faye was "melodramatic and unbelievable" in the role; and that the movie would have been better served "if they had stuck with their original choice, Anne Bancroft". Adding irony to irony; Joan Crawford accepted Anne Bancroft's Oscar for The Miracle Worker in 1963. Little did Crawford know that Bancroft would soon be auditioning to play her in a movie; a movie which would forever destroy the public's perception of her and would also destroy her legacy.
This movie bears an uncomfortable resemblance to "Whatever Happened To Baby Jane" with its campy, over-the-top performances; its tendency to linger on sadistic of scenes of torture and abuse between two family members; the two female family members at the center of it; one who is a put-upon victim and the other who is a narcissist and psychotic premadonna; the villain is an aged, over-the-hill Hollwood star turned psychotic after being rejected and used by the studios; both are also referendums on Hollywood itself and the destructive influence it has on all the players; the dramatic scenes which bleed into black humor; and the visage of Joan Crawford at the center of it.
Christina Crawford says she really only meant to show this book to friends; and she showed it to a publisher friend of hers on a lark; and then it quickly got picked up and the rest is history.
Steve Forrest's character, Hollywood lawyer Greg Savitt, is based on Greg Bautzer, a powerful Hollywood attorney in the 1940's and 1950's.
Although Dunaway definitely looks like Crawford, and in some ways she captures Joan's persona, she is missing the warmth and the serenity that Crawford projected whenever she spoke to anyone. Crawford came across as a very sweet, softspoken person to the media; even a little humble and shy. None of this comes across in Dunaway's performance. She always comes across as strident, calculating, evil. Whether or not Joan's sweetness was manufactured for the press is debatable; but Dunaway can't even convey phony warmth, or phony sweetness. She always seems shrill; hostile; borderline psychotic. Even Christina Crawford admits that Dunaway's performance was "way off the mark"; she said the only thing that was accurate was the makeup and costumes.
In many ways Ryan Murphy's recent docudrama/ mini-series Fued: Bette and Joan was a reaction to Mommie Dearest. Christina Crawford's autobiographical memoire was in many ways a very slanted and one sided portrait of Joan Crawford. Portraying Joan mostly as a monster, it focused just on the alleged abuse Christina suffered at the hands of Joan; not the accomplishments in Joan's life or the more positive aspects of who she was. Mommie Dearest did not even offer up much in the way of what motivated Joan, positively or negatively. Christina doesn't describe why Joan was abusive; just the abuse. And Fued hopes to counteract this; portraying a much more three dimensional picture of Joan; who she was; and why she acted the way she did; and make her into a sympathetic character.
Joan Crawford told reporters that her son Christopher spat in her face and told her that he hated her.
It should be noted that many clothing experts do advise against using wire hangers as they can create unwanted creases and damage the fabric. (These comments can be viewed online).
Joan Crawford would pass away in 1977 of cancer. Her nemesis Bette Davis would not pass on until 12 years later in 1989. Bette not only outlived her #1 enemy, she got to watch Joan's legacy and reputation go up in flames after her daughter trashed her in a tell-all memoire. Bette's daughter BD Hyman wrote a similar tell-all autobiography about her problematic relationship with her mom in 1985, called "My Mother's Keeper". But whereas Mommie Dearest became an international bestseller, the book about Bette pretty much came and went without much fanfare; it did little to tarnish Bette's reputation which has only gotten better with time. Now Joan Crawford is remembered as a movie star who was horribly violent and abusive to her daughter. And not much else. Whereas Bette Davis has become a feminist icon; a tough, eccentric woman who broke the boundaries of what women could achieve in film. One became a villain; and one became a hero.
Although she was nominated for a "Worst Supporting Actress" Razzie for Mommie Dearest, the movie did not have the same devastating impact on Diana Scarwid's (adult Christina) career that it did for Faye Dunaway (and Joan Crawford for that matter!) For one thing, unlike Dunaway, Scarwid remained close to most of the cast after the movie wrapped; she and Rutanya Alda (Carol Ann) became lifelong friends. Scarwid went on to appear in the Oscar nominated Meryl Streep/Cher/ Mike Nichols production of Silkwood right after this. She also had a long running recurring role on Wonderfalls. She also regularly appeared in TV shows like Law and Oder SVU. She also doesn't shy away from Mommie Dearest in interviews, unlike Faye Dunaway; who thinks it ruined her career and rarely brings it up in interviews.
Priscilla Pointer (Mrs. Chadwick) later had a recurring role in Dallas playing Rebecca Wentworth and one of her Dallas episodes is Mama Dearest, the title of which is an allusion to Mommie Dearest.
One of the contested details of this story is that Christina claims she wrote the memoire after Joan's death; because of the media's overwhelmingly phony tributes to Joan after her funeral; and also because Joan left a nasty stipulation in her will that Christina would not get any money from her will. (Maybe Christina should have expected as much. It's a mystery why she would expect Joan to suddenly become maternal and altrustic from beyond the grave if Joan was as cruel as Christina says she was throughout her life!) But other witnesses to this story claim that Joan knew Christina was writing a tell-all memoire before she died; even though the two never discussed it. Cathy Lalonde, Joan's other adoptive daughter, in specific, said that Joan was entirely aware that Christina was writing a negative tell-all memoire about their relationship. Lalonde said she and Joan had discussed it, towards the end of her life, and Joan was introspective and sad about it, taking some of the blame. If that's all true, it might explain why Joan left Christina out of her will! This is all a huge departure from what Christina said. Christina has said it had not even occurred to her to write a book until she attended the reading of the will; at which it was stated "Christina and Christopher will not receive any of the funds from my estate for reasons that are well-known to both of them". Christina said this last act of hatred and vindictiveness from beyond the grave was too much; like salt on the wounds of her childhood despair; and it required some sort of answer or recompense. And indeed, this is how the movie portrays it as well. So if Christina was actually plotting to write the book months before this when Joan was still alive, and Joan knew this and was agonizing over it in the final weeks of her life, as Cathy has claimed, this puts Joan and Christina's relationship in an entirely new light. As with the rest of Mommie Dearest, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of all this; and it's really up to the reader to decide how much of this is accurate.
The car driven by Joan Crawford's assistant, Carol Ann, while she's out jogging is a white 1947 Lincoln Continental. In the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962) Bette Davis's character, Jane Hudson, drives a Lincoln Continental also from 1947, with the only difference being that it's black instead of white. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane started both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.