Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, 1905.* Her father abandoned the family before Lucille was born, and shortly after her birth the family relocated to Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, Lucille’s mother remarried Henry J. Cassin – who Crawford believed to be her biological father until much later in life. Cassin owned a movie theater, which gave Crawford and her siblings their first experiences with motion pictures.
After dropping out of Stephen’s College, Crawford began touring as a dancer with theatrical troops. Wanting more exposure, Crawford approached Nils Granlund, the publicist for Loews Theaters. Granlund arranged a screen test, which he then shipped off to Hollywood. At the time, Crawford was a stout 5’3’’ and 145lbs. After getting in shape, she was offered a contract with MGM in 1925 at $75/week.
At the beginning of her film career, Lucille LeSeuer – now Joan Crawford – was unhappy with the roles she was receiving. Most were secondary characters with few lines. In order to assure better roles for herself, Crawford initiated a Hollywood-wide self-promotion campaign. She appeared at Hotels and dance halls, calling for dance competitions and contests. She took the floor by storm, doing 20’s dances such as the Charleston. Crawford quickly became known as a “flapper”. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote of her:
“Joan Crawford is doubtless the best example of a flapper, the girl you see in smart night clubs, gowned to the apex of sophistication, toying iced glasses with a remote, faintly bitter expression, dancing deliciously, laughing a great deal, with wide, hurt eyes. Young things with a talent for living."
Studio executives at MGM caught wind of Crawford’s campaign and cast her as Irene, a chorus girl, in Sally, Irene, and Mary (1925). By the late 1920’s Crawford was as big a movie star as any and the highest paid women in the United States.
Though she fell out of favor in the 1930’s, she made a comeback in Mildred Pierce, for which she won the Academy Award. She continued acting until the 1960s. She was married four times and adopted 5 children.**
*The state of Texas didn’t require a registered birth certificate until 1908, allowing Crawford to claim that she was actually 3 years younger. Though she claimed her birth year was 1908, a 1910 Oklahoma census notes her as 5 years old, making her likely birth year 1905.
**Though Crawford adopted 5 children, one was reclaimed by his birth mother, and the two eldest were disinherited by Crawford.