In last week’s post, I told you all how completely and utterly obsessed I am with You Must Remember This, the podcast exploring all things classic Hollywood by Karina Longworth. I spent the tail end of last week working on a magazine cake commission and listening to the series ‘Six Degrees of Joan Crawford’.
What a fascinating creature Joan Crawford is to the modern observer; her career spanned the formative years of Hollywood from the earliest days of sound in the 1920s right through to the early 1970’s. She is possibly best remembered for her striking angular looks, enhanced by the fashionable shoulder pads of her most prolific time and eyebrows which the kids today would probably describe as being ‘on fleek’. Joan Crawford is also (rightly or wrongly) remembered for her feuds with Bette Davis and allegations of child abuse made after her death by her daughter.
I think it suits the narrative well to paint Joan as a bitch. She was, after all, a woman who worked her ass off for the best part of her life, played the Hollywood game beautifully, and was a big success. Therefore, it stands to reason that she was probably catty as hell and vile to her children.
Don’t get me wrong; it is a matter of record that Joan could throw shade with the best of them and I am by no means suggesting that Joan be cannonised any time soon, but history is always written by the living and the dead have no right of reply.
Noticing some gaping holes in my classic film viewing, I sat down last night to watch Mildred Pierce. I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully shot and styled 1940s melodrama. Something about the tagline on this poster doesn’t quite sit right for me though…
“The kind of woman most men want – BUT SHOULDN’T HAVE! That’s Mildred Pierce.” Let’s break this down; Mildred is a hard-working Mother who wants her Daughters to have everything that she did not have growing up. This is a tale of social mobility which, for a woman, can be achieved in one or two ways – you work for money or you marry it. Mildred bakes from her home to supplement the income not coming in from her recently unemployed Husband. Bitch. She spends what extra money she earns to provide luxuries for her Daughters. Cow. When her Husband walks out on her (obviously, mega bitch cow) she learns the restaurant trade by waitressing (oh, the humiliation!) and sets up her own restaurant which grows into a successful chain. There is then plenty of money for her Daughters, the eldest of whom constantly calls her Mother out for having the audacity to work for a living.
The whole sorry tale spirals into a pattern of spoilt eldest Daughter taking and Mildred working. I’ll not spoil the ending for those who may like to look this glorious film up but the 1945 messages get lost in moments of sheer brilliance by Joan Crawford who, though eternally self-sacrificing, manages moments of feminist enlightenment through her perseverance.
But the tagline still baffles me. What’s wrong with Mildred? She is a fantastic self-made businesswoman who loves her family to a fault.
Joan won the Best Actress OSCAR for her performance in Mildred Pierce but she didn’t show up to the ceremony to accept the award. Whether her illness was genuine or not, I have to admire the bones of Joan Crawford for having her statuette brought to her at home and presented to her in her bed. Until this point, no Best Actress winner had ever not attended the OSCARs and there is definitely something of the FU about this BA being MIA.
So for being badass and for playing badass working women, I would love to bake a cake for Joan Crawford. I feel that sitting down with the woman herself would be the only way to get any sense of her as a human being, rather than as a cardboard cutout from Hollywood’s most glamorous and fascinating time. Plus, I bet she could tell some amazing stories!
If you would like to get to know Joan Crawford better, check out the series on You Must Remember This by clicking here or on any of the pictures above.