Why “Mommie Dearest” Intrigues Me

» Posted on May 7, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

Joan CrawfordLast week on YouTube, I stumbled on a clip from the 70’s where Phil Donahue was interviewing the daughter of late Hollywood actress Joan Crawford.

Christina’s haunting memoir, Mommie Dearest, had just been released. On the show, she told an unbelievable story that was recounted in the book, but not in the movie. 

When Joan was on her deathbed, two attendants were sitting with her. One of them, sensing the end was near, started to pray out loud.

Joan raised her head and said, “Damnit, don’t you dare ask God to help me!” Those were her last coherent words. Minutes later, she was dead.  

Can you believe that? She remained true to her evilness until the very end.

This re-sparked my interest in this dark and menacing woman. As a kid, I watched the movie Mommie Dearest at least twenty times. I can remember “faking sick” from school so I wouldn’t miss the re-run on HBO. 

Even though Joan Crawford beat her children, obsessed over cleanliness, drank herself into oblivion, and fought ruthlessly for her career, I still felt intrigued and wanted to understand her. Also, I knew there had to be more to this story.   

As an adult, it’s no wonder that I hosted a TV show called Reveal What’s Real and that I launched my first business under the name Marketing Your Truth. Opening conversations about delicate issues still means everything to me, and Christina Crawford did just that. 

Her book (and later, the 1981 movie) served as a mirror for society. It prompted the masses to examine their family secrets and to see how damaging silence can be. It also planted a seed in women to get honest about why (and if) they wanted to have children.

Even though we saw only two in the movie, Joan adopted four children. Each one was purchased when she needed a publicity boost in her acting career. New family photos made her relevant and likable again in the eyes of film studios and fans.

Furthermore, if Joan could portray herself as a good mother, no one would question her erratic behavior, which was actually quite similar to that of a sociopath.

Her children were expected to be obedient and to become her biggest fans, but Joan had no ability to feel empathy or to return their love. She was an unfit mother who bought children as props because we, as a society, told her that she would be nothing without kids.

In the Donahue interview, Christina said that her mother’s peers and helpers knew about the abuse, but they kept quiet out of fear of losing their jobs or their standing with Joan. Her fans didn’t help either. Many of them were angry at Christina for exposing Joan’s private life. 

This situation leads me to ask, “What is our role today in perpetuating child abuse? Are we still pressuring women to be mothers so they can be accepted?” 

Christina Crawford gave us a GIFT in writing her book. It opened infected wounds so healing could occur for millions of people. Because of the book, campaigns to stop child abuse grew exponentially, and regulations in the adoption process were strengthened. She also revealed the delusional and damaging ways in which we view the rich and famous.  

This Mother’s Day, I’d like to say THANKS to this iconic mother-daughter team for the contribution of their story. Perhaps the collective good that has occurred since Joan’s death released her soul into a more peaceful place. Heck, maybe it sent her deeper into a personal hell!

In any case, Christina’s influence is the one I carry with me today. Her truth sparked global change and opened crucial conversations. Perhaps most notably, we will never be able to look at a wire hanger the same way again. Ever!!!

4 Comments

  1. I love this closing line: “…we will never be able to look at a wire hanger the same way again. Ever!!!” So true! Great post on the impacts of speaking our truths Erin. (PS – I LOVE that movie and glad that I got to watch it (many times too) before I became a mother myself.)

  2. Erin, Thank you for the article. I found your comment quite thought-provoking and relevant so close to Mother’s Day:
    ‘This situation leads me to ask, “What is our role today in perpetuating child abuse? Are we still pressuring women to be mothers so they can be accepted?”

    Yes, culture the world over seems to place great value on women who have children, compared to women who don’t. And such sadness and commiseration is expressed for women who can’t.
    I have found that quite often if a woman says she made a conscious choice not to have children she is viewed as being selfish or career-driven.
    Giving birth or adopting a child doesn’t make a woman special.
    Some women who are mothers shouldn’t be.
    Some women who are mothers didn’t want to be.
    Some some who are mothers do it well.
    The fact that male-dominant religions still impose their beliefs on governments regarding issues of birth control and abortions makes it quite evident that there is not only pressure to be a mother but also force and coercion being used.

  3. Christina’s book may have helped society focus on child abuse, and is important for that reason. However, that doesn’t mean that you can put your undying faith in all the things that Christina wrote about her mother. There are several biographies of Joan Crawford available which have the benefit of thorough research that Christina didn’t bother doing even though she included a lot of info about her mother’s life and career. She was too young to remember some aspects of Joan’s career that she talks about like an expert and she was largely out of her mother’s life in the later years. She relied on her memories and personal opinions, some of which are questionable to say the least. And some of the things she wrote are wildly at odds with other sources. That includes your quoted account of Joan’s death. According to biographers, sJoan died in her apartment, not in the hospital and supposedly had renewed her faith in Christian Science some time before – making it unlikely that she spouted out against God in her final moments. Christina probably has a genuine cross to bear, but she also has an ax to grind and she is not above rewriting history in the name of vengeance. Some of the people who knew Christina have no more flattering things to say about her than she has to say about her mother and one of her own sisters has long disputed her version of events. Tread carefully when quoting her.

    • Sadly Trevor, you missed the point of this article. This isn’t about what was correct historically. It’s to ask the question, Are we still pressuring women to be mothers so they can be accepted? Joan and Christina are merely players demonstrating how society (especially in Joan’s days) told women they were nothing if they didn’t had children. That pressure continues today. Look at how obsessed our culture is with getting Jennifer Aniston pregnant!

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