Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford – A Personal Biography by Charlotte Chandler - review by Michael Waterhouse

Michael Waterhouse

Queen of Chutzpah

Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford – A Personal Biography


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Joan Crawford’s career represents the triumph of willpower. Never a great actress, never a great beauty, she got by on ruthless chutzpah and having an army of devoted female fans who loved to see her suffer on screen, albeit in circumstances of great luxury. It was always supremely important to Crawford to be treated as, and perceived as, a star, and hence Charlotte Chandler’s title. ‘I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star,’ she said. ‘If you want to see the girl next door, go next door.’ In her now familiar ‘biographical’ mode, which consists largely of a series of linked interviews, Chandler reveals the range of attitudes towards Crawford, from those who found her a kindly, sympathetic soul to her many critics, of whom the most acidulous was her fellow actress Mercedes McCambridge (who starred with her in the cult gender-bending western Johnny Guitar), whose judgement was: ‘She was a mean, tipsy, powerful, rotten-egg lady.’

People with Joan Crawford’s anxieties and neuroses usually turn out to have had a bad start in life, and she certainly fulfilled the formula. There is considerable doubt about her date of birth. She herself said it was 1909, and Chandler says 1908, but most of the reference books say

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