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March 23, 2021

Joan Crawford’s Lifelike Mask, Created by Richard Cromwell, ca. 1930s

Joan Crawford, lovely Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer star, posing with one of her choicest possessions–a lifelike mask of herself made by the artistic hands of Richard Cromwell for his closest friend and favorite actress.

Richard Cromwell (1910–1960) was born LeRoy Melvin Radabaugh in Long Beach, California, the second of five children, to his mother Fay B. (née Stocking) and his father, Ralph R. Radabaugh, who was an inventor. Among Ralph’s patented creations was the amusement-park swing ride called the “Monoflyer”, a variation of which is still in use at many carnivals today.

While enrolled as a teenager in the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles on a scholarship, young Roy helped to support his family with odd jobs. The school was the precursor of the California Institute of the Arts, and it was there where he met fellow classmate Edith Posener. Posener, later known as Edith Head, would become one of the leading costume designers in American film history.

Cromwell ran a shop in Hollywood where he sold pictures, made lampshades, and designed color schemes for houses. As Cromwell developed his talents for lifelike mask-making and oil painting, he formed friendships in the late 1920s with various film starlets who posed for him and collected his works, including Tallulah Bankhead, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Claire Dubrey and Ann Sothern. Actress and future Academy Award-winner Marie Dressler was also a friend; the two would later share top-billing in the early talkie film Emma.


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