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March 24, 2024

20 Stunning Vintage Photos of Joan Crawford in the 1930s

Step back in time to the golden era of Hollywood with the stunning and iconic film actress Joan Crawford in the 1930s.

Joan Crawford was born Lucille LeSueur on March 23, 1908. When her mother later married Henry Cassin, a theater manager from Oklahoma, her name was changed to Billie Cassin. (As an adult, many of her friends privately continued to call her Billie.) After winning a Charleston contest at the age of 13, she became determined to be on stage. By age 19 she was in the chorus line of the Broadway show Innocent Eyes, where MGM executive Harry Rapf discovered her, and signed her to her first movie contract.

After a few minor roles under the name Lucille LeSueur, MGM sponsored a fan-magazine contest to pick out a new name for the young star. The freshly minted Joan Crawford's first big movie role was as Irene in Sally, Irene and Mary (1925), but the role that made her a star was as a flapper that literally danced on the tabletops in Our Dancing Daughters (1928).

Unlike many silent movie era stars, Crawford’s transition to “talkies” was smooth and by 1932 she was starring in classics like Grand Hotel (1932) with Greta Garbo. Throughout the 1930s Crawford worked steadily for MGM in films like Letty Lynton (1932), Dancing Lady (1933), and The Gorgeous Hussy (1936) co-starring with her future husband Franchot Tone. Crawford’s popularity skyrocketed in 1939 with the release of The Women, in which Crawford played the iconic role of “Crystal”, the hard-boiled husband-stealing shopgirl. Despite this, by 1943 magazines were proclaiming her to be “box-office poison” and MGM seemed to agree. Crawford soon left MGM for Warner Brothers, where she snagged the title role in Mildred Pierce (1945). Her performance in Mildred Pierce earned Crawford her one and only Oscar for Best Actress.

In 1946 Warner Brothers signed Crawford to a seven-year contract at $200,000 per film, only to release her from her contract after just three years. Her 1955 marriage to Pepsi chairman and CEO Alfred Steele coincided with her waning movie career, and led to her subsequent career as a Pepsi board member and publicity executive. She continued her involvement with Pepsi even after Steele’s death in 1959.

In 1962 Crawford’s acting career was briefly revitalized with the release of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, which paired her with her infamous rival Bette Davis. That year Crawford also penned a memoir Portrait of Joan. The popularity of the spooky Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? led to Crawford’s appearance in a series of horror films throughout the 1960s, including a 1969 episode of Night Gallery with novice director Steven Spielberg. Crawford made her final film, Trog, in 1970. The1970s saw her public appearances decrease. She died in 1977 of pancreatic cancer.


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