Mommie Dearest is a memoir and exposé written by Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of actress Joan Crawford. Published in 1978, it described the author's upbringing by an unbalanced alcoholic mother, whom she judged unfit to raise children. The book attracted much controversy regarding child abuse and child trafficking, with many family friends denouncing it as fiction, but others claiming that it was a broadly accurate, if exaggerated, account of Christina’s troubled childhood. It was turned into a 1981 film starring Faye Dunaway.
|Publisher||William Morrow & Co.|
|October 2, 1978|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
In the book, Christina contends that Joan used to hit her with objects because she didn't know how to raise children by herself, and that she was an alcoholic who placed more importance on being famous than on bringing up her children. Christina suggests that Joan may have adopted children as a publicity stunt to sustain her career. She implies Joan had a long list of affairs with men, who Christina was required to call "Uncle" and on some occasions "Daddy", and that Joan also had many affairs with women. Christina suggests that as she grew older and more difficult to control, Joan found excuses to remove Christina from the home by sending her to various boarding schools and strict religious academies, often specifying in her instructions that Christina must be allowed no contact with the outside world. Often, the threatening or actually sending her to the schools was used to punish Christina for defying her mother or fighting back against abusive behavior.
Christina recounts several evenings on which Joan's behavior was unbalanced, and at least one encounter with her mother where Joan attempted to strangle her. In another encounter, Joan reportedly discovered Christina's clothes hanging in a closet on wire hangers which Joan detested, instead of crochet hangers, and reprimanded her harshly. In an incident in which Christina refused to eat very rare beef, Joan ordered the meat returned to the refrigerator and refused to allow Christina any other food for several days until she finished the meal, but Christina managed to hold out until her mother gave up and allowed her regular meals again. Joan allegedly disposed of her children's possessions to punish them for minor transgressions. Joan also supposedly strapped Christina's younger adopted brother, Christopher, to his bed each night until he was twelve, ostensibly to control his sleepwalking.
Christina reported that Joan's controlling and erratic behavior continued throughout Christina's adulthood. She asserts that Joan was jealous of her daughter's burgeoning acting career to the point of taking over Christina's role in the soap opera The Secret Storm while Christina was in the hospital recovering from an ovarian cyst. (Christina's character was twenty-eight years old; Joan was then in her sixties.) She also used money to control the adult Christina's behavior by refusing to give Christina money for basic living expenses, even while taking her out for expensive meals and paying for taxis. This culminated in Christina learning that she and her brother Christopher had been left out of Joan's will, even though Christina believed that they had reconciled with their mother.
The book's publication in 1978 created an enormous amount of attention.
Some of Joan's friends disputed the version of events presented in Mommie Dearest. Among them were Van Johnson, Cesar Romero, Bob Hope, Barbara Stanwyck, Sydney Guilaroff, Ann Blyth, Gary Gray, and particularly Myrna Loy, Joan's friend since 1925. While acknowledging that Joan was highly ambitious and an alcoholic for much of her life, critics have suggested that Christina embellished her story. Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Crawford's first husband, described the book by stating, "The Joan Crawford that I've heard about in Mommie Dearest is not the Joan Crawford I knew back then." The two younger Crawford children, Cindy and Cathy, born in 1947 and also adopted by Crawford, have stated categorically many times that they did not witness or experience any of the events that were described in the book. However, Christopher always staunchly defended Christina's claims, saying of their mother in 1978, "I honestly to this day do not believe that she ever cared for me."
Liz Smith, writing in the Baltimore Sun, said, "I was inclined to believe Joan was misguided in her attempts to 'mold' her children—and was vain and self-absorbed like most great stars—but the stories of beatings and near-madness were over the top." Crawford's secretary for nearly 50 years, Betty Barker, also stated that while Joan was strict, Christina and Christopher were never abused.
However, Joan's friends Helen Hayes, James MacArthur, June Allyson, Rex Reed, and Betty Hutton have verified some of the stories in Christina's book and claimed they also witnessed some of the abuse in person. Hutton had previously lived near Crawford's Brentwood home and has stated that she saw the children during or after various moments of abuse. Hutton stated she would often encourage her own children to play with Christina and Christopher to give them respite from the abuse at home. Joan's Mildred Pierce co-star, actress Eve Arden, sided with Christina about Joan's parenting abilities and said that she suffered from bipolar disorder and was a good woman in many ways but, as an alcoholic with a violent temper, she was simply unfit to be a mother. In the book Understanding the Borderline Mother, author Christine Ann Lawson suggests that Joan may have had borderline personality disorder (BPD), along with an obsessive compulsion with cleanliness.
The last pages of Christina's book suggest that she was not about to let her mother have the "last word" by omitting her daughter from her will. Later biographers have reported that Christina began writing her book before Crawford's death and have suggested that Joan's knowledge of its contents may have been a factor in Joan cutting her daughter from her will.
Christina has stood by her story and later released a "20th Anniversary Edition", which included 100 pages of new material and omits about 50 pages of original material. The second edition names certain individuals not named in the original book and focuses more on Christina's relationship with her mother from her high school graduation until the 1970s. It also reveals what became of her brother and describes several incidents involving him.
Released by a smaller publishing company, the second edition included some unconventional promotional methods. In 1981, the book was adapted as a movie, starring Faye Dunaway, at which the shocked Christina gave negative feedback about the film and lectures on the new edition of her book at screenings of the film. Christina also appeared at readings with drag entertainer Lypsinka, who has made numerous appearances as Joan Crawford during stage acts.
- Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford, William Morrow & Co., 1978, ISBN 0-688-03386-5, hardcover
- Mommie Dearest, Christina Crawford, Seven Springs Press, 1997, ISBN 0-9663369-0-9, expanded edition. The book's 20th Anniversary Edition restored approximately 100 pages previously cut from the original 1978 printing. Christina Crawford bought back the book rights.
- "....if ever there was a girl who needed a good whack it was spoiled, horrible Christina. Believe me, there were many times I wanted to smack her myself." - Myrna Loy in: Joan Crawford: The Essential Biography, Lawrence J. Quirk, William Schoel, University Press of Kentucky, 2013, page 261
- Parker, Jerry (October 1, 1978). "Like Daughter, Like Son Chris". Newsday.
- Smith, Liz (February 6, 2008). "New book gives another view of Joan Crawford as a `Mommie'". baltimoresun.com. Baltimore Sun. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Day, Elizabeth (May 25, 2008). "I'll never forgive Mommie: Joan Crawford's daughter gives first interview in 10 years". The Observer. Guardian. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Hayes, Helen; Hatch, Katherine (1990). My Life in Three Acts. Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-163695-8.
- Redbook v. 165, Redbook Publishing, Inc. p. 25. OCLC 1763595.
- Allyson, June; Leighton, Frances Spatz (1983). June Allyson. New York: Berkley. pp. 77–84. ISBN 0-425-06251-1.
- Meredy. "Joan Crawford - Movie Star - Biography". Meredy.com. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Lawson, Christine Ann. Understanding the borderline mother: helping her children transcend the intense, unpredictable, and volatile relationship," (Jason Aronson, 2002), p. 5 (at Google Books). ISBN 0-7657-0331-9, ISBN 978-0-7657-0331-6 Accessed March 28, 2012.
- Guiles, Fred Laurence. Joan Crawford: The Last Word, Carol Publishing Corporation (1995), ISBN 1-55972-269-X
- "Lypsinka Dearest: John Epperson, as icon Lypsinka, recreates Hollywood legend, Joan Crawford, at Studio Theatre". Metroweekly.com. February 8, 2007. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
- Desk, BWW News. "Out of the Box Theatrics Presents Reading of MOMMIE DEAREST". BroadwayWorld.com. Retrieved September 15, 2017.