BY STEVE ROTHAUS, srothaus@MiamiHerald.com
No wire hangers when your houseguest is Mommie Dearest’s daughter, Christina Crawford.
Hosts always think they have to “clean out their closets,” says Joan Crawford’s eldest, in South Florida to perform Surviving Mommie Dearest, a one-woman autobiographical play based on Christina’s book, movie and life afterward.
The 1981 film version of Mommie Dearest made famous the cry “No wire hangers EVER!” as Faye Dunaway’s Crawford cruelly beat a cowering young Christina.
Now 72, Christina says a closet full of wire hangers doesn’t bother her in the least. “I don’t care,” she says. “It is what it is.”
Joan Crawford (1905-77) was one of early Hollywood’s most famous stars, who in the 1930s appeared opposite such biggies as Clark Gable, Wallace Beery and the Barrymore brothers. After being labeled “box office poison” and dumped by MGM, she made a remarkable comeback at Warner Bros., winning a Best Actress Oscar for 1945’s Mildred Pierce.
Married four times, Crawford adopted four children and was obsessed with publicity and image. She frequently posed for photos with Christina — the two dressed in identical mother-daughter outfits.
Later in her career, Crawford took on supporting roles in soapy films like The Best of Everything. The one-time leading lady didn’t take well to playing older women opposite younger starlets.
“How would you imagine? She always wanted to be the only star,” Christina says. “Anything that wasn’t that for her probably wasn’t the happiest of situations. But I’m sure she liked any stardom that there was at the time. She was transitioning to being older. It happens to all of us.”
In 1962, Crawford made a splashy comeback with Warner Bros. rival Bette Davis in the horror classic, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Life off-screen with Joan was horrible, too, according to Christina, who published her memoir, Mommie Dearest, in 1978, a year after Crawford died in New York City — cutting her out of the will.
Christina won’t say much about the camp film adaptation. “The only thing I can say about that movie is that Faye Dunaway had great makeup. End of story.”
Mommie Dearest forever changed Crawford’s public image, but probably the reason she is well-remembered today.
“It’s one those ironies. Any publicity is good publicity,” Christina says. “Certainly she would have preferred not to be ignored.”
After the Mommie Dearest furor subsided, Christina wrote a follow-up, Survivor, and transitioned from being an actress to child-abuse activist.
She has lived 17 years in Idaho and hopes to bring Surviving Mommie Dearest to Off-Broadway in 2012.
“A lot of people over these many years have related to me as being a survivor, and going on to have a good life, and transforming what could have been a tragedy into a triumph,” she says.
IF YOU GO
‘Surviving Mommie Dearest’ starring Christina Crawford will be performed 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Tennessee Williams Theatre in Key West; and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Rose & Alfred Miniaci Performing Arts Center at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Tickets $35. www.survivingmommiedearest.com