Back when a few of us were in Dublin for a bit, we went out one night to a drag show at Panti Bar. Being out for 10+ years, I’ve seen my fair share of drag, and usually it’s not that entertaining to me. Two queens in the show reenacted a couple of scenes from some classic camp movies, and I loved it. One performance was a mix of scenes from the 1962 What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?. That movie has quite a few overly dramatic scenes that fit well in a drag show.
The other movie that the Irish queen’s performed was from the 1981 Joan Crawford bio-pic, Mommie Dearest. There are some movies that are famous because they are good. This is not one of those movies. MD is trashy, B-movie camp through and through, and for that reason is very popular in the gay community. The movie is a film adaptation of the book with the same title, written by Crawford’s eldest adopted daughter, Christina Crawford, and focuses mainly on their relationship and Joan’s supposed OCD for success and cleanliness.
There has been just as much drama behind the scenes as there were on celluloid. After being cut out of her mother’s will, Christina wrote the scathing tell-all biography of her family life. Many of Joan’s friends and acquaintances have responded by denying the accounts of Christina, while one of Joan’s other children Christopher, (the only other one to be cut out of the will), sided with Christina.
Real life issues aside, this film is entertaining from start to finish. Faye Dunaway over-reacts so poorly (or greatly depending on how you view it), it’s amazing that they could even finish some of the scenes without busting out laughing. If you haven’t seen, or heard of this film before, you may have at least heard of the infamous “No Wire Hangers!” scene. It’s been parodied in many other movies and t.v. shows including Futurama and Another Gay Movie. Here’s the scene as it appears in the movie. Notice Dunaway’s make-up:
Before that outburst, Joan is calmly going through her daughter’s closet, then just BOOM!
It’s hard to believe that something like that could happen in real life, OCD or not. Numerous scenes in the movie depict Joan Crawford as an manically obsessed woman. Obsessed with her public image (staging a family Christmas for a radio interview), obsessed with her living space (berating a maid for forgetting to clean under a planter), obsessed with being the best. She uses bullying tactics to try and control all the people around her, her lovers, her staff, and her children.
Knowing history is in the control of those who write it, makes the stories a little unbelievable. Christina is played by many different actresses in the movie, from when she’s a young child to when she’s a grown adult, but she’s always presented as the victim, and Joan as the horrid crazy dictator. Joan Crawford had many children in real life, but the movie only focuses on Christina. Christopher is briefly in the movie, but never as the scene’s focus.
Truthful or not, the story is compelling. You get hints of what it was like in Hollywoodland back in the 50s and 60s, and Joan Crawford definitely led an interesting life. From Oscar winner, to Pepsi-Cola board member, she craved success and she achieved it.