original name Lucille Fay LeSueur
born March 23, 1908, San
Antonio, Texas, U.S.
died May 10, 1977, New York, N.Y.
American motion-picture actress who made her initial impact as a
vivacious Jazz Age flapper but later matured into a star of
psychological melodramas. She developed a glamorous screen
image, appearing often as a sumptuously gowned, fur-draped,
successful career woman.
Crawford danced in nightclubs under the name Billie Cassin, and
by 1924 she was dancing in Broadway musicals. On the screen from
1925, she danced her way through such popular films as Our
Dancing Daughters (1928), Dance, Fools, Dance (1931), and
Dancing Lady (1933). Among her early successes as a dramatic
actress were The Women (1939), Susan and God (1940), Strange
Cargo (1940), and A Woman’s Face (1941).
A major turning point in
Crawford’s career was her performance in Mildred Pierce (1945),
for which she won an Academy Award. The story of an emotional
and ambitious woman who rises from waitress to owner of a
restaurant chain, it was followed by such high-quality pictures
as Humoresque (1947), Sudden Fear (1952), and The Story of
Esther Costello (1957). Later successful roles were in Whatever
Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and The Caretakers (1963).
Crawford was married to the
actors Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. (1929–33), Franchot Tone
(1935–39), and Phillip Terry (1942–46) and to Alfred Steele, the
chairman of the Pepsi-Cola Company. After his death in 1959 she
became a director of the company and in that role hired her
friend Dorothy Arzner to film several Pepsi commercials.
Crawford’s adopted daughter Christina published Mommie Dearest
(1978), an account of the harsh childhood that Christina and an
adopted brother had at their mother’s hands, and a film version
was produced in 1981.