A couple of weeks ago I checked out Mommie Dearest on DVD from the library. I had only vague memories of it being on TV when I was young. Something about wire hangers and yelling. I’m not sure what possessed me to watch it as an adult but I’m glad I did. The film was beautifully shot with extravagant costumes and scenery. Faye Dunaway starred as the actress Joan Crawford, who was known in real life as being over-bearing and difficult to work with. The film followed Joan in her struggle for fame while at the same time trying to build an ideal family. Having no children of her own, she tried to adopt but, being a single woman and a film actress, was turned down. A friend pulled some strings so she was able to adopt a daughter and later a son. She named them Christina and Christopher, and she insisted that they call her Mommie Dearest. The film portrayed her as alternating between saccharine sweet and furiously angry with her adopted children, and at one point she admits to Christina that she adopted for publicity. The radical mood swings Faye Dunaway portrayed, including a scene where she chops down a rose tree and the famed “no wire hangers” scene, made me believe the film was more fiction than fact.
However, after the movie I noticed that the DVD had several extra features. They contained clips with the filmmaker talking about the production, along with the actors and actresses who portrayed the real-life characters. That’s right: real-life characters. In one special feature an actresses explained how Mommie Dearest was the first tell-all biographical book about a movie star. It was only then that I realized Mommie Dearest had been a bestselling book actually written by Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter, Christina Crawford. I felt a bit ashamed for not knowing it before, but… Maybe you didn’t know either?
The oldest adopted child of movie queen Joan Crawford, who died in 1977, tells a shocking story of what it was like living with her mother. Revelations of punishment, humiliation, and exploitation are described by the daughter of the famous star who demanded that her children refer to her as “Mommie Dearest.” Some strong language and some explicit descriptions of sex. Bestseller.