Last week on YouTube, I stumbled on a clip from the 70s where Phil Donahue was interviewing the daughter of late Hollywood actress Joan Crawford.
Christina Crawford's haunting memoir, Mommie Dearest, had just been released. On the show, she told an unbelievable story that was recounted in the book, but not in the movie.
When Joan was on her deathbed, two attendants were sitting with her. One of them, sensing the end was near, started to pray out loud. Joan raised her head and said, "Damnit, don't you dare ask God to help me!" Those were her last coherent words. Minutes later, she was dead.
Can you believe that? She remained true to her evilness until the very end.
This re-sparked my interest in this dark and menacing woman. As a kid, I watched the movie Mommie Dearest at least 20 times. I can remember "faking sick" from school so I wouldn't miss the re-run on HBO.
Even though Joan Crawford allegedly beat her children, obsessed over cleanliness, drank herself into oblivion, and fought ruthlessly for her career, I still felt intrigued and wanted to understand her. Also, I knew there had to be more to this story.
As an adult, it's no wonder that I hosted a TV show called Reveal What's Real and that I launched my first business under the name Marketing Your Truth. Opening conversations about delicate issues still means everything to me, and Christina Crawford did just that.
Her book (and later, the 1981 movie) served as a mirror for society. It prompted the masses to examine their family secrets and to see how damaging silence can be. It also planted a seed in women to get honest about why (and if) they wanted to have children.
Even though we saw only two in the movie, Joan adopted four children. Allegedly, each one was purchased when she needed a publicity boost in her acting career. New family photos made her relevant and likable again in the eyes of film studios and fans.
Furthermore, if Joan could portray herself as a good mother, no one would question her erratic behavior.
Her children were expected to be obedient and to become her biggest fans, but Joan had no ability to feel empathy or to return their love. She was an unfit mother who bought children as props because we, as a society, told her that she would be nothing without kids.
In the Donahue interview, Christina said that her mother's peers and helpers knew about the abuse, but they kept quiet out of fear of losing their jobs or their standing with Joan. Her fans didn't help either. Many of them were angry at Christina for exposing Joan's private life.
This situation leads me to ask, "What is our role today in perpetuating child abuse? Are we still pressuring women to be mothers so they can be accepted?"
Christina Crawford gave us a GIFT in writing her book. It opened infected wounds so healing could occur for millions of people. Because of the book, campaigns to stop child abuse grew exponentially, and regulations in the adoption process were strengthened. She also revealed the delusional and damaging ways in which we view the rich and famous.
This Mother's Day, I'd like to say THANKS to this iconic mother-daughter team for the contribution of their story. Perhaps the collective good that has occurred since Joan's death released her soul into a more peaceful place. Heck, maybe it sent her deeper into a personal hell!
In any case, Christina's influence is the one I carry with me today. Her truth sparked global change and opened crucial conversations. Perhaps most notably, we will never be able to look at a wire hanger the same way again. Ever!!!