Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford

Possessed: The Life of Joan Crawford

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by Donald Spoto

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Joan Crawford was one of the most incandescent film stars of all time, yet she was also one of the most misunderstood. In this brilliantlyresearched, thoughtful, and intimate biography, bestselling author Donald Spoto goes beyond the popular caricature—the abusive, unstable mother portrayed in her adopted daughter Christina Crawford’s memoir, Mommie

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Joan Crawford was one of the most incandescent film stars of all time, yet she was also one of the most misunderstood. In this brilliantlyresearched, thoughtful, and intimate biography, bestselling author Donald Spoto goes beyond the popular caricature—the abusive, unstable mother portrayed in her adopted daughter Christina Crawford’s memoir, Mommie Dearest—to give us a three-dimensional portrait of a very human woman, her dazzling career, and her extraordinarily dramatic life and times.

Based on new archival information and exclusive interviews, and written with Spoto’s keen eye for detail, Possessed offers a fascinating portrait of a courageous, highly sexed, and ambitious womanwhose strength and drive made her a forerunner in the fledgling film business. From her hardscrabble childhood in Texas to her early days as a dancer in post–World War I New York to her rise to stardom,Spoto traces Crawford’s fifty years of memorable performances in classics like Rain, The Women, Mildred Pierce, and Sudden Fear, which are as startling and vivid today as when they were filmed.

In Possessed, Spoto goes behind the myths to examine the rise and fall of the studio system; Crawford’s four marriages; her passionate thirty year, on-and-off-again affair with Clark Gable; her friendships and rivalries with other stars; her powerful desire to become a mother; the truth behind the scathing stories in her daughter Christina’s memoir; and her final years as a widow battling cancer. Spoto explores Crawford’s achievements as an actress, her work with Hollywood’s great directors (Frank Borzage, George Cukor, Otto Preminger) and actors (Henry Fonda, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, John Barrymore), and later, her role as a highly effective executive on the board of directors of Pepsi-Cola.

Illuminating and entertaining, Possessed is the definitive biography of this remarkable woman and true legend of film.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Author of more than 20 celebrity biographies, Spoto (High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly) begins his latest by sharing a response from Joan Crawford to a fan letter he wrote when he was ten. Though much has been written about Crawford, who died in 1977, Spoto justifies his contribution by writing, "because no other movie star—with the possible exception of Marilyn Monroe—has been so underappreciated, misrepresented by rumor, innuendo, fabrication, unfounded allegation and rank distortion." Does Mommie Dearest ring a bell? So it seems Spoto wants to thank Crawford for her kindness to him as a boy by setting the record straight and clearing her name. He relies on the Joan Crawford papers, scrapbooks, letters, and ephemera housed at the New York Public Library, as well as what has already been written. VERDICT What sets this biography apart from previous titles? Where other biographers made sensational statements about Crawford as fact, Spoto makes assertions based on his research as to what would and would not have been likely or possible. This is a balanced and readable account of a possibly misunderstood and maligned star. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/15/10.]—Rosellen Brewer, Sno-Isle Libs., Marysville, WA
Kirkus Reviews

Hollywood biography machine Spoto (High Society: The Life of Grace Kelly, 2010, etc.) presents the life and career of screen queen Joan Crawford (1905–1977), a movie star whose iconic status owed as much to the actress's sheer willpower as to her perfect bone structure and improbably large, expressive eyes.

Crawford, in marked contrast to her rival Greta Garbo, employed a maniacal determination and inhuman work ethic to earn and maintain her place in Hollywood's firmament of stars. Born into poverty, uneducated and profoundly insecure, Lucille LeSueur parlayed a successful dancing career on Broadway into a movie work, acquiring the name Joan Crawford in a magazine contest held to christen MGM's newest contract player. Spoto deftly analyzes Crawford's changing persona through her long career, from plucky flapper to suffering matron to leering grotesque, and recounts her failed marriages, numerous affairs and alcoholism with great sympathy. In fact, this perhaps overly reverential treatment is a bit of a letdown, as Crawford's outsize diva histrionics, promiscuity and alleged abuse of her adopted children are key components of her continuing fascination for film audiences. Spoto discounts or explains away Crawford's less-than-salubrious reputation, and the result feels a bit whitewashed. Crawford's daughter Christina's infamous autobiography Mommie Dearest (1978), and the subsequent film, cemented the public image of Crawford, perhaps unfairly, as an unhinged martinet, obsessed with order and cleanliness. Spoto works hard to refute Mommie Dearest's damning portrait of the actress, but Crawford's housekeeping mania, strict discipline and emotional instability are widely acknowledged. Christina's brother Christopher, who corroborated her account, is described by the author as a troublemaker who was constantly running away from home, which begs a fairly obvious question. Still, the book is useful for its diligent consideration of Crawford's films and legacy.

A worthy but toothless consideration of one of Hollywood's most distinctive performers.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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Meet the Author

Donald Spoto has written two dozen bestselling biographies of film and theater stars—among them Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock, Tennessee Williams, Ingrid Bergman, and Marilyn Monroe. Born in Westchester County, near New York City, he now lives in Denmark.

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Possessed 2.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
willie_will More than 1 year ago
I got this book as a gift because of my almost life-long fascination with Miss Crawford and her films. It seems to me that there are two kinds of Joan Crawford bios, the trashy, exposes which try to further the "Mommie Dearest" lies, or defensive whitewashes of Joan's life. This leans to the defensive side, and serves more as a very brief overview of some of Miss Crawford's films. Admittedly, I have just finished my first, cursory read of this book, and will read it again, but I must say that my first impression wasn't really all that good. Perhaps I'll review again if I find anything worth reviewing after the second read.
thaliajen More than 1 year ago
I've read Spoto's bios before so I expected this one to be highly entertaining and full of facts. But all I got was a rehashing of each of her films and the same old stories about her life. The main portion of the book is dedicated to her films. The real life of Joan Crawford would be fascinating to read about. Instead we get what I think is a fan's view of what he wished Crawford was like. Spoto also takes Christina Crawford to task for writing Mommy Dearest and dismisses her allegations of child abuse. But he quotes from her liberally to support the weak frame of real life information. He goes out of his way to attack Christopher Crawford, stating "He never held down any job for long." That would've been a good place to mention that Christopher served his country in Vietnam. But Spoto is determined to discount both Christina and Christopher's stories, making the abused children into liars and louses. Someone should tell this author that Christina Crawford's story was verified not only by people who disliked Joan, but also by her friends! As a fan of Crawfor's work, I'm able to separate the work from the person, so why not Spoto? I agree that Miss Joan Crawford was an amazing actress, but that doesn't make her perfect. She had her flaws and one of them was adopting kids she couldn't emotionally care for. I guess if you want to read about Joan's work on each of her films and not much new about her personal life (I didn't read a thing I hadn't already heard) then this is the book for you. But IF you're looking for a juicy bio, this is NOT it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While an avid fan of Joan Crawford, I still find more to learn about the screen icon. While a bit droll in areas, this biograohy is written in true non-fiction candor- the telling of fact with very little personal opinion showing through. While opinion makes for a better read, a true fan will be glad to know more of Joan as an actress with minimsl Mommie Dearest showing through. A great read for the true golden days of Hollywood fans.
gottabeshari More than 1 year ago
for someone who seemed to have such a exciting life this book was beyond dull. he also tells the story from Joan's perspective. there is nothing here beyond a press release. he is so in awe of her there is no dirt all how wonderful Joan is. no one is THAT good. this book sucks.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. I do wish he touched a bit more on the relationship with her kids.
Jelly1 More than 1 year ago
I normally like books by this author but this was a puff piece. As other customers noted, it  takes Joan's view of her life as the truth without any objective evidence. It reads like an "authorized biography of a narcissist. No sources are quoted other than Joan's comments about her performance. None of the known details of her life and abusive treatment of her 2 oldest children that were well known at the time and now. Do't waste your $ on this one. Joan was no saint except here and is a review of her saint-like view of herself. Little is said about her long affair with Gable. She says he was a "great lover" but not "husband  material when he is known for being a poor lover but a good guy otherwise. The tile is very misleading-she was possessed but not by positive possessors...
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Got this book but i willtell you this i read mommie dearest anif that were todayshed would havenotbeen able toadoptanymorekids possed isntjusta named its forreal thank god shes not around to acttoday if she wereshed fit rt inwith theweirdos today