Fifty years ago in 1962 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? offered a new lease on life to the careers of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, as well as numerous other aging actresses. A new brand of horror film offered the stars work and opportunity to reach their fans, and a much-needed income – Joan Crawford, above all others, welcomed the opportunity.
For Crawford it meant a chance to wipe away a mountain of debt that hung over her upon the death of her last husband, Pepsi-Cola executive Alfred Steele. While few biographers detail Crawford’s later work, a new book from Aplomb Publishing takes an in-depth look at Crawford’s later years, her desire to put herself on sound financial footing, and the horror genre that welcomed her with open arms.
What Ever Happened to Mommie Dearest: Joan Crawford’s Descent into Horror and Beyond tracks Crawford’s life and career upon the death of her husband in 1959 through her death in 1977 offering rare insights and details into her films, TV work and personal life. The new book is from writer John William Law, author of the 2010 book Alfred Hitchcock: The Icon Years, which was named Best Non-Fiction: Biography in the 2011 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.
“Most biographers discount Joan Crawford’s later work because her critics found the films inferior or they had little impact on her career or the body of her work,” says Law. “But I think that’s doing a disservice to her career. By simply skimming over them because they were inferior horror films most books chronicle the last 15 years of her life in a handful of pages.”
What Ever Happened to Mommie Dearest? tackles all the films, from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to Strait-Jacket, I Saw What You Did, Berserk!, Trog, and more. It also offers rare details on the ill-fated filming of Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte, an attempted sequel to Baby Jane by teaming Crawford and Davis together again. “Crawford agreed to do the film and even began work on the picture, but bowed out after work with Davis became too difficult,” says Law.
In addition to her film work, Law looks at her work with a young Steven Spielberg on his first TV project for NBC’s Night Gallery TV series, and several projects that never came to pass.
The title of the book, says Law, is twist on the name of the infamous tell-all book by Crawford’s eldest daughter. “The book got its name in part because it details how What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? became the launching point for the final phase of her career and how the book by Christina Crawford attempted to close the door on Joan Crawford’s life by making her out to be, in many ways, a monster or villain from one of those later films.”
As a long-time fan of the Hollywood actress, Law attempts to set the record straight by looking at Joan Crawford the actress and not Joan Crawford, the mother. “I think Mommie Dearest attempted to meld those two roles together and define Joan Crawford as a character from one of her movies, but this book really focuses on how Crawford found herself in serious debt following the death of her husband, Pepsi executive Alfred Steele. That debt drove her to make decisions that would ensure her financial security for the remainder of her life and Baby Jane was the one film that really turned her around financially and set the course for the career that followed.”
Law also hosts a podcast on iTunes entitled The Movie Files and plans to discuss the films and the book for the series. “The podcast series provides a great chance to talk more about Joan Crawford’s work and share details and other information not included in the book,” not included in the book.
What Ever Happened to Mommie Dearest? is 240-pages and comes in both print and eBook formats. It also contains a wide collection of photographs of the actress and her films.
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