Working Moms in Pop Culture: Mommie Dearest Joan Crawford #TBT

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Actress Faye Dunaway and Mara Hobel on the set of Paramount Pictures movie " Mommie Dearest" in 1981. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Undeniably, one of the most recited and memorable lines from a movie ever: “No wire hangers!”

If you are a 70’s or 80’s baby, then you are probably very familiar with to whom that line belongs to—none other than the heavily shoulder padded vixen and with badass arched eyebrows and a smirk that could kill on sight, Joan Crawford herself. Played by the dynamic and stellar Faye Dunaway in the 1981 movie, Mommie Dearest, we learn, through Joan’s older daughter’s eyes what it was like to grow up with a very ambitious and rather abusive mother during 1940’s-1960’s Hollywood. Based on the autobiography of Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of the Hollywood icon, it has glam, glitz, and glitter alongside regular beatings and yes, wire hangers.

Mommie Dearest movie posterI remember not being able to take this movie too seriously when I began seeing it on cable when I was 9 or 10. It seemed like it was half soap opera, half spoof, with a fifth of “Made for TV movie” thrown in for sizzle. The film was just plain bad, even Faye Dunaway couldn’t save it. But it certainly lives as one of the worst best movies of all time. And even now when it comes on the boob tube, I can’t turn away.

The scene where Joan tears into Christina’s room and makes a beeline for her closet, only to find that her frilly dresses were being hung, not by a satin draped hanger, but one made of, dare I say, wire? Classic. Funny. And troubling. All at the same time.

No… wire… hangers. What’s wire hangers doing in this closet when I told you: no wire hangers EVER? I work and work ’till I’m half-dead, and I hear people saying, “She’s getting old.” And what do I get? A daughter… who cares as much about the beautiful dresses I give her… as she cares about me. What’s wire hangers doing in this closet? Answer me. I buy you beautiful dresses, and you treat them like they were some dishrag. You do. Three hundred dollar dress on a wire hanger. We’ll see how many you’ve got if they’re hidden somewhere. We’ll see… we’ll see. Get out of that bed. All of this is coming out. Out. Out. Out. Out. Out. Out. You’ve got any more? We’re gonna see how many wire hangers you’ve got in your closet. Wire hangers, why? Why? Christina, get out of that bed. Get out of that bed. You live in the most beautiful house in Brentwood and you don’t care if your clothes are stretched out from wire hangers. And your room looks like some two-dollar-a-week furnished room in some two-bit back street town in Oklahoma. Get up. Get up. Clean up this mess.

Why, with a mother like that, who needs enemies?

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Oh, and how about the swimming pool racing scene where Mommie Dearest and Christina have a harmless race in the luxurious mansion pool? Joan doesn’t even try to let Christina win, even though she’s just a little girl. And because Christina didn’t want to eat the rare meat on her plate, she had it served to her for days until it was slimy green and growing things out of it.

If that isn’t abuse, I don’t know what is. Poor Christina.

She did, however, receive her comeuppance later in the film when, after being expelled from school, Christina comes home and is attacked by her mother Joan in front of the help, and a reporter from Redbook.

Joan Crawford:
Why can’t you give me the respect that I’m entitled to? Why can’t you treat me like I would be treated by any stranger on the street?

Christina:
Because I am NOT one of your fans.

Finally, Christina scores one for the underdogs.

It becomes a choke-fest after that and boom, Christina is sent away to a convent school for being The Bad Seed.

Where Joan lacks in mothering, she more than makes up for it in the fashion department, so not all is lost.

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Of course there are three sides to every story; Joan’s, Christina’s, and the truth. We will never know the real story of the madness behind Joan Crawford’s parenting, but we do know that she was a helluva actress. With films like Mildred Pierce and The Women, the broad had talent, and was one of the best amongst her generation of actresses. Certainly not a prize as a mother, but a winner on the screen nonetheless.

Joan Crawford defied stereotypes and adopted her daughter when she was unmarried and working as a full-time actress and soup du jour. She was a working mom with moxie and pull, and for that, I have to give her some props. Joan Crawford deserves to be included in my Working Moms of Pop Culture list.

Do you remember the horror that was Mommie Dearest? What are your memories of this “classic” cult film?

The Cubicle Chick

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