Actor Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur on March 23, 1906, in San Antonio, Texas. Her father, Thomas LeSueur, deserted the family soon after her birth. Her mother, Anna Belle Johnson LeSueur, moved six-month-old Lucille and her older brother to the frontier town of Lawton in Oklahoma Territory. There Anna married Henry Cassin, a vaudeville theater manager, who operated the Lawton Opera House and the Air Dome Theater. He also owned the Cassin Abstract Company.
In Lawton Lucille LeSueur became known as Little Billie Cassin, because her stepfather was sometimes called Billie. As a young child she played with costumes and set designs that her stepfather had stored in a barn behind their home at 804 D Avenue. When Cassin went to work at the theaters, he took Lucille and allowed her to watch the dancers and actors perform on stage. She soon imitated their dance steps and aspired to become a dancer.
In 1916 Cassin was charged with embezzling four thousand dollars in a land deal that he had handled. Although he was acquitted, the family moved to Kansas City in order to avoid the publicity. The Cassins soon divorced in Kansas City, and Lucille went to work at a young age. Unhappy with her life there, she left home to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer.
While she was performing in a chorus line in New York City, a Metro-Goldwin-Mayer (MGM) talent scout discovered her. In January 1925 LeSueur moved to Hollywood and signed a six-month contract at seventy-five dollars a week. During the 1930s she was considered one of the top ten money-making stars. In 1943, after eighteen years with MGM, she went to Warner Brothers because she was tired of being continually cast as a shallow "glamour girl." Two years later she appeared in a dramatic role in the Warner Brothers film Mildred Pierce, for which she won an Oscar for best actress in 1946. During her career she was nominated as best actress in Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1954). In 1964 the British Academy Awards nominated her as best foreign actress for her role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).
Her rags-to-riches life was marred by three divorces and the estrangement of her four adopted children. On May 10, 1977, she died in New York, the city where she had been discovered fifty years earlier.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Christina Crawford, Mommie Dearest (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1978). Joan Crawford, with Jane Kesner Ardmore, A Portrait of Joan: The Autobiography of Joan Crawford (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1962). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 11 May 1977. Lawton (Oklahoma) Constitution-Morning Press, 11 May 1977. Leonard Maltin, Spencer Green, and Luke Sader, Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia (New York: Penguin Books, 1994). Bob Thomas, Joan Crawford: A Biography (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978).
Linda D. Wilson
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