If you think about beatings with wire hangers whenever you hear the name Joan Crawford, Jessica Lange would like you to offer another, kinder impression of the classic star. Lange, you’ll recall portrayed Crawford (actually portrayed the hell out of her) in the FX series Feud: Bette and Joan opposite Susan Sarandon as her rival, the late and equally iconic Bette Davis. While delving into research for her character, two-time Oscar-winning Lange told The Hollywood Reporter what she learned was the biggest misconception about Crawford, who reigned as a star for five decades, but is still closely identified with the shrill harridan portrayed by Faye Dunaway in Mommie Dearest, an adaptation of adopted daughter Christina’s harrowing memoir.
Well, I don’t think people take into consideration what a really — everybody that I knew that met her, everything that I knew that I read — what an extremely good friend she was to people, and how attentive she was to their needs and to what was going on in their life. I was just moved by the fact that she always took time to like write a note or to inquire about somebody. Granted, sometimes you think, “Was it just over-the-top?” But I think she was an extremely kind, considerate friend to people, and I’m not sure people think of her that way. But all the research I did, you kept coming upon that time and time again, how she would look after people if they needed help. One of the problems I do believe is, it would be a terrible thing in anyone’s life to have your history written, or rewritten, after you’re gone and you can’t defend or even present your point of view, your experience. People, when they think of Joan Crawford, they think of Mommie Dearest, and in all my research — and I don’t even want to address that book or that film — but in my experience and the research I did and the people I knew that knew her, there’s a whole other side to her, and that’s what I hope in some way we have been able to explore.
Lange, who received an Emmy nomination for her work in Feud, is absolutely correct. One of Crawford’s longest friendships was with William Haines, a silent film actor to whom Joan was incredibly loyal after his acting career tanked because he refused to hide his homosexuality. Crawford, viewed in her hey day as a woman of discerning taste, helped launch Haines on a highly successful career as an interior designer.
Crawford, who wasn’t without her eccentricities (imagine her vodka bill!), also cared for her second husband Franchot Tone while he was dying of lung cancer, paying his medical expenses, buying him food and eventually arranging for him to be cremated. She wasn’t just one of the biggest stars, she was, when she desired to be, one of the nicest.