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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 March, 2004, 08:58 GMT
Joan Crawford's rollercoaster life
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford was born Lucille Fay LeSueur in March 1904
Hollywood legend Joan Crawford, born 100 years ago on Tuesday, was an iconic figure whose rollercoaster career on screen was mirrored by an equally turbulent life off it.

The Oscar-winning actress spent 50 years in front of the camera, repeatedly falling out of favour with the public only to continually reclaim the spotlight.

If her films did not get her noticed, her tumultuous love life and bitter feuds with her Tinseltown contemporaries did.

However, her fame now chiefly derives from the lurid tell-all biography her daughter Christina published after her death and the cult biopic it inspired.

Big break

Born Lucille Fay LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas, the young Crawford was the product of a broken home who knew three different fathers before she was 16 years old.

Growing up in near poverty, she set her heart on a career in showbusiness as a way to escape a life of drudgery.

She's slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie
Bette Davis
Beginning as a chorus line dancer, she moved to Hollywood in 1925 and soon became an MGM contract player.

MGM sponsored a competition to find her a new name, reportedly because studio head Louis B Mayer thought "LeSueur" sounded like "sewer".

Crawford's first big break came in 1928's Our Dancing Daughters, a silent melodrama that cast her as a hedonistic flapper, a well-heeled young socialite who leads a frantic life of dancing and hard partying.

Unlike many silent stars Crawford made the transition to talkies with ease, and films like Grand Hotel, Sadie McKee and Chained - one of several pictures she made with Clark Gable - turned her into one of MGM's top draws.

Lesbian fanbase

By the 1940s, however, her career was on the wane. So she moved to Warner Brothers, persuading them to cast her in the 1945 film noir Mildred Pierce.

Her role as a mother who sacrifices herself for an ungrateful daughter won her her only Oscar and gave her career a new lease of life.

French and Saunders
Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders spoofing Crawford and Bette Davis
More successes followed, notably Johnny Guitar - an unconventional 1954 western that won the actress an unexpected lesbian fanbase.

Her fortunes took another dip towards the end of the decade, but Crawford triumphantly re-invented herself again - this time as a horror star in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

Directed by Robert Aldrich, the 1962 film cast her opposite Bette Davis - one of her biggest rivals and the woman who once claimed Joan had "slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie".

Davis was nominated for an Oscar for her role, much to Crawford's chagrin. But when the award went to Anne Bancroft, Joan upstaged her co-star by accepting the Oscar on the winner's behalf.

Tyrannical alcoholic

Crawford's last films were easily her worst, reaching a nadir with her last feature Trog. "If I weren't a Christian Scientist and I saw Trog advertised on a marquee across the street, I'd think I'd contemplate suicide," she said.

However, she did briefly shine in an episode of the TV series Night Gallery - directed by the then unknown Steven Spielberg.

Possessed (1931)
Rain (1932)
The Gorgeous Hussy (1936)
Strange Cargo (1940)
Daisy Kenyon (1947)
Sudden Fear (1952)
Autumn Leaves (1956)
Strait-Jacket (1963)
The Karate Killers (1967)
Divorced four times and widowed once, Crawford suffered a string of miscarriages that led her to adopt her four children. The agency in charge of Christina's adoption was later found to be part of a black market baby ring.

Christina's book Mommie Dearest, published a year after Crawford's death from cancer in 1977, painted a sordid picture of her mother as a tyrannical alcoholic and cleanliness obsessive.

The book was filmed in 1981 with Faye Dunaway as Crawford - the only time one Oscar-winning actress has portrayed another on film.

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