Joan Crawford died yesterday at the age of 69 after a heart attack in the bedroom of her Upper East Side New York apartment.
"It's the end of an era and a legend," said her lawyer, Edward S. Cowan, in making the announcement at her home. One of her two household maids had found Miss Crawford's body at about 10 a.m.
Though inactive in recent months, the film star had had no history of heart trouble. She had settled in New York at the time of her marriage to Alfred Steele, chairman of the baord of Pepsi-Cola, who died within hours of a visit the couple made to Washington in 1959.
For the past several years, while continuing on the Pepsi board, she had made public talks on programs featuring scenes from major films in her career that began in the chorus of a touring company in Missiouri while she was still in her teens.
It was a career that would make her one of the most recognizable women in the world, an Oscar-winner for "Mildred Pierce" of 1945, a style-setter for worldwide fashions, and the wife of three noted actors, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Franchot Tone and Philip Terry each of whom she woudl divorce.
Large eyes, eyebrows that changed shape and position over the years, a wide mouth like a gash of red on always pale skin, high cheekbones and broad shoulders were her visible characteristics. What one did not see was her clickety-click mind that could remember not only names of people she had met briefly years before, but what, at a large cocktail party, her guests were drinking.
She was born Lucile Le Sueur on March 23, 1908, in San Antonio, Tex. After that chorus girl job in Missiouri, she landed in New York where she wound up in another chorus, for "Inocent Eyes" of 1924. The next year she won a small part in a silent MGM picture, "Pretty ladies." The studio liked her, changed her name to Joan Crawford, gave her a new contract and the full PR treatment.
The initial movie Crawford was as a 1920s flapper, the live-it-up girl of "Dancing Daughters," "Blushing Brides," "Modern Maidens," "Untamed," "Paid" and "Laughing Sinners." But Crawford wasn't satisfied. She wanted acting parts.
A great step for the next movie Crawford was as Wallace Beery's secretary in "Grand Hotel," in which she ranked alongside John and Lionel Barrymore and Greta Garbo in an allstar cast.
This began another range of parts - the self-educating woman, either single or married, who was always trying to improve herself, her job, her manners, her social position, what today would call "upwardly mobile." Three were such roles in "Mannequin," "Foresaking All Others," "No More Ladies," "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney," "The Shining Hour."
After the 1945 Oscar, the movie Crawford developed a more hard-bitten shell. There were such films as "The Damned Don't Cry," "Harriet Craig," "This Woman Is Dangerous," "Sudden Fear," "Torch Song," "Johnny Guitar," "Queen Bee" and "Autumn Leaves."
By the 1960s, she was turning to melodrama and some were memorable, especially "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" costarring Bette Davis, and "The Caretakers." She did some television and a few years ago took over a serial role of her adopted daughter, Christina, when the daugher was ill.
But it was not MGM, nor PR nor even luck that made Crawford. It was herself. Nothing was too small or unimportant. She was always hospitable to the press and travel instructions went out ahead of her: bars would be specifically equipped, Vodka not to be omitted, there would be a private phone by her bed, and 10 minutes before anything was to start, she was ready and waiting.
"The public knows me as a star and I dress that way," she said, even in her later years. For an over night trip she'd have as many as a dozen suitcases, and was accompanied by both a secretary and a maid. She preferred driving places in her chauffeured limousine and would have sumptuous picnic baskets for stops by the roadside.
I interviewed her on several of her film program and never failed to rejoice that she insisted on full rehearsals. We'd walk through every step from the door, down aisles, up stairs to stage center. Nothing was left to chance.
Though she never went back to the state, never took talk of it seriously she was one of Joseph Papp's early backers for his free Shakespeare in New York's Central Park. Though they were seated at different Shakespeare benefit tables, she rushed over to congratulate her one-time husband, Franchot Tone, when he won an acting award.
Miss Crawford caused a commotion during a White House dinner when President and Mrs. Johnson's guests included Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and his then bride, Catherine, as well as Lunt and Fontanne.
When the fingerbowls were brought, Miss Crawford explained, quite unnecessarily, to young Mrs. Douglas that she should move both bowl and doily. "I don't know why there was such a storm," she said a few years ago, "I only wanted to be helpful to a girl as young as I once was at Pickfair." She was referring to the chilly reception she met from Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks Sr., on her marriage to his son.
If purposefulness seems a chilly virtue, this didn't mean Miss Crawford was dislike. Coworkers, form grips to studio heads, liked her because work was done, and roles, both real and acted, were clearly understood. A wealthy woman, she gave generously but often anonymously, and her Christmas message was that a cash gift had been made in the recipient's name.
With Jane Kesner Ardmore, she wrote of her life in "A Portrait of Joan" and later followed it with another authobiographical volume.
Though she had no children by any of her husbands, she had four adopted ones, Cristina, Christopher, and twins, Cathy and Cindy. They and four grandchildren survive.