Joan Crawford

Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford, 1939. Courtesy of the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

Joan Crawford, often called Hollywood’s most durable star, was born Lucille LaSueur to divorced parents in 1908 in San Antonio, Texas. When her mother married Henry Cassin, she was renamed Billie Cassin.

Henry Cassin managed a small vaudeville theater in Lawton, Oklahoma, where Billie learned to dance by watching the hoofers on stage. Around 1917 the family moved to Kansas City, where Billie attended Scarritt Elementary School before she enrolled in St. Agnes Academy as a work student.

At St. Agnes Billie felt that her fellow students looked down on her because she worked at the school, but she was popular with the boys from nearby schools and won a dancing contest at the Jack-O-Lantern Club in Westport when she was only 13. She left St. Agnes and her next school, Rockingham Academy. Sponsored by a teacher from Scarritt School, she entered Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, but there she spent much of her time enjoying the fraternity dances at the nearby University of Missouri. She left Stephens after only four months.

Returning to Kansas City, Billie worked at Kline’s Department Store, then at Emery Bird and Thayer as a salesgirl. After earning enough money to move to Chicago, she immediately found work dancing in a café revue as Lucille LaSueur. Later, while dancing in a club in Detroit, she was offered a job in a Broadway show’s chorus line.

In 1924 an MGM talent scout spotted her on Broadway and offered her a contract. At 17 she went to work for MGM for $75 a week. Before she turned 18 she had danced her way to feature roles in films. She became the dramatic actress Joan Crawford and by 1932 was voted one of the ten top moneymaking stars.

Joan Crawford left MGM in 1943 and then worked for several studios. She made over 80 films and won an Academy Award for her role in the film Mildred Pierce. She died in 1977 in New York City.

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