Mommy dearest based on

Christina Crawford on life after Mommie Dearest: ‘My mother should have been in jail’ | Child protection

It is Christina Crawford’s 80th birthday on the day we meet, and she is energetic after an opening night. A couple of days earlier, Mommie Dearest, the musical based on her blockbuster 1978 memoir of the same name, had a run-through at Birdland, the renowned New York jazz venue, and she is hoping the show will find backing for a full production. “It was sold out, it was fabulous,” she says, looking glamorous and spry, before issuing what has become a standard warning: “The musical had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. I want to put that in big capital letters.”

The movie she is referring to is, of course, the 1981 adaptation of Christina’s memoir that starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, Christina’s adoptive mother, whose abuses, soberly detailed in the book, were turned by the movie into high camp. As chronicled in Mommie Dearest, Crawford slapped, kicked, punched and tried to strangle her daughter, while subjecting her to a severe schedule of cleaning and other household chores, driven by the movie star’s alcoholism and who knows what else. “We didn’t have a language for it,” says Christina. “We didn’t have laws for it. We didn’t have a social context for it, and we had shame. A tremendous amount of shame, coupled with fear. It wasn’t easy.” She laughs at the understatement. The publication of Mommie Dearest, perhaps the first memoir ever to document child abuse from the point of view of the child, changed the landscape of victim representation and was an early precursor to today’s more robust state of victims’ rights. “I’m not a martyr, but I think, looking back, it is truly amazing to me what one person can do.”

It was all a long time ago. Crawford adopted Christina in 1940, and died of a heart attack in 1977. Christina’s younger brother, Christopher, died of cancer in 2006. Lingering interest in the story hinges on enduring fascination with the glamour of that Hollywood era and on the particular contradictions of Crawford. In the context of #MeToo, the story has renewed resonance, and Christina is an interesting case study in the long-range effects of abuse as she tacks between cheerfully declaring herself free from the fallout of her childhood, and testifying to how hard that exorcism has been.

Joan Crawford with Christina, Christopher and her adopted twin daughters, Cindy and Cathy, in 1949. Photograph: Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

She wrote the musical to explicate more fully her relationship with her brother, Christopher – “how the siblings grow up through the abuse to survive in the real world, with very little going for them except their own love of each other and the will to live”. Long before the term “gaslighting” became mainstream, they were vital as each other’s witness; without Christopher, Christina believes, she wouldn’t have survived. At this many years’ remove, I’m curious as to whether the toxicity of the material continues to have any power over her.

“I don’t know that you ever control it,” she says. “But you come to terms with it. I honestly don’t think it controls me any more. It is something that you have to live through, and it’s very difficult, because there’s no roadmap for it, even today. Generally speaking, we don’t recognise the long-term psychological damage that is inflicted on people who are abused, neglected and trafficked. It is hard for people to understand that what happened 20 years ago is creating behaviour patterns today.” At the show, a man sitting next to Christina introduced himself to her as the psychiatrist at Rikers Island, the notorious New York prison – “coming to our show to learn about post-traumatic stress disorder. I thought this was fantastic.”

Christina’s own survival was something she achieved almost entirely without the help of outside agencies. In the US, child protection laws were introduced from the 1960s, and the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, creating a single federal focus for preventing and responding to child abuse and neglect, didn’t come into effect until in 1974. Growing up in Hollywood in the 40s and early 50s, Christina had no recourse to the authorities. In fact, after a particularly violent episode she characterises as her mother “trying to kill me”, it was Crawford herself who called the police and asked them to arrest her daughter for delinquency. “I was 13 or 14. And it was then that I realised the world had gone insane. The officer was very kind. He told me that there was nothing he could do because there were no laws to protect me. He told me: ‘You have to try to live [here] until you are 18 and can go free. But, otherwise, if anyone calls me again on you, you’ll have to go to juvenile detention.’”

These days, I suggest, Crawford would have been given a diagnosis. Christina looks fiercely indignant. “She would have been in jail! She would’ve been hauled off to jail for attempted murder. What is the excuse for that? There’s no excuse. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. That’s not the issue. And that’s not my responsibility, anyway.”

The laws changed, and children became better protected. Christina started to get some distance on her childhood. After being sent, at the age of 10, to boarding school, she understood that the rules she grew up under weren’t normal. She tried to build a degree of self-esteem after years of being told by her mother that she was useless. There was no real therapeutic language at her disposal and no framework for recovery. “It was day by day. I had some teachers, I had some coaches. I had education, which I adored. For me, education was always the path forward and that’s what I used. It has to do with how much you want to be well. Do you want to be free? And some people fail; they just are not strong enough. A lot of them are dead. And a lot of them are in jail.”

Christina Crawford … ‘I am not a martyr.’ Photograph: Joshua Bright/The Guardian

She was helped, rather perversely, by a fear of being incarcerated that grew out of her mother’s constant threats to have her put away. “I had a terror of being locked up. How could I not? And my terror of being locked up I think kept me on the straight and narrow.”

Fear is the water that abused children swim in, Christina says. “Because you don’t know what’s going to happen and your life is so chaotic. But on the other side of the equation, it’s fear from people who are afraid to speak up. Fear that they’re going to lose their job or that people are going to say something bad about them. If you were to ask me about one thing that embraces all of us, it’s the constant fear.”

This was precisely her experience. When she was a child, housekeepers, secretaries, nannies and teachers were aware of what was happening, but no one who knew spoke up. After the book came out in 1978, stars of Crawford’s vintage lined up to defend her, as did former members of her household. It was a generational closing of the ranks over what appeared, to Crawford’s contemporaries, to be a piece of monstrous impertinence. Christina laughs very loudly at this. “Well, yes, I think it was! To say the least!”

Christina didn’t originally intend to write a tell-all. In her early 20s, she worked as an actor before enrolling on a degree course at UCLA and going on to gain a master’s at the University of Southern California. She would later work in corporate communications. After a period of estrangement in the latter years of her mother’s life, she attempted a reconciliation. Did she think the rapprochement was real?

“I thought it was,” she says. “But it turned out not to have been. No, towards the end, she didn’t have any work. She was an alcoholic. She was ill. She was drug-addicted. And I think she just wasn’t playing with a full deck. And as soon as I left New York to go back to California to work, I completely lost context – not contact, but context with her, because I wasn’t physically present. Then she died.”

In spite of the apparent reconciliation, Christina and Christopher were cut out of the will, for what Crawford cited as “reasons which are well known to them”. Christina was so furious she went straight to her desk and started writing down everything that had happened in her childhood.

The book sold more than a million copies and suffered an enormous pushback from contemporaries of Crawford’s. It was gaslighting, pure and simple, but Christina wasn’t surprised. “No, I understood Hollywood,” she says with a laugh. “I knew where they were coming from – they were guilty of seeing and not saying. It was blaming the messenger for the bad news. Most of them are dead now; I have outlived all of them! And I never replied to any of them, or responded. I simply stuck to the message that I knew to be the truth.”

Mara Hobel and Faye Dunaway in the film adaptation of Mommie Dearest. Photograph: Allstar/Paramount

Her two younger siblings disputed the book, too, not unusual in an abusive family. “Different people in the family experience the parenting situation in different ways. Because the parenting situation is different towards them, and that’s a divide-and-conquer type of situation.”

Christopher, in spite of his desire for privacy, remained wholly supportive, she says, and she received thousands of letters “from people all over the world who had never heard somebody speak up on their behalf before. And that took me forward on a wave of faith.”

The ripple effect is still being felt. “Look at Michigan State, with the gymnasts. Look at Ohio State, with the athletes. Look at Penn State [where the abusive football coach, Jerry Sandusky, was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse]. This is right now.” Even with hashtags exhorting people to believe victims, the law still lags and there is a big caveat around domestic abuse, about which people have a tendency to say “who knows what really happened”, says Christina. If she could change one law, it would be the statute of limitations. “When you have a statute of limitations against sexual abuse of children, then most of the perpetrators go free because some states only have three years. Some have 10. Maybe some have 20. But if it happens to children, then by the time they get old enough to speak out, or to understand what happened to them, the statute of limitations has been reached. And that’s all about protecting the perpetrator.”

In 1981, Christina had a debilitating stroke, underwent a five-year long recovery and, for the past 25 years, has lived in rural Idaho, writing a series of follow-ups to Mommie Dearest. I hope her musical finds a backer. It is a timely story, and the focus on her relationship with Christopher is very touching.

The fear doesn’t go away when the abuser dies. “No,” she says quietly. “Because it’s internal.” With time, and work, however, it lessens. Now, when Christina unexpectedly sees a photo of her mother, she has no reaction. “Nothing. No.”

Is it indifference?

“No. It’s just … acceptance.” Can she still be ambushed by responses laid down in her childhood: the fight or flight, hardwired in her brain?

“No, I don’t think so. Not any more.” She smiles. “It has been a long time.”

Mommie Dearest’ Most Shocking Joan Crawford Accusations – The Hollywood Reporter

Joan Crawford was a woman known for many things: her ongoing feud with Bette Davis; her sexual prowess and ability to control a situation with her femininity; and her charitable missions, which included five private adoptions over the course of her lifetime (her second child, a boy, was reclaimed by his birth mother within a year of the adoption).

But when her eldest adoptive daughter, Christina Crawford, released the tell-all memoir Mommie Dearest in 1978 — within a year of Crawford’s death — it painted a much darker picture of the actress, one of an alcoholic and abusive mother prone to fits of rage.

The general public knew things between mother and daughter hadn’t exactly been dandy (the relationship was said to have started falling apart around 1968, when 29-year-old Christina took a medical leave of absence from her CBS soap The Secret Storm and a 60-something Crawford replaced her), but this was a whole new level of shock.

It’s said that Crawford knew of the book’s existence before her death in May 1977, but that she’d never discussed it with Christina. In her will, she did make sure to omit both Christina and her brother Christopher “for reasons they knew,” leaving everything to her twin daughters Cathy and Cindy and to charity. (The disowned children later contested and won.)

Since then the validity of the scenes described in the memoir have been debated and dissected at great length. Christina released updated editions to commemorate the 20th and 30th anniversaries, and other memoirs, including Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, a Personal Biography and Possessed, have stocked bookshelves to rebuke the claims. And of course there was the campy, almost satirical 1981 film of the same title starring Faye Dunaway.

Ahead of the next installment of Feud: Bette and Joan, which is also fittingly titled “Mommie Dearest,” THR revisits 11 of the most shocking allegations from the original memoir and subsequent tour:

1. When Crawford first adopted Christina and Christopher, they were named Joan Jr. and Phillip Terry Jr., (after his adoptive father). But after Crawford’s third marriage fell apart she renamed the children.

2. Crawford hated wire hangers, and reportedly once woke up her daughter in the middle of the night for using them. In a scene that’s become synonymous with the film, she is said to have dragged her daughter by the hair yelling, “No wire hangers, no wire hangers!”  while beating her with one until her “ears rang.”

3. Christina had a favorite dress until she provoked her mother into shredding it. Crawford then made Christina wear the dress for a week in order to humiliate her.

4. Crawford was prone to what Christina called “night raids,” in which she would wake the children up drunk and make them clean messes they hadn’t necessarily made for hours on end.

5. Christina says she was once starved for days when she refused to eat an undercooked steak that was still bloody, all in a bid for her mother to further control her.

6. Crawford supposedly kept Christopher tied up in bed in a “sleep safe” device and she also trussed Christina up in the shower at night.

7. At Christmas, the children were photographed as being gifted tons of items. But they were only allowed to choose one thing to keep while the rest were given away to charity or saved to be re-gifted. The kids then had to write thank you cards for each and every gift, and those cards were meticulously edited by Crawford.

8. When Christina was 13 years old, she supposedly suffered one final brutal beating from her mother, in which she thought she was going to be choked out. “That was the last time we had any physical violence, because I knew that if it happened again, I would do everything in my power to protect myself,” she later told Larry King.

9. Crawford attacked her daughter once more after that incident when she thought Christina was making a pass at her husband, Alfred Steele.

10. Christina wrote that when she was 15 years old, she was so depressed from her mother’s treatment towards her that she tried to kill herself at boarding school by overdosing on pills. She claims her mother never contacted her or addressed the situation afterwards.

11. Although Christina never flat out accused her mother of killing her fourth husband, Steele, she has pointed to the fact that the healthy man suspiciously fell down the stairs only three years after they had been married.

The twins refuted all of Christina’s claims about their mother (Christopher supported them until his death in 2006), and continued their own feud with their sister in their adult years. Eventually, Cathy went on to win a defamation suit in mediation against Christina when the latter told people on her tour that Crawford only told people Cathy and Cindy (who died in 2007) were twins, but it was all just an untrue bid for attention.

Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.

Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.

Dear Mom. Review | Lumiere. Film magazine

Many actors dream of receiving the coveted Oscar at least once in their lives. Someone succeeds, someone continues to dream, and someone, in pursuit of a gilded figurine, manages to win exactly the opposite award - the Golden Raspberry. This is exactly what happened to award-winning actress Faye Dunaway , who starred in 's biographical drama Mommy Dear . The film tells about the life of the legendary Hollywood diva Joan Crawford and is based on the book of the same name by her adopted daughter Christina.

The life of little Christina, who was adopted by the famous actress Joan Crawford, only seems perfect from the outside. It would seem that all the children of the world should envy her: she lives in a rich house, she has a lot of toys, beautiful clothes, all the entertainments of the world are at her service. But no one knows that the unfortunate child is brought up not by a caring and kind woman, but by an inadequate alcoholic who, in moments of mood swings, turns into a terrible monster.

Outwardly, the movie makes a good impression: it is clear that the authors tried hard, creating good scenery and beautiful costumes. However, already from the first frames there is a feeling that the director Frank Perry (by the way, an Oscar nominee for directing the drama Frank & Lisa) was either off the set or in some kind of borderline state. He did not notice point-blank that Dunaway, in his desire to portray a great actress, stubbornly and comically overacts.

It is difficult to say without reading the books what exactly was in Christina's novel and how her childhood actually passed. But according to the filmmakers, Hollywood legend Joan Crawford was a violent hysteric with clear signs of mania and schizophrenia, and a very bad transvestite-like actress (even Christina Crawford noted that the negative portrait of her adoptive mother in the film was unnecessarily exaggerated). It seems that to create the image of Faye Dunaway reviewed a bunch of films with Joan Crawford. Then, based on them, she blinded a certain individual character and presented him for some reason terribly grotesque and even parodic. Either the actress overestimated her abilities and got carried away, or she simply failed, but she fails most of the dramatic episodes, which makes her grin.

When Faye Dunaway accepted the role, she obviously dreamed of a second Oscar, especially after a blunder with the part in The First Deadly Sin, which earned her her first Golden Raspberry nomination. As a result, “Dear Mommy” not only brought her a “berry”, but also shook her career so much that the actress even wrapped interviews in the future if they were talking about this picture.

Almost all actors play very badly. Young Mara Hobel in the role of little Christina constantly gives out the wrong emotions, sometimes falling into pathos inappropriate for a child (do I need to say that the girl did not become a movie star). Diana Scarwid , who played teenage Christina , is a completely different case: the actress plays as if she is under the influence of powerful psychotropic substances and it is difficult for her to walk and talk. But the real fun begins when Dunaway and Scarwid enter the frame at the same time.

The crazy scenes of scandals are especially amusing. Designed to horrify the viewer with a monstrous relationship between mother and daughter, they cause only hysterical laughter - most of all in the fight scene between Joan and Christina. Sometimes the thought creeps in that the actors behave so on purpose, since it is impossible to come up with another justification for the lawlessness that is happening on the screen.

A lot of dialogue, unforgettable in its unexpected absurdity, is quite capable of becoming Internet memes ( "Tina, bring me an ax!", "I said no wire hangers!" ), and the film itself looks like a wild parody of all Hollywood biopics combined.

At the "Golden Raspberry" "Dear Mommy" became the absolute winner, having won 5 anti-awards out of 9 nominations - worst film, screenplay, actress (Dunaway), supporting actress (Skarvid) and supporting actor ( Steve Forrest ), but at the box office paid off, collecting almost 4 times the money invested in it. However, watching Mommy Dearest is by no means a waste of time, especially considering that everything that happens on the screen looks like a crazy comedy.

Movies similar to Dear Mom with descriptions of similarities

The dramatic story of young Christina growing up in the family of her foster mother Joan Crawford, one of the most famous Hollywood actresses of the 30s.

The following collections cover the same topics as in this film

Adoption films

Films about child abuse

Films about a domineering mother

Films about the relationship of mother and daughter

Movies based on real events

Films about dysfunctional families

Movies about women in power

Passion Movies

TOP movies similar to "Mommy Dear": Francis (1982), Thirteen (2003), Isaiah Case (1993), Playboy Star (1983), Pollock (2000), Basquiat (1996), Gray Gardens (2009)), Porn (2000), Gia (1998), White Oleander (2002), Scoundrel! (2003), Sybil (1976), Project 281 (1999), Cobb (1994).

Learn more