Mommie Dearest, the nearly 40-year-old camp classic, cemented Joan Crawford’s reputation as the worst mother in Hollywood history with four little words: “No wire hangers ever!”
The Oscar winner deliberately crushed her daughter, Christina, in swimming races, threw fits when she didn’t behave with the utmost discipline, and, oh yeah, once tried to strangle her.
But inspired by Mother’s Day, this gay dad re-examined the melodrama and found glimpses of meaning amid all the scenery chewing: a single mom struggling to raise a kid among all the excesses of Hollywood. Behold, Joan Crawford’s top eight parenting tips…
Don’t let your child show off.Paramount Pictures
A studio photographer fawns over Christina at her 5th birthday party, saying, “She’s a real natural, Miss Crawford.” But Metro’s grande dame refuses to let the shutterbug take glamour shots of the girl for publicity purposes. She will teach Christina that life is more than being pretty! A few scenes later, Joan has a meltdown when she catches Christina wearing her makeup, putting “setting lotion” in her hair, and practicing an Oscar acceptance speech. “You’re always rummaging through my drawers, trying to find a way to make people look at you!” she scolds, trying to curtail the girl’s emerging vanity, a lost cause in the ultra-shallow world of Hollywood that has benefitted Joan so greatly. “Why are you always looking at yourself in the mirror?!”
Let your kid keep only one birthday gift.Paramount Pictures
Despite throwing her a lavish birthday party complete with a carousel, Brentwood’s screen legend is determined not to let her girl grow up “a spoiled Hollywood brat just because she’s Crawford’s daughter.” Inexplicably, Joan insists Christina can keep only one of her birthday presents. The rest of her dozens of gifts need to go to an orphanage where Saint Joan is a patron. Joan shows she can compromise—at least a bit: She allows Tina to keep a second gift just this once (“this time, we’ll make an exception”), a bracelet from Joan’s long-suffering lawyer beau.
Teach her to feel pride.Paramount Pictures
Crawford, who grew up as poor Lucille Fay LeSueur in Oklahoma and was abandoned by her father before she was born, wanted so badly to be a parent that she got pregnant seven times (each time she miscarried). In one of her few emotionally grounded moments, Joan reminds Christina not to feel shame that she and her brother were adopted—but self-esteem. “Darling, remember what I told you about adopted children?” Joan asks. Christina responds, “Adopted children are the luckiest because they were chosen.”
Children should eat healthy, no exceptions.Paramount Pictures
Joan demands her daughter finish her steak even after Christina complains it’s oozing red juice. “Darling, rare meat is good for you,” says the fit Oscar winner. “The doctor said so. Meat loses its vitamins if it’s overcooked.” The two face off, with Christina choosing a days-long food strike over slicing up the slimy steak. Ultimately, Joan blinks first—she can’t have her daughter starve, what would Mayer say?!—and makes her clean up the disgusting dish: “Empty that plate…into the trash can.” A decade later, Joan still sticks to her guns when she treats teenage Christina to a “lovely evening” at Perino’s. “Tommy, we’ll have the New York steak for two—rare.”
Don’t sugarcoat a thing.Paramount Pictures
The Hollywood megastar, who jogs at the crack of dawn while her assistant tails her in her car, doesn’t believe in the modern notion of giving kids trophies every five minutes to build up their confidence. “You’ve got to know how to compete and win, life goes too god-damned fast,” she says after humiliating Christina—repeatedly—in swimming races in their fabulous pool. “No one ever said life was fair.”
Cleanliness is next to godliness.Paramount Pictures
Joan scrubs by example, getting down on her hands and knees to shine her mansion’s floors. (“Helga! When you polish the floor, you have to move the tree.”) She not surprisingly expects Christina to keep her spaces tidy, too. When Joan questions her daughter about her less-than-sparkling bathroom, Christina deflects: “Miss Jenkins said it was clean.” Bossy Mommie calls her out. “Miss Jenkins said it was clean,” making fun of Christina’s whiny little voice. “Do you think it’s clean?” Joan is willing to crouch down and work alongside Christina to make sure the job’s done right—until she has her own tantrum, inspired by her spiraling career and love life, screaming, “Nothing is clean!”
Manners matter.Paramount Pictures
Image is everything to perfectionist Joan. She pushes Christina to send sincere, handwritten thank-you notes anytime she receives a gift, and later, when Christina’s a teen—and has earned a near-perfect report card from her fall semester at Chadwick—Joan reminds her she still needs to get her Christmas cards out early. Then she admonishes Tina for being “rebellious.”
Kids need to give clothes the respect they deserve.Paramount Pictures
In the film’s most infamous scene, Joan has the mother of all temper tantrums, questioning why Christina has some of her frocks hanging on, yep, wire hangers. But honestly, is it so wrong for the hard-working millionaire mom to expect $300 dresses—that’s $3,200 in 2019 dollars!—to be delicately placed on higher-quality crochet hangers?!