FX's Feud revisits the kind of celebrity gossip that has faded from modern public consciousness, but once fueled the rumor mill and dominated the magazines. Old Hollywood stars could battle it out with the best of them, and many turned trading veiled barbs into an art form. Feud uses the scandalous history between its main stars to explore bigger themes, like the struggles of aging actresses to prove themselves all over again even though they had already reached the top years before. One of the actresses with a major part in Feud's story is Joan Crawford, but just in case you need to brush up on your Mommie Dearest references: who is Joan Crawford on Feud?
Over time, Crawford has become a somewhat of a punchline. Her harsh makeup, her truly staggering shoulder pads, and the public breakdown of her family all turned her into at best a joke, at worst a monster. But whether or not there is veracity to the claims of Crawford's personal failings (there is some debate about what really happened with her and her daughter, Christina), she started off her career in Hollywood as something much different. Once dubbed the quintessential flapper by F. Scott Fitzgerald himself, Crawford built a career on glamour, sex appeal, and being perfectly professional — in public, at least.
Like many other Hollywood stars of the time, Crawford transformed herself when she decided to start her career as an actress. Born Lucille LeSeur, Crawford grew up extremely poor and eventually became a chorus girl (then going by the name Billie Cassin) before landing a contract with MGM. She was renamed Joan Crawford, which would be the name she used for the rest of her life as she moved from silent films to talkies to television.
While Crawford became known for more than a few impressive film roles and her many romances with her MGM co-stars, the most lasting impact on her legacy was thanks to her children. Crawford had four adopted children, one of whom was Christina Crawford, who published a book about her relationship with her mother that will live in infamy: Mommie Dearest. In the book (which later became a film starring Faye Dunaway as Crawford in a memorably unhinged performance), she alleged lifelong abuse at Crawford's hands. Many of Crawford's friends disputed the allegations, but true or not, the damage was done.
These days, Crawford is remembered most because of the image of her put on film by someone else. Her own work has been eclipsed by Dunaway's portrayal of her, turning a one-time screen legend into shrieking, cold-cream-covered villain. But now that Jessica Lange is gearing up to portray her in Feud, hopefully viewers will get to see another side of Crawford and gain some insight into her side of the story. We'll find out soon enough.