There’s no denying it: I’m not a huge Joan Crawford fan: there’s something brittle about her that I don’t care for much. But I admire her moxie, especially after seeing a show that traced her career. She started out life on the wrong side of the tracks — and, as one actor said so well, she could always hear the train whistle blowing.
As a teen, she became a hoofer and worked in New York dance halls as a “girl for hire.” But she was gutsy and ambitious. She went out to Hollywood. She caught someone’s eye and ended up in silent films as a chorus girl. When talkies arrived, with the help of a speech coach, she made the transition to speaking parts successfully. She had to fight hard to win starring roles — and fight she did. Some of her strategies can be helpful to us as writers:
Expect to succeed: Though she was an outsider and not a member of Hollywood “royalty,” Joan valued her own grit, ambition, and staying power. She set her star on becoming a “star” and kept her goal constantly in mind. Always on the lookout for opportunities to advance, she grabbed them with both hands.
Keep learning and growing: Even when studios stuck in her in “B” pictures, Joan had the chance to work with experienced actors — and she took full advantage of it. She studied the way one actor immersed himself in his roles and vowed to do the same. When not on camera, she made it a point to visit the sets of other films and watch other actors and actresses practicing their craft.
Respect your profession: Joan showed up on the set totally prepared. One actor said that she memorized not only her own lines, but everyone else’s as well. When spotlighted in a close-up, she would stand off-screen and reproduce her facial movements so that the actor responding to her could see her and offer a more realistic reaction.
Develop your craft: Early in her career, Joan realized that the professionals who worked behind the scenes were just as important to her success as those on screen. She made it a point to learn about sets, lighting angles, and styling — every aspect of film-making. As her career progressed, she pushed hard for more demanding parts. Some of these roles, like Mildred Pierce, were turned down by other A-list actresses because they were unsympathetic, but Joan saw their dramatic potential and grabbed them. That’s the stuff of Oscars. Write on!