"Dancing was the only area of my life in which I was superior."~Joan Crawford
It was 1925 and Lucille was approaching her 21st birthday. During her first year in Hollywood she did the usual things: posing for cheesy pictures, publicity stills, and doubling for top stars. She also did a lot of dancing parts in some movies but it was away from the movies that she was getting noticed. She was getting known for her dancing, which was so full of life and energetic. She had become a master at the Charleston and the Black Bottom, two dances that were very popular in the mid-twenties. Many men took notice of young Lucille. A young man named Michael Cudahy took a shine to Lucille and a relationship blossomed. They became dance partners and won several dance contests together. The relationship didn't last long. Cudahy was from a well-to-do family and Lucille came from a questionable background at best. This is around the time when she made friends with someone whom she would befriend for the rest of her life, William Haines. She met William Haines in 1925; he was also an up-and-coming star at the time. (Crawford and Haines remained close friends for the rest of their lives.) Haines encouraged Lucille to get to know the right people at the studio. People like Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer. She was also introduced to an MGM producer named Paul Bern, who became a mentor to Lucille, as well as a cameraman named Johnny Arnold, who told her she had a unique face and started photographing the young starlet. Lucille photographed very well and this got the attention of MGM executives. This would be beneficial for Joan in later years, as she became a total technical freak when it came to the filming of pictures. Some say she knew what to do better than most directors. All the hard work, drive, and ambition paid off and Lucille was ready for her first close up.
Joan in a very early cheesy publicity shot.
A rare photo of Joan playing a double in "Lady of the Night".
Joan was cast to play a double for Norma Shearer in her first on screen performance in "Lady of the Night"(1925). This is where she got a bad taste in her mouth for Norma. Norma treated her terrible and ignored her completely. The rival between Joan and Norma would last until Norma's last days at the studio. Lucille LeSueur was billed for the first and only time under her birth name in "Pretty Ladies"(1925). On the set she met an extra named Myrna Loy and their friendship lasted for many years. It was after the filming of "Pretty Ladies" that Louis B. Mayer decided Lucille LeSueur didn't sound right for an up and coming actress (it sounded too much like "sewer') so Mayer had a contest to rename Lucille. The first prize went to the name Joan Arden, but the name was already taken so the second choice was, Joan Crawford. Lucille hated this name at first; she thought it sounded too much like Crawfish. William Haines poked fun of her dislike of the name and gave her a pet name that he would call her for many years, "Cranberry." Now that she was "Joan Crawford" she had a fresh start a way to cover up the past and start fresh. She had a few bit parts in "The Only Thing" and "The Circle" both released in 1925. Her first billing as Crawford was in "Old Clothes" starring a very young Jackie Coogan. She got noticed in this role and it lead to her last picture of 1925 "Sally, Irene & Mary." This was a big break for Joan. She was noticed in this movie and it was a decent hit. Joan felt that she actually had a shot in this acting business.
Joan was still known as "just a dancer" in this early photo.
Joan celebrating her success with a brand new Model A Ford.
Joan's first movie release in 1926 was "The Boob." This picture flopped and Joan knew the picture was a waste of time but had to take parts that were being given to her. "Tramp,Tramp,Tramp" followed in suit and it was a comedy that Joan really did not fit well in at all. "Paris" also released in 1926 was accepted with mediocre response. Even though 1926 wasn't a great film year for Joan. Louis B. Mayer saw something special in her. He saw her drive and determination and she also saw she could handle men very well in and out of the bedroom. Mayer gave Joan a new contract at $250 a week (which in those days was an amazing salary) and Joan moved into a new apartment and bought a new car. During this time Joan was keeping in touch with her mother and brother to make them aware of her success. She was amounting to something and with that being known her mother and brother would take advantage of her success the rest of their lives. Joan would financially take care of them to their deaths even though they treated her very badly especially her brother, Hal. When Joan stopped sending checks he would threaten her with telling lies to the press. (Sounds like uncle Hal had something in common with his future niece, Christina). In 1927, Joan stared in "Taxi Dancer" which showed Joan in a new light on screen. She gave off a great energy in this film and was noticed as the next "It" girl by movie magazines. Two more films would follow, "Winners of the Wilderness" and "The Understanding Heart" both pictures were forgettable films. "The Unknown" staring the amazing Lon Chaney was a career highlight for Joan and a turning point in her acting career. This movie displayed raw and true acting skills by Joan. She learned so much by watching Chaney. She learned how to draw things from the past to display emotions on camera and it worked. "The Unknown" displays some of Joan's best work of her silent film career. The dancer was becoming an actress.
Joan Crawford in "Our Dancing Daughters" the perfect example of the flapper in the 1920's.
After the huge success and critical acclaim given to Joan for her work in "The Unknown" the studio decided to pair Joan up with the studios top leading man at the time, John Gilbert in "Twelve Miles Out." Gilbert at the time was in a heavy romance with Greta Garbo and was distracted on the set. Nevertheless, Crawford and Gilbert displayed such chemistry that the picture was a hit. The next two films Joan did were both with her best buddy, William Haines. "Spring Fever"(1927) & "West Point"(1928) both were Haines pictures and Joan was second fiddle but she really enjoyed working with the good friend. At this time Haines was the top leading man at MGM stealing the title from John Gilbert. Her next picture was "Rose-Marie"(1928) and just before starting that picture she had met Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (the son of the famous actor Douglas Fairbanks Sr.) she had more than liked she actually fell in love with him, they would wed in the fall of 1929. Before the marriage she continued to build up her acting resume in such films as: "Across to Singapore", "The Law of the Range"," Four Walls" and "Dream of Love" all released in 1928. But the movie that really cemented Joan's career was "Our Dancing Daughters." In this film, Joan was herself dancing around and showing off her immense dancing talents and it paid off. The role was originally slated for Clara Bow. Joan benefited from Bow's rejection to the film and the picture was a huge smash. This movie had made Joan a huge star and her fan base multiplied. She had really arrived and the studio doubled her salary. A sequel followed in 1929 called "Our Modern Maidens" which stared Joan with her real-life husband, Fairbanks. Once again, Joan had another hit on her hand and she was the hottest commodity on the studio. This would be Joan's last silent picture. The talkies had come to town and the stars were nervous how well they would convert over from silent pictures to talkies. No one had ever heard Joan's speaking or singing voice before and the studio was all a buzz about the risks of introducing voice to pictures. Joan was one of a very few silent stars that would become successful in this crossover.
A fresh-faced Joan entering the world of the talkie films.