Saturday, April 19, 2008

Not the Girl Next Door

By David Luhrssen
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Although Joan Crawford had a reputation, whether deserved or not, as dislikable, she thoroughly charmed the writer of Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford, A Personal Biography (published by Simon & Schuster). Author Charlotte Chandler questions little, building her book around a lengthy series of interviews with Crawford conducted before the star’s death in 1977. Chandler even goes with Crawford’s preferred year of birth, 1908, rather than the 1906 that appears in many reference works.

A few other people were interviewed, including Crawford’s first husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and her sometime director Joseph Mankiewicz. But the star of the book holds center stage on nearly every page. Crawford has the final say on virtually everything. Chandler makes no attempt to interpret her material and little effort to contextualize it. Not the Girl Next Store reads more or less like the record of one long conversation.

There are nuggets, however, and any future biographer of the actress (she won a well deserved Oscar for her role in Mildred Pierce) will want to reference Chandler’s book as a source for the star’s own opinion of herself and her experiences in show business. Of the Hollywood studio system that has drawn much criticism from historians, Crawford offered this insider’s view: “You were nurtured. They took a big interest in you, and you were part of a family”

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