“No Wire Hangers” disinheritance and a cultural phenomenon

Joan Crawford made more than 80 films, and won the Oscar for best actress in 1946 for Mildred Pierce. She was married to Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Franchot Tone, Phillip Terry, and Pepsi-Cola president Alfred Steele. A successful businesswoman Joan served on the board of Pepsi-Cola from 1959 to 1973.

Unable to have children, she adopted and raised, Christina, Christopher, and twin girls, Catherine (Cathy) and Cynthia (Cindy).

Christopher Crawford was a quiet child, but difficult and defiant, he was labeled as a “problem child” and was expelled from several schools.

In 1962, Christopher visited Joan with his wife and baby. His mother reportedly said that the child didn’t look like him and that “ It’s probably a bastard.” Christopher never saw his mother again.

In 1960, both Cathy and Cynthia moved to New York City with Joan Crawford after Joan’s fourth husband, Al Steele, died.

Christina and Joan’s difficult relationship became even more strained in the late 1960’s. Christina last saw her mother Joan alive in 1968.

Joan Crawford died in May 1977 of liver cancer with an estate valued at around $2 million.

In October 1976, Joan had made a will leaving a trust fund of $77,500 to Cathy and Cynthia, $35,000 to her longtime friend and secretary, Betty Barker, and smaller bequests to a few other people. She also left money to her favorite charities.

She stated specifically that Christina and Christopher had been knowingly and deliberately left out of the will. “It is my intention to make no provision herein for my son Christopher or my daughter Christina for reasons which are well known to them.”

Joan couldn’t understand why it turned out so badly with her two older children. She lamented “I couldn’t make them love me, but they could have shown some respect.”

It has been reported that the clause disinheriting Christina and Christopher was written in the Sixties, and repeated in every time the will was rewritten.

Along with the trust fund Cathy also inherited all of Joan’s property including the 1946 Oscar for Mildred Pierce. In 1993, Cathy sold Joan’s Academy Award at auction for $426,732.

Joan gave instructions that she was to be cremated, and her ashes placed in an urn, next to her last husband, Alfred Steele. The funeral was held at Campbell’s Funeral Home, in New York City, and Joan’s four children attended.

Christina and Christopher contested the will arguing that due to Joan’s heavy drinking she lacked the requisite testamentary capacity and had been unduly influenced by Cathy and her Husband to change the Will in their favour. The estate settled with Christopher and Christina each received $27,500.

Following Joan’s death Christina wrote the best selling book “Mommie Dearest”. It was the first tell-all celebrity memoir, which discussed openly a psychologically and physically abusive childhood. A cultural phenomenon, it caused a sensation, and stayed at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks.

The Book was the basis for the 1981 movie awarded a Razzie Award in 1982 for the worst movie of 1981 and a Razzie Award for Worst Film of the 1980s.

Christopher waived any rights to the book and movie, “Mommie Dearest” for $10,000.

Joan Crawford’s peers have disputed Christina’s recollections, accusing her of embellishments and make-believe. Cathy and Cindy, claimed Christina lied, insisting their mother was a loving parent, who was firm but never abusive. Christopher and Cindy have both died but the sibling feud is unresolved.

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