Lucille LeSueur’s parents separated before she was born. By age 16 she had three different stepfathers, one of whom (a vaudeville theater manager) had given her the name Billie Cassin. By 1915 she, her brother Hal and their mother lived in Kansas City, and Billie worked in a laundry with her mother and also as a menial to pay school tuition. Winning an amateur dance contest in 1923 led to chorus work in Chicago, Detroit and New York. On New Year’s Day of 1925 she left for Hollywood. Before her second picture, a Photoplay contest led to the name Joan Crawford. With Our Dancing Daughters (1928) she became a star. She had a string of successes playing socialites or rags-to-riches shop girls, most notably as Crystal Allen in The Women (1939). She stayed with MGM for 18 years, signing with Warners in 1943. Mildred Pierce (1945) was a defining role and won her an Oscar.
After more than 70 films, she married Alfred Steele, chairman of the board of the Pepsi-Cola Co., a company with which she remained as a board member and spokesman after her husband’s fatal heart attack in 1959. In 1972 when the company’s executives saw no further use for her, they pushed her out. After that, she referred to the CEO as “Fang”.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) brought new careers to both Crawford andBette Davis in 1962–although the two despised each other–but the ensuing roles were neither numerous nor flattering. Horrified by a photo taken of her in 1974, she retired completely, devoting herself to Christian Science and the increasing use of vodka. Her four adopted children received little from her $2-million estate: $77,500 each for Cathy and Cindy, nothing for Christopher or Christina Crawford “for reasons best known to them”.
The above IMDB entry can also be accessed online here.