Joan Crawford is known for being as tough a person as the characters she played. Not only does Crawford have a reputation for a life-long rivalry with Bette Davis, but she has also feuded with two other actresses – Norma Shearer and Loretta Young – each seemingly unlikely to cause waves with anyone. But it was simple for Crawford. If she did not like you, she would let you know it.
The origin of Crawford’s rivalry with actress Norma Shearer is likely over the role of “Jan Ashe” in the film adaptation of Adela Rogers St. John’s book “A Free Soul.” The writer had Crawford in mind when she penned the story, and Crawford fought to play the part. Her fight was futile. With Irving Thalberg at the production helm, the role went to his sweetheart, Norma Shearer. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including “Best Actress in a Leading Role” for Shearer. From then, Crawford made Shearer her chief rival at MGM Studios, commenting on Shearer’s seemingly unfair advancement for better roles: “She sleeps with the boss. Who can compete with that?”. Crawford would stab at Shearer’s appearance and talents: “I don’t get it. She’s cross-eyed, knock-kneed, and she can’t act worth a damn. What does he see in her?” Though Shearer was referred to as the “First Lady of MGM, ” Crawford cruelly nicknamed her instead “Miss Lotta Miles, “ referencing Shearer’s previous career as a model for “Springfield Tires.” Shearer rebutted with, “It is impossible to get anything made or accomplished without stepping on some toes; enemies are inevitable when one is a doer.”
During filming of the 1939 comedy “The Women,” their rivalry became more publicly known with stints such as Crawford knitting loudly while Shearer filmed her scenes. Cukor would throw Crawford off the set. Their feud was good for the film, publicity-wise and production-wise, as Joan Crawford’s character, Crystal Allen, is responsible for the marital break-up of Norma Shearer’s character, Mrs. Stephen Haines. Their mutual hatred in the film is tangible, or as Crawford said, “I loved to play bitches, and she helped me in the part.”
Then there was Crawford’s rivalry with Loretta Young. “Every time she sins, she builds a church”is just one of the comments Crawford made about Ms .Young. Their feud began over a man, and not just any man — “The King of Movies,” Clark Gable. Gable, who was well-known for his extramarital affairs, was having an affair with Crawford while married to his second wife. During the production of “Call Of The Wild” (1935), in which Gable and Young co-starred, they spent one night together. Young became pregnant with Gable’s illegitimate child. Crawford once said herself, besides husband Alfred N. Steele, Gable was the only other man Joan ever loved.
Coined “The Divine Feud”, the origin of the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford rivalry is still unknown. Was it over Franchot Tone? Bette Davis was in love with him, but Crawford married him. Was it over a role? Or was it a publicity stunt created by the studios? With such biting insults served from both parties, who could tell if the feud was real or not? It is uncontested by both, however, Davis and Crawford each seemed to have fun backhanding with each other every chance they could. See our previous article, “Bette Davis v. Joan Crawford,” for in-depth fun on that feud.
Joan Crawford may have had a reason for making rivals with the women mentioned above, but there is one feud Crawford did not see a reason for and did not want to take part in – that was the feud with her adopted daughter, Christina Crawford. Before her death, Crawford commented, “Mother and daughter feuds make for reams in print; they also make for reams of inaccuracies; the greatest inaccuracy is the feud itself. It takes two to feud and I’m not in one of them. I only wish the best for Tina.” Later, Crawford excluded Christina from her will. After her mother’s death, Christina published a controversial memoir about her mother titled “Mommie Dearest.”