Have you ever watched a Joan Crawford movie and noticed that inevitably, one of the film's characters- with a straight face, mind you- will describe Joan's character as being "a fine looking woman", "beautiful", even "gorgeous". Well, it always leaves me thinking "Really?...Really?". Because let's face it, Joan really wasn't very attractive. Oh, I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but I think that describing Joan as beautiful is pushing it. Really pushing it. But, Joan was a real piece of work, so if Joan asked (or even demanded) that her character be beautiful, well, who dared argue with her? I sure as heck wouldn't. I'd say whatever she wanted me to.
This observation of mine- made at 5:30 yesterday morning while trying to sleep- led me to my bookshelf where I pulled down one of my all-time favorite works of high camp: Joan's 1971 how-to guide My Way of Life. Don't let the price dissuade you from buying it. It is totally worth it to read Joan's advice on raising children (yes, child rearing advice from the woman who beat her daughter with a wire hanger), beauty (I think I covered that in the first paragraph of this post), housekeeping and decorating, and taking care of one's husband. I say husband rather than man or male companion because in Joan's world, a woman had to have a husband. You had to close the deal and make it to the finish line of marriage or otherwise you were, God forbid, not a "complete woman". And speaking of husbands, did you know that you should "never let your husband see you exercising. No woman rolling around on the floor looks really adorable after she's passed her third birthday." I didn't realize that either.
So seeing that this is a design blog, I'm going to extract some of Joan's decorating tidbits from the book. Taking decorating advice from a woman who covered her furniture in plastic slipcovers is a bit risky. (Carleton Varney, Joan's decorator in the 1960s and 70s, once wrote "Joan had more plastic on her furniture than was used at the meat counter in an A&P supermarket.) Still, I have to admit that much of what she said makes sense to me. I think that she was more down to earth when it came to her home than she was with her beauty tips: "Organize a beauty club. The best thing about the club is getting down on the floor with half a dozen other women...and seeing if you can improve faster than anyone else." Now that sounds like Joan to me.
Joan's Take on Decorating:
A good marriage deserves a lovely background.
I think the first gay, happy things I ever bought for myself were chintz curtains. But the place got so damned busy that it made me dizzy- too many patterns have the same effect on me as those very tiny mosaic tiles you sometimes see in public places, especially in airports. Judy Garland used to get so seasick looking at them that she had to be carried out of the area with her eyes shut tight.
I feel that [bedrooms] should be very feminine... I think men feel much more masculine walking from a brown or green dressing room into a lovely feminine bedroom.
I think one of the most important things in decorating is that you should like every room in the house or apartment. If you find yourself always avoiding one of the rooms, something's wrong.
People who have good taste are bound to make a mistake now and then, because they're human, and when they do it's a horrendous one. It's so ugly you can't believe it. On the other hand people who have terrible taste are bound to make a mistake and buy something exquisite- and you can't possibly understand how that could happen!
(Image #1 from My Way of Life by Joan Crawford. Images #2 and #5 from Celebrity Homes: Architectural Digest Presents the Private Worlds of Thirty International Personalities. #3, #4, and #6 from Houses in My Heart: Carleton Varney: An International Decorator's Colorful Journey by Carleton Varney.)