Her memoir that life with her abusive adoptive mother, the Hollywood superstar Joan Crawford, was possibly the very first ever to document child abuse native the suggest of see of the child. Currently 80, is she finally totally free from the fallout?


Christina Crawford, age 7, through her mother, Joan … ‘We nothing recognise the permanent psychological damages that is inflicted on people who space abused.’ Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive
Christina Crawford, age 7, v her mother, Joan … ‘We don’t recognise the irreversible psychological damage that is inflicted on human being who space abused.’ Photograph: Bettmann/Bettmann Archive

It is Christina Crawford’s 80th date of birth on the day we meet, and she is energetic after an opening night. A pair of work earlier, Mommie Dearest, the musical based upon her blockbuster 1978 memoir that the very same name, had actually a run-through at Birdland, the renowned new York jazz venue, and also she is hope the present will discover backing for a complete production. “It was marketed out, it was fabulous,” she says, looking glamorous and also spry, prior to issuing what has become a traditional warning: “The musical had absolutely nothing to do with the movie. I want to put that in large capital letters.”

The movie she is referring to is, the course, the 1981 adaptation the Christina’s memoir that starred Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford, Christina’s adoptive mother, whose abuses, soberly in-depth in the book, to be turned by the movie right into high camp. Together chronicled in Mommie Dearest, Crawford slapped, kicked, punched and tried come strangle her daughter, when subjecting she to a severe schedule of cleaning and also other family chores, thrust by the movie star’s alcoholism and also who to know what else. “We didn’t have a language for it,” claims Christina. “We didn’t have laws because that it. We didn’t have actually a society context because that it, and also we had shame. A tremendous amount the shame, coupled v fear. It wasn’t easy.” She laughs at the understatement. The publication of Mommie Dearest, possibly the very first memoir ever before to record child abuse from the suggest of watch of the child, changed the see of victim representation and also was an early precursor to today’s an ext robust state that victims’ rights. “I’m not a martyr, however I think, looking back, it is truly amazing to me what one person deserve to do.”

It was all a lengthy time ago. Crawford adopted Christina in 1940, and died that a heart assault in 1977. Christina’s younger brother, Christopher, passed away of cancer in 2006. Lingering interest in the story hinges top top enduring fascination through the glamour of the Hollywood era and also on the specific contradictions of Crawford. In the context of #MeToo, the story has actually renewed resonance, and also Christina is one interesting case study in the long-range effects of abuse together she tacks between cheerfully declaring herself complimentary from the fallout of she childhood, and testifying come how hard that exorcism has actually been.

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Joan Crawford through Christina, Christopher and also her embraced twin daughters, Cindy and also Cathy, in 1949. Photograph: Silver display Collection/Getty ImagesShe composed the music to depiction more fully her partnership with her brother, Christopher – “how the siblings thrive up v the abuse to make it through in the genuine world, with very little going because that them other than their very own love of each other and the will to live”. Long prior to the hatchet “gaslighting” came to be mainstream, they were critical as each other’s witness; without Christopher, Christina believes, she wouldn’t have actually survived. In ~ this plenty of years’ remove, ns curious regarding whether the toxicity of the material proceeds to have any type of power end her.

“I don’t understand that friend ever control it,” she says. “But you come to terms through it. Ns honestly nothing think it controls me any type of more. It is something that you have to live through, and also it’s an extremely difficult, due to the fact that there’s no roadmap for it, even today. Typically speaking, we don’t recognise the long-term psychological damages that is inflicted on human being who room abused, neglected and trafficked. The is tough for people to know that what happened two decades ago is creating behaviour trends today.” at the show, a man sitting alongside Christina presented himself come her together the psychiatrist at Rikers Island, the notorious new York jail – “coming to our display to learn about post-traumatic anxiety disorder. I believed this to be fantastic.”

Christina’s own survival to be something she accomplished almost totally without the help of external agencies. In the US, son protection legislations were presented from the 1960s, and also the child Abuse Prevention and also Treatment Act, producing a single federal emphasis for preventing and also responding to kid abuse and also neglect, didn’t come into impact until in 1974. Growing up in Hollywood in the 40s and early 50s, Christina had no recourse to the authorities. In fact, after ~ a particularly violent illustration she characterises as her mommy “trying to kill me”, it to be Crawford herself who referred to as the police and asked them to arrest her daughter because that delinquency. “I to be 13 or 14. And it to be then that ns realised the people had unable to do insane. The officer was an extremely kind. He told me that there was nothing he can do since there were no regulations to defend me. That told me: ‘You have actually to try to live until you space 18 and also can go free. But, otherwise, if anyone call me again on you, you’ll need to go to juvenile detention.’”

These days, ns suggest, Crawford would have been given a diagnosis. Christina looks fiercely indignant. “She would certainly have been in jail! She would’ve been hauled off to jail because that attempted murder. What is the excuse for that? yes sir no excuse. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. That’s no the issue. And also that’s not my responsibility, anyway.”

The legislations changed, and children became better protected. Christina started to acquire some street on her childhood. After gift sent, in ~ the period of 10, come boarding school, she taken that the rules she prospered up under no normal. She tried to develop a degree of self-esteem after years of gift told by her mommy that she to be useless. There was no real therapeutic language at she disposal and no frame for recovery. “It to be day by day. I had some teachers, I had some coaches. I had education, which ns adored. For me, education and learning was constantly the path forward and also that’s what ns used. It needs to do with exactly how much you want to be well. Carry out you desire to be free? and also some human being fail; they simply are not solid enough. A lot of them space dead. And a most them room in jail.”


Christina Crawford … ‘I am no a martyr.’ Photograph: Joshua Bright/The GuardianShe to be helped, quite perversely, by a fear of gift incarcerated that grew out of her mother’s continuous threats to have actually her placed away. “I had a terror of gift locked up. How could I not? and my terror of gift locked up ns think kept me on the straight and narrow.”

Fear is the water that abused children swim in, Christina says. “Because you don’t understand what’s going to happen and also your life is so chaotic. However on the other side of the equation, it’s fear from world who room afraid to speak up. Fear that they’re walk to lose their project or that world are going come say miscellaneous bad about them. If you were to ask me around one point that embraces every one of us, the the consistent fear.”

This was precisely her experience. When she was a child, housekeepers, secretaries, nannies and also teachers were conscious of what to be happening, yet no one who knew spoke up. After the book came the end in 1978, stars that Crawford’s vintage lined up to protect her, as did former members of she household. It was a generational close up door of the ranks end what appeared, come Crawford’s contemporaries, to it is in a piece of monstrous impertinence. Christina laughs very loudly at this. “Well, yes, i think that was! come say the least!”

Christina didn’t initially intend to compose a tell-all. In her beforehand 20s, she worked as one actor before enrolling on a degree course in ~ UCLA and also going top top to get a master’s in ~ the university of southern California. She would later on work in that company communications. ~ a period of estrangement in the last years of her mother’s life, she check a reconciliation. Walk she think the rapprochement was real?

“I thought it was,” she says. “But that turned out not to have actually been. No, towards the end, she didn’t have any work. She was an alcoholic. She was ill. She to be drug-addicted. And I think she just wasn’t playing with a complete deck. And as quickly as ns left new York to go ago to California come work, I completely lost paper definition – no contact, yet context v her, because I wasn’t physically present. Then she died.”

In despite the of the obvious reconciliation, Christina and Christopher were reduced out the the will, because that what Crawford cited as “reasons i m sorry are renowned to them”. Christina to be so furious she went straight to her desk and also started composing down every little thing that had happened in she childhood.

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The publication sold more than a million copies and suffered an enormous pushback from contemporaries the Crawford’s. It was gaslighting, pure and also simple, but Christina wasn’t surprised. “No, I construed Hollywood,” she claims with a laugh. “I knew where they were coming from – they were guilty that seeing and also not saying. It to be blaming the messenger for the poor news. Most of them room dead now; I have outlived every one of them! and also I never replied to any of them, or responded. I merely stuck to the article that i knew to be the truth.”


Mara Hobel and also Faye Dunaway in the film adaptation the Mommie Dearest. Photograph: Allstar/ParamountHer two younger siblings discussed the book, too, not unexplained in an abusive family. “Different civilization in the family members experience the parenting instance in different ways. Due to the fact that the parenting situation is various towards them, and also that’s a divide-and-conquer kind of situation.”

Christopher, in spite of his desire for privacy, stayed wholly supportive, she says, and she got thousands of letter “from civilization all over the people who had never heard someone speak up on your behalf before. And that take it me forward on a tide of faith.”

The ripple result is still gift felt. “Look in ~ Michigan State, with the gymnasts. Look in ~ Ohio State, through the athletes. Look at at penn State . This is best now.” also with hashtags exhorting human being to believe victims, the law still lags and there is a big caveat about domestic abuse, about which people have a tendency to say “who to know what yes, really happened”, says Christina. If she could change one law, it would be the statute of limitations. “When you have a statute of limitations versus sexual abuse that children, then most of the perpetrators go complimentary because some says only have actually three years. Some have 10. Probably some have 20. But if it happens to children, then by the moment they obtain old enough to speak out, or to recognize what happened to them, the state of limitations has actually been reached. And that’s all about protecting the perpetrator.”

In 1981, Christina had a debilitating stroke, underwent a five-year long recovery and, for the previous 25 years, has actually lived in countryside Idaho, creating a series of follow-ups come Mommie Dearest. I hope she musical finds a backer. The is a timely story, and the focus on her partnership with Christopher is really touching.

The fear doesn’t go away as soon as the abuser dies. “No,” she states quietly. “Because the internal.” through time, and also work, however, it lessens. Now, as soon as Christina suddenly sees a picture of she mother, she has no reaction. “Nothing. No.”

Is that indifference?

“No. It’s simply … acceptance.” deserve to she still be ambushed through responses laid under in she childhood: the fight or flight, hardwired in her brain?