Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr (Robson Books)

From working in a Kansas City laundry Joan Crawford became one of the greatest stars of the silver screen and an oscar-winning actress. And in this book, David Bret draws on unpublished material and personal sources, including Marlene Dietrich and Douglas Fairbanks, to present a unique and uncensored portrait of a fiercely ambitious woman. In this must-read biography, Bret reveals Crawford's preference for sexually ambiguous men, including Clark Gable, her feuds with Bette Davies and rivalry with Norma Shearer, and how the actress and the real person became indistinguishable in her films. And yet, stardom is never what it seems - Crawford was dedicated to everything she did, whether it was her devotion to Christian Science or her reliance on vodka. From a mother who forced Crawford to work as a prostitute, appearing in pornographic films and sleep her way to the top, to what really happened that led Crawford to disinherit two of her four children, Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr reveals the fascinating untold story of 'Mommie Dearest', the woman who wore the 'fuck me' shoes.

 

Daily Mail: 10 April 2017. Re-published 19 December 2019

Joan Crawford's porn films: How star was TWICE blackmailed by brother who threatened to leak her early stag movies as 'Feud' recounts Hollywood scandal around the first celebrity sex tape

  • Joan Crawford starred in multiple stag films prior to her days as a star according to multiple biographers, including 'Velvet Lips' and 'The Casting Couch' 
  • Twice in her life an individual was paid off to stop them from leaking these porn movies to members of the press, with her brother believed to be the informant
  • On the new episode of 'Feud,' Crawford pays off brother Hal LeSueur after he threatens to leak a tape just days before his death in 1963
  • The threats however came in the late 1920s and again in 1935, with MGM once paying $100,000 to stop the release of the picture
  • In 'The Casting Couch,' Crawford is reportedly seen performing a sex act on a producer before jumping on his couch nude and engaging in another sex act
  • Crawford denied ever appearing in an indecent film in her 1962 memoir, but her first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. claims she told him about the pictures 

Joan Crawford starred in at least two pornographic films before her days in Hollywood according to multiple biographies about the Hollywood star, who herself denied the rumors.

More shocking than her appearances in those films, one of which was aptly titled 'The Casting Couch,' is the identity of the man who tried to sell prints of these stag films.

It was Hal LeSueur who was reportedly twice paid off to stop him from leaking the explicit videos of his sister Lucille, who by that time had changed her name to the star now known as Joan Crawford.

 

Star with a past: Joan Crawford (above in 1926)  starred in multiple stag films prior to her days as a Hollywood star according to multiple biographers

Sibling drama: Twice in her life an individual was paid off to stop them from leaking these porn movies to members of the press, with her brother Hal (above with Joan in the 1930s) believed to be the informant

Among the films Crawford is believed to have been featured in are 'Velvet Lips,' 'The Plumber' and 'She Knows Best.'

David Bret wrote in his biography 'Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr' that the aforementioned 'Casting Couch' not only existed but 'its these might almost be said to mirror what would soon become Billie's own way for achieving recognition - that of the starlet who is so desperate to break into movies that she administers a blow job to the surprised producer before ripping off her clothes and hopping onto the couch in his office.'

Bret also claimed that Hal and Crawford's mother Anna had known about the tapes before she moved out to Los Angeles, and that the actress' furious mother was set to kick her out of the house.

Days later, Crawford was informed she had a contract offer at MGM.

Despite all this, Crawford would end up supporting her mother and brother financially in 1929 after her Hal showed up unannounced at her home and she later sent for her mother.

She grew weary of the two soon after, who she viewed as a financial drain and whose behaviors and morals were not in line with her own she would claim in her latter years. 

That is when they began to blackmail her and threaten to sell stories for money, which forced her at times to make payoffs. 

One of Hal's payoffs was depicted in the most recent episode of 'Feud,' with Crawford (played by Jessica Lange) being told by gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (played by Judy Davis) that a tape is being offered around for press to view.

Crawford denies the rumor and sends Hooper on her way, but is next seen entering a hotel lobby where she is warmly greeted by the desk manager, whose tone soon turns sardonic.

It is her brother Hal (played by Raymond J. Barry), and the the talk soon grows cold as Crawford accuses him of trying to sell the tape and hands over a check to get him to stop speaking to the press. 

She is then on her way, and days later visits him in the hospital with a second check to finish out her payment.

They argue, she yells and hours later Hal is dead 

Big brother: On the new episode of 'Feud,' Crawford pays off brother Hal LeSueur after he threatens to leak a tape just days before his death in 1963 (Jessia Lange and Raymond Barry as Crawford and Hall in 'Feud' above)

Big money: Hal is in the hospital when his sister arrived with the second and final check (above)

Strained relationship: After a fight erupts between the two in the hospital (above), Hal dies of a ruptured appendix 

This meeting did not happen of course and the timeline is off, but elements of it are based in fact.

Bret wrote in his biography that the threats to leak the tapes came decade prior, first in the 1920s and then again in 1935.

Hal did however pass away in 1963 of a ruptured appendix as seen in the show, and was indeed a hotel desk manager. 

Crawford scoffed at the notion that she had ever appeared a pornographic film but did admit of threats to release such a movie in her 1962 memoir 'A Portrait of Joan.'

She wrote in her book that she received a call in 1935 on the first night of her honeymoon with actor Franchot Tone.

Tone was the actress' second husband, and a former paramour of Davis' whose decision to marry Crawford is said to have begun the infamous feud between the two actresses.

The union of Tone and Davis did prove fruitful on he big screen however, and the film they starred in that year, Dangerous, scored Davis he first Oscar.

'Two men said they had in their possession a stag reel in which I danced. They wanted to sell it to me,' wrote Crawford.

The actress wrote that she then alerted Louis Mayer, who was running, who was the head of MGM, and he put the studio's legal team on the case.

J. Robert Rubin, the attorney for Goldwyn Pictures, took a look at the tape and said, according to Crawford: 'If that' Joan Crawford then I'm Greta Garbo.'

And that was the end of that.

 
 

Different tales: Crawford's first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (left in 1931) said she told him about the tapes; her second husband Franchot Tone (right in 1938) was on his honeymoon with Crawford when someone threatened to release a tape to the press

 

Tone had just starred in the film 'Dangerous' with Bette Davis (above) prior to the wedding, and is said to have started the feud between the two actresses as they were both enamored with the French star

'The threats of blackmail which had followed me for so long, ended the minute Mr. Rubin saw that film,' wrote Crawford.

In his biography of the star, Bret also writes that Crawford received the call from blackmailed on her honeymoon in 1935, but tells a far, far different story about what happened next.

And, he claims to have some strong proof to back his story.

'There is an entry in Joan's FBI file stating that as much as $100,000 may have been handed over to this unknown blackmailer at around this time - and that MGM had made a previous payoff, almost certainly to the same man, who some believed to have been Joan’s brother, Hal,' wrote Bret.

He goes on to write however that it is not clear if all those who made threats to release the tape had an actual copy or had just heard of it, and if they even wanted or had demanded money to keep quiet.

Bret does end his story however the same as Crawford did in her memoir.

'The pay-off must have been settled with a stern warning, if not an actual death threat to the perpetrator, for though several Crawford "stag films" are known to still be lurking around in private collections, Joan never had to deal with the matter again,' wrote Bret.

That initial payoff meanwhile that happened years before was the work of Eddie Mannix, the legendary fixer at MGM whose days in Hollywood were loosely retold in the 2016 Cohen brothers film 'Hail, Caeser.'

 

Response: Crawford (above) denied ever appearing in an indecent film in her 1962 memoir

No more: The threats to release the film came in the late 1920s and again in 1935, with MGM fixer Eddie Mannix (above on right in 1953 with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz) once paying $100,000 to stop the release of the picture

Karina Longworth recounted that story recently on her podcast 'You Must Remember This.'

'One of Mannix's most persistent cases had to do with a very early version of a celebrity sex tape scandal,' explained Longworth.

'By the time Lucille LeSueur signed with MGM in 1925 and began transforming herself into Joan Crawford, she had allegedly recorded a pornographic film.

Longworth went on to reveal that Crawford's FBI file confirmed that she was in this film and that among the notes were one that stated the actress could be seen in a number of 'compromising positions' throughout the picture.

Crawford was still a bombshell in her later years (above in the 1963 film Strait-Jacket)

'In the late 1920s talk of the tape grew a bit too loud and Mannix was sent in to destroy it,' said Longworth.

'At some point, after collecting a number of prints, Mannix found the negative, and he used MGM funds - 100,000 of them - to have it destroyed.'

That's not all either, with Longworth also providing another interesting fact that seems to help confirm the existence of the tape.

'When Crawford left the studio in 1943 she paid $50,000 for them to release her from her contract,' revealed Longworth.

'Some have conjectured that this was hush money, so Mannix would keep the existence of "Velvet Lips."'

Charlotte Chandler provided the best proof of these, short of an actual copy, in her biography 'Not the Girl Next Door.'

In that book. Crawford's first husband Douglas Fairbanks Jr. said that she told him about the films.

'Billie was absolutely terrified that I would find out about a film she had made when she was in a financially desperate moment,' said Fairbanks.

He deduced the film was explicit in nature, but got nothing else out of his wife when he pressed her on the topic.

'I tried to get as many details from her as possible, especially as to what she wore or didn’t wear in the film, and specifically what she did in the film, but I only got tears,' explained Fairbanks.