Joan Crawford Receives Her Oscar

So another Oscar night has come and gone. I watched part of the ceremonies: Neil Patrick Harris rocked the opening; Steven Martin and Alec Baldwin were not as good as they usually were on SNL; best actor/actress tributes were touching; Farrah Fawcett was notably absent from In Memoriam and Tom Hank’s Best Picture announcement was very abrupt. The night lacked any memorable moment, but Katherine Bigelow’s Oscar moment is definitely long overdue one for women in the industry.

Almost all nominees come to the award show now–the biggest night of the showbiz; I saw Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon papers–about whom a documentary film is made this year–in the crowd (Even Steve Jobs is there). It was not always the case: Martin Brando refused his Oscar. In 1971, Vanessa Redgrave refused to attend after being nominated, saying that Americans didn’t like her and that the Nixon administration refused her a visa. Six years later, she did attend the ceremony only to accept the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and denounced Nixon and the “Zionist hoodlums” in her acceptance speech.

George C. Scott dismissed Oscars as a “two hour meat parade”, and refused to attend even when he won Best Actor for Patton. Some absences were tragic: Sidney Howard, winner of the 1940 screenplay award for his Gone with the Wind, was run over by a tractor just before Oscars night. Some were intentional: George Bernard Shaw refused to cross the Atlantic to collect his writing award for Pygmalion. He even quoted: “It’s an insult for them to offer me any honour, as if they had never heard of me before – and it’s very likely they never have. They might as well send some honour to George for being King of England”. Shaw received his statuette by mail and used it as a door stop.

In view of all these absences, Joan Crawford’s in 1946 was masterly. Nominated as best actress for Mildred Pierce, she didn’t want to face losing so she claimed she was ill with flu. She sent her make-up artist and hair stylist to the ceremony in case she won, which she did. Immediately, the statuette was sent to her hospital, closely followed by photographers. There she posed for the above pictures. They stole the next day’s front pages and upstaged everyone else who won that night.

Joan Crawford by Eve Arnold

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There is a series of pictures on Joan Crawford doing her toilette by Eve Arnold, but this one depicts the intimacy between the photographer and the subject. Eve Arnold and the actress were close friends. She would take the pictures of Joan nude as the latter was drunk, and Joan would insist on Eve taking her pictures even after Eve Arnold had moved on from celebrity photography. 

Even after she turned 50, Joan Crawford insisted on Eve taking nudes of her. She stripped down in a dressing room where she was trying clothes on as Eve returned to take a photo of Joan and her adopted daughter, much to the chagrin of the photographer who mentioned that “something happens to flesh after 50” and refused to use the photographs taken that day.