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Christina Explains 'Mommie'

Movies: Joan Crawford's daughter is marking the 20th anniversary edition of her tell-all book with a tell-all evening at the Royal Theatre.

March 30, 1998|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You might wonder what could possibly be left to say about the relationship between "Mommie Dearest" Joan Crawford and her long-suffering adopted daughter, Christina. After Christina's best-selling memoir was published 20 years ago, and the camp film classic starring Faye Dunaway was released in 1981, it's hard to imagine what new light there might be to shed on that hellish relationship.

But Christina Crawford, ever the trouper, is determined to try.

On Wednesday, she will appear in an "April Fool's With Christina Crawford" extravaganza at the Royal Theatre in West Los Angeles.

Crawford, 58, will talk about her famous adoptive mother, who died in 1977, at the event during a Q&A session conducted by Erik Lee Preminger, who just happens to be the son of Gypsy Rose Lee and Otto Preminger.

Hosted by Michael Cameron Benbrook, the evening is also billed to have "surprise celebrity appearances" and will culminate in the screening of the film. Partial proceeds of the evening will go to the Santa Monica AIDS Project.

The appearance is the brainchild of Marc Heustis, who produced Crawford's two-night sold-out show in San Francisco last Christmas. "We had 3,000 people," gushes Crawford, who now runs a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant in northern Idaho. "It was the most joyous occasion."

After the Los Angeles event, Crawford will do similar special evenings in Seattle, New York and Chicago.

"This has been an absolutely wonderful experience," says Crawford. "I spent 14 years as an actress and love the profession with all my heart and soul. So to come back into a theater situation, it was really like coming home."

Crawford, however, won't be hanging around for camp. During the screening of "Mommie Dearest," in which Dunaway's eyebrows seem to have a life of their own, she'll be in the lobby autographing copies of the 20th anniversary edition of her book.

"I didn't have anything to do with the movie," she says. "I tried to buy the rights back because the scripts were just so awful. The movie was made on a deal memo only. It was not a happy situation. They paid the advance, but they never paid me a dime additionally."

Still, she says, "I have to make peace with it. What is the most important thing is the book is the real thing. The movie is a piece of fiction. The book is a piece of nonfiction."

Crawford got the rights back to "Mommie Dearest" from William Morrow a few years ago and went back to her original 600-page manuscript to reconstruct the self-published 400-page anniversary edition.

"I put in the eyewitness accounts [of Crawford's behavior] that had come to me after the book was published. . . . It's now a complete chronicle of a very turbulent and chaotic and compelling and, in some instances, loving relationship that covers almost 40 years."

This version, which is available locally at A Different Light Bookstore and on the Internet at http://www.mommiedearest.com and http://www.amazon.com, delves more into their adult relationship.

"When both my adoptive mother and myself were actresses, we both lived in New York," says Crawford, who has completely recovered from the stroke she suffered in 1981.

"Her career was on the decline," Crawford says. "My career was on the ascendancy. She really wanted to have my youth and my vitality, and she wanted to take from me. It became a very destructive process. She became so jealous of me. That seems impossible [to believe], but if you understand an alcoholic woman sitting alone in her apartment. . . .

"The only thing she really cared about in her life was being a star, and there was her daughter being the star. It became very destructive and was really the reason that I decided to change careers."

As for all the Hollywood denizens who denounced her depiction of her mother when the book was published, Crawford says their reaction was "very self-serving. Everyone knew what the real situation was in the house. The situation was terrible. None of the employment agencies would send any help to the house because the help were abused, and they couldn't stomach being witnesses to what was going on."

Besides writing three other books, including a novel, "Black Widow," Crawford has spent her post-"Mommie Dearest" years raising awareness of family violence and is currently involved in adoption reform.

Crawford describes her life now as complete. "I've been here [50 miles south of Coeur d'Alene] since 1992. I know all my neighbors. It's the best thing I've ever done for myself. It's a wonderful, wonderful life. I love coming back to the cities and I love coming home. It's a wonderful mix."

* "April Fool's With Christina Crawford," at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Royal Theatre, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. Tickets are $20. An additional screening of "Mommie Dearest" takes place at 10:30 p.m. with an introduction by Christina Crawford. Tickets are $8. Tickets are available at the Royal box office; A Different Light Bookstore, 8853 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood; or call (800) 789-8536.

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