Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Conversation With Christina Crawford



Christina Crawford

It Is What It Is
-Christina Crawford

Mommie Dearest Inc. in association with producer Jerry Rosenberg presents the New York premiere of A Conversation With Christina Crawford: Live and Onstage in Surviving Mommie Dearest, starring Christina Crawford — actress, activist and author of the 1978 best-selling autobiographical book Mommie Dearest — May 8-12 at the Snapple Theater Center in New York City.
 It covers one hundred years of entertainment and show business history, but also issues of social justice. The documentary is based on three of Christina's best-selling books, Mommie Dearest, Survivor, and No Safe Place.

This past week, I was invited to attend a preview performance.
It is a hybrid of a documentary putting the pieces of the puzzle of Christina’s life together. 
The documentary film won the 2012 Silver Screen Award at the Nevada Film Festival and it was the official selection of the 2012 Jacksonville Film Festival.
The documentary features long forgotten home movies and  historical photos of both Joan and Christina Crawford. Throughout her long career, Ms. Crawford has turned the issue of family violence into public awareness. She also offers hope and the healing process through her personal experiences. The documentary was written by Christina Crawford, and directed by Ms. Crawford, and Jacksonville native, Jerry Rosenberg. Portions were filmed at the The Metro Entertainment Complex, in Jacksonville, FL.
What questions are not answered by the film are answered by Christina in the latter part of the show in which she takes questions from the audience. 
She covers her spiritual journey and her childhood with equal aplomb. For most of us in attendance, we were already familiar with most of her journey. 
It unfolds in a matter of fact way that makes it feel as if we were hearing it for the first time.

Christina is happy with this project. It is something that is fluid. It can always change and alter. They have changed and altered it on its way to New York. They have played Orlando, Jacksonville, and Las Vegas. Those audiences have shaped the show I saw last week. 

The audiences are made up of all demographics. Christina is constantly astonished by a “new” question that she is presented with all these years. It is the audience that changes. The film shown stays the same. 
The film does have a lot of humor which audiences may not be expecting based on preconceived ideas of the evening that unfolds.

The humor is dark humor. This is not a sad story because it does not have a sad ending. It is a story of great emotional ups and downs but it is not a sad story. 

The anticipation of some people is that they are coming to see a tragedy. 
It is not a comedy either. What they are seeing is a “process”. It is about evolving and growing and becoming a whole person. 

That is a goal of many sitting in the audience. The audience is intentionally very much a part of the presentation. There are some questions that Christina doesn’t have the answers to because she doesn’t have the information. Those questions are usually about Joan Crawford and not about Christina or the film they’ve just seen. When questions are about things that did not directly involve her, she can’t answer those questions. Some questions are also about people she never interacted with. Obviously, she can’t answer those questions. She has had to say sometimes, “That’s a great question but I don’t know the answer.”
Playbill.com
She tries to keep the Q and A within the confines of the evening that has just unfolded. 
This is something that she and the audience at hand have experienced together. 
There are also questions as to why now and how did this come about.   
The Q and A portion is Christina’s favorite part of the evening. Prior to this, she has done a lot of public speaking. 
Those instances have almost always been about very serious topics. 
These take place at conventions and the like. This is much more free form. I’ve seen the show and therefore I KNOW that there are no planted questions and that portion of the evening is not scripted. It is all spontaneous and it is real. That is something that people yearn for and almost never get in these types of situations. There is a scripted portion which lends itself to ad libbing when warranted.   
Christina has to be focused, grounded, centered, and rested in order to do each presentation. She cannot be stressed out or argumentative with anyone. There is no one else on stage with her. It’s all her energy and if she doesn’t have that focused energy, it won’t work. She also has to make that connection with the audience right away.
When she first steps out on stage for each presentation, she is so focused on what she is doing that she has no other thoughts. 
She just desires to remember her lines! She normally doesn’t focus on individuals but the audience as a whole. That is not so easy to do at the Snapple Theater. The audience is so close to the stage and she can see their faces. In a larger theater, especially when one is doing a play, most actors do not desire to see faces. 
The focus has to be on the play. This is a different kind of theater. 
She is speaking directly to the audience. Again, that focus is a laser focus. Everyone loses that focus from time to time but preparation reduces the chances of that happening.
Christina and Richard Skipper
As of this interview, there have been no reviews per se. They are now, as is this, blogs. It is not the old kind of reviews that she would have received if this evening was being presented twenty-five years ago like Clive Barnes used to do. 
They are more people oriented blog reviews but they’ve all been wonderful and all involved feel very good about that. 

Everyone hopes for that.       
I was also given the opportunity to sit down and talk with Christina yesterday. 
In keeping with previous profiles, I am here to celebrate Christina’s body of “worth”. This blog is NOT about Joan Crawford or Mommie Dearest, the movie, which is NOT Christina’s story. 
ORDER HERE

Go back and read the book, which has never been out of print since it was published in 1978 or, better yet, get to the Snapple Theater in NYC to get up and close with Christina. At the end of the evening, if you still have questions, she will gladly answer them for you.
She has a wonderful friend, and subsequent producer, Jerry Rosenberg and they started talking about this evening of theater and they both decided to just try it. 
Christina had done her television show. She obviously had been a writer for thirty years. They just decided to go step by step. Honestly, it was like putting together this giant unwieldy jigsaw puzzle taking bits and pieces and photographs and interviews and a lifetime of memories.     
Like Liza Minnelli, also from Hollywood royalty, Christina came to New York to be a stage actress instead of staying in tinsletown. Liza made her debut as a toddler at the end of In the Good Old Summertime as the daughter of Judy Garland and Van Johnson. 
Christina had a less auspicious beginning. She made her debut when she was a very young child in Hansel and Gretel with her Brownie Troop. 
She was eight years old and Annie Get Your Gun.
because she was one of the taller girls, she was given the part of the mother. She forgot ALL of her lines. The reason, as she explains in the documentary, that she desired to come to be in the theater was because of the wonderful shows she saw as a child. She was mesmerized by the theater. The very first show she remembers seeing is Ethel Merman in
The truth of the matter is that Christina was trained to be an actress from the time she was a little girl. She was given scripts of what to say to reporters. She was told how to ask questions, how to sit, how to act, what to do, what lines to say. Nothing was spontaneous as far as public appearances were concerned even if those were in the house. She thinks she was trained to be an actress from the time she was when she was a child.
Her career as an “actress” was short lived and she misses nothing about that part of her life. She left the business to go back to college and change her life and she got a Master’s Degree in communication management and went into the corporate world which is a different kind of show business. It is a very hard show business. She doesn’t miss show business because it is so disrespectful to women, something that many people do not realize. 
She got sick and tired of it. She realizes that it is very hard on many people. There were no parts for a woman over thirty-five. 
It was very disrespectful what she went through to get work. She loved the work. 
She hated the process.   
I asked Christina what she thought the biggest misconception is about her. She doesn’t know. She hears about it when questions are posed to her and they are completely misinformed. 
That’s the only way she knows about it.
Christina is a courageous woman. This is HER story. It is not Joan Crawford’s. When Christina put pen to paper the first time for Mommie Dearest, these kinds of books were not being written…by anyone.
The advice that Christina would give to anyone desiring to tell their story is to sit down and be quiet and think about the consequences. There are going to be positive ones and negative ones. Unless you are able to deal with the negative ones and not think you’ve done something wrong if you are telling the truth, you shouldn’t do it until you come to that place in your life because what you don’t want is for it to be so overwhelming that you kind of run away.
The final result of Mommie Dearest was what Christina desired it to be but nobody knew that it was going to be a success. What they thought was the genre of the “Hollywood book” or the autobiography of stage or screen personalities was such a tiny piece of the publishing market. The publishers thought they would have a little success in that tiny piece of the market. Otherwise, they would not have paid her for the book. It went so far beyond that so fast because it wasn’t about “Hollywood.”     
The way that Christina is perceived in the world is different for people due to different walks of life, age. She has received thousands of letters over the years from people that say that the book of Mommie Dearest has saved their lives and that Christina is the first person who understood, etc. Christina still gets those kinds of letters today. Christina now owns a small publishing company and she distributes the book herself. She markets the book through Amazon. She also regularly gets letters through Amazon telling her the same thing. Even today, thirty years later, she is still getting these letters. Thank God, those are the ones that keep giving Christina hope. It shows her that good is still being done. THAT is the intent of the book.
This book opened the door for so many others to be brake and tell their TRUTH. Nobody planned that. It was totally spontaneous. It was like stepping into a hurricane.
Obviously, the publishing world has changed tremendously since Mommie Dearest was first published. As stated earlier, Christina is now her own publisher. She has published the two subsequent editions of Mommie Dearest, both the twentieth and thirtieth anniversary of each. 
The original Mommie Dearest was William Morrow as was her second book, Black Widow. Survivor was published by Donald Fine. No Safe Place was Station Hill Press. Since then, she has gotten the rights back to her books.
Most people don’t go that route even today. It all depends on how much effort they desire to put into marketing or handling their own accounts or where they choose to sell. 

Christina doesn’t sell in bookstores. There are hardly any bookstores left! In the last ten years, she doesn’t know the exact statistics, independent or self publishing has become the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry. It used to be called vanity publishing, not as a name, but rather as an outlet. 
Now, it is “Good for you if you can do it.” In the old days, the publishers did all the work but they also took all the money.
Although it is a lot of work, it gets easier as one gets more proficient at it. 
Christina has also published her book on women’s history called Daughters of the Inquisition. Mommie Dearest is an ongoing continuum. One really can’t compare it with the other books in terms of “success”. One defines success in different ways. When it comes to numbers and copies, you can’t compare it with the others. It is impossible for Christina, as an individual to produce that kind of volume.
When Mommie Dearest went out of print, for a brief moment, Christina got the rights back. She has been publishing it ever since, fifteen years.
Most publishers don’t pay fairly. Although, Christina had never done publishing before, she knew by the errors in her royalty statements. 
She always had questions which they did not take favorably to. It got tiresome. She felt taken advantage of and she didn’t like that. She decided to stop complaining and to do something about it. She turned it into a positive.

A publicity shot of Christina Crawford in 1961, at the age of 22 years old, for her first film
"Wild in the Country" starring Elvis Presley. (Source: http://www.legendaryjoancrawford.com)
I asked Christina what her greatest virtue and biggest vice are. Her biggest vice USED to be that she had no patience. That has changed by living in the country. She lives on the outskirts of Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. She has learned the very hard lesson of patience. The flip side of that and one of her greatest strengths is the ability to persevere. And she has! It takes a tremendous amount of courage but she doesn’t think about that in those terms. She thinks about it in terms of the fact that it is her life and she has an obligation to do the very best she can and she tries to do that every day.
She is an avid television viewer and is a news junkie. Fortunately, due to local satellite disks, she gets international news from two or three different sources. 
She may be way out in the country, but she is still very well informed.
She has a wonderful Australian Kelpie for companionship, a gorgeous little girl. She also has three cats, two of them she chose and one of them adopted Christina. It was an abandoned cat. She used to have horses, but no more. It gets too hard to take care of them and they need to be ridden. She just can’t do that anymore. She no longer has farm animals but she used to have chickens that she loved although she didn’t love the rooster. One day the rooster took all the chickens and they didn’t come back! She was so mad at him but that’s life! She is happy with her four legged companions.
The next question comes from Michael Feinstein. Does Christina believe in reincarnation and the answer is yes.
Christina’s journey has been an ongoing process and she has learned as she has grown. She had to be brutally honest with herself and in many cases she had to step aside from her comfort zone to learn and to grow.
The ONLY support system Christina had when she was in Hollywood was her boarding school. She truly was never a part of Hollywood. No one needed to tell Christina they were aware of what was going on. She knew. There were a lot of people who said they didn’t know when they did.
Mommie Dearest, the movie, undermined Christina’s story. The book was written from the point of view of the child. The movie was written from the point of view of a deranged adult.
Christina has no presupposition of how she would like to be remembered. She has tried her very best at everything she has ever done. That’s all anyone can do in this world.  
 Performances of Surviving Mommie Dearest are May 8-9 at 8 PM, May 10-11 at 5 PM and May 12 at noon.

The Snapple Theater Center is located at 1627 Broadway/210 W. 50th Street (near the corner of 50th Street and Broadway). For tickets, call (212) 921-7862. For more information, visit SurvivingMommieDearest.Wordpress.com .


Thank you Christina Crawford for the gifts you have given to the world and will continue to give!


 With grateful XOXOXs ,

 


Check out my site celebrating my forthcoming book on Hello, Dolly!
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When it comes to the history of Jerry Herman’s brilliant production, beyond the 5000+ performances of my own, even I turn to Richard Skipper when I have questions about the remarkable ladies who followed me in the role that the world fell in love with over 50 years ago.”-Carol Channing

              
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TILL TOMORROW...HERE'S TO AN ARTS FILLED DAY
Richard Skipper, Richard@RichardSkipper.com                            
 

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