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Joan Crawford Goes South!
The legendary star's connections to in Greensboro, NC - PART TWO

by Billy Ingram

In 1967, an older and more jaded Joan Crawford, now in career free fall, waved to scattered fans from the window of her corporate jet as it taxied down the PTI runway. Alfred Steele had been under the mistaken impression their extravagantly appointed New York penthouse facelift would be paid for by the soft drink company.

Consequently, Steele's death a year after the project was completed left the film star with a huge debt load at a time when fewer job offers were coming her way. Crawford had just returned from England filming what would be her penultimate motion picture, Beserk, one of a string preposterous potboilers with budgets so low she had to provide her own wardrobe.


First order of business on the morning of May 5, 1967 was a Burlington press conference for which La Crawford arrived fashionably late (a popular Hollywood euphemism, widely adopted in the South, referring to some undefined moment existing between Bette Davis promptness and ‘Miss Garland's not coming out of her dressing room').

Smartly dressed in a silk-lined, cinnamon colored linen jacket and matching shift, her upswept red hair tucked into an oversized fedora, Joan confessed in a drawl straight out of central casting, “Please excuse my appearance. This cool weather made me resort to the dress I traveled in last night.”

There wasn't just a nip in the air that Friday morning there was a nip in Miss Crawford as well, sipping 100 proof Smirnoff throughout the day was what kept her chipper. That way she didn't disappoint when it came to embodying that increasingly campy, old-school Hollywood stereotype she played to the hilt, "Last week at a housewarming for Donna Reed several people asked me where I was going next and when I said, 'North Carolina,' they said, 'She already packed her Southern accent!'"

Crushing a spent Alpine cigarette under ankle-strapped high heels, the kind Joan Crawford wore so forcefully in the 1940s they became known as 'come f**k me pumps', the Academy-Award winner took great pains to portray herself as Just Plain Joan who entertained guests with home cooked meals of breaded pork chops with fried apple rings then scrubbed the floors of her humble two-story penthouse shanty overlooking Central Park herself.


It was Mildred Pierce redux with a side of cornpone, only now her precious Veda was a cold (but refreshing) Pepsi. "Every time you drink a Pepsi, I want you to think of Joan Crawford," she was quoted as saying. "If you drink Coke, you can think of those polar bears."

Afterward, Joan sat down with Lee Kinard for a Good Morning Show segment. When asked about the current crop of stars she remarked, "Overexposure has removed much of the mystique. The public knows too much about them."

Joan CrawfordThe next year, while attending a May 18, 1968, Pepsi-Cola function in Charlotte, Joan posed for a photo with two Greensboro folks, eleven-year old Teresa Staley and kiddie show star George (Old Rebel) Perry, to promote the Muscular Dystrophy Association's backyard carnival fundraisers.

As the Association's poster child, Teresa recalls being escorted into Crawford's hotel suite in the Queen City on that Saturday afternoon, "The Old Rebel was super nervous and super excited about meeting her but I was so young I didn't have a clue. I was just excited about taking a road trip."

"Quite a character," is how Teresa remembers the movie star. "Instead of pronouncing my name 'Teresa' she called me 'Teraaaaasa.' It was very funny to me. We spent a significant amount of time there, everything had to be just right to allow her picture to be taken."

Four or five photographs were snapped with George Perry, as instructed, gazing adoringly at the movie icon while Joan's eyes remained fixed on a point somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. "She had just injured her ankle, I think she had sprained it or something. She was wearing an Ace bandage but would not allow any pictures to be taken below her knees. I've worn glasses since I was eight but she wouldn't allow me to wear glasses in the picture because she was afraid it would cause a glare."

The thing that most impressed Teresa was, "Her bedroom door was open and her whole bed was covered with hats. I thought it was pretty cool that she traveled with all of her hats. And she carried her own ice on airplanes because she didn't trust airplane water. Now I really can't blame her for it…"

No seminal Joan Crawford role would be complete without a randomly cruel, no-good-deed-goes-unpunished ending, in this case the motion picture legend was unceremoniously dumped by Veda - er, Pepsi - on her 65th birthday.

More recently, in a preposterous publicity attempt, daughter Christina claimed Joan murdered husband Alfred Steele. And it's anyone's guess how Crawford would have greeted last month's hit TV series based on her over-inflated rivalry with Bette Davis.

Whatever her peccadillos and peculiarities, Joan Crawford was a wildly successful, widely admired businesswoman at a time when that was a genuine rarity, one who not only conquered the insidious labyrinth that is show business but also, by sheer force of will, helped establish Pepsi-Cola as a multi-billion dollar global powerhouse. If there's any feudin' goin' on around these parts I'm obliged to take Joan's side, thank you very much.

- - - - - - -

Joan Crawford passed away on May 10, 1977.

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Joan Crawford Goes South

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