Movie Stars: Crawford, Joan–Career Beginnings

The instability of Joan Crawford’s family life meant lack of formal education beyond elementary school. Her ambition from young age was to become a dancer.

Stepfather Cassin was accused of embezzlement, he was blacklisted in Lawton, and the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri around 1916.

After her mother and stepfather broke up, she was sent by her mother to St. Agnes as a work student. She then went to Rockingham Academy, also as a work student.

In 1922, she registered at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, giving her year of birth as 1906; she was actually born in 1904.  She attended Stephens for four months before withdrawing.

Under the name Lucille LeSueur, Crawford began dancing in the choruses of traveling revues and was spotted in Detroit by producer Jacob J. Shubert, who put her in the chorus line in his1924 show, Innocent Eyes, at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway.

Loews Theaters publicist Nils Granlund arranged for a screen test, which he then sent to producer Harry Rapfin.  On December 24, 1924 MGM offered Crawford a contract at $75 a week; she arrived in California on January 1, 1925.

As Lucille LeSueur, her first film was The Circle in 1925, followed by Pretty Ladies, starring ZaSu Pitts. She also appeared in small roles in The Only Thing, Old Clothes and other films.

It was MGM publicity exec Pete Smith who suggested to change her name, because her birth name sounded like “Le Sewer.”  A contest in the fan magazine Movie Weekly asked readers to select new name.  Initially, the “Joan Arden” was selected, but another actress claimed it, so they went for the second choice, “Crawford.”

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