Way back in 1969, I landed a small role as a newspaper reporter in the
movie ‘Trog’ starring one of my idols Joan Crawford. I was very excited. I
loved her old movies, particularly the original ‘Mildred Pierce’ which won
her an Oscar in 1945.
‘Trog’ was something totally different, a science fiction horror movie, which
turned out to be the last and the worst movie she ever made.
I found out over the years that it has become a huge cult movie.
‘A sad end to a glorious career.’ They said. For me it was an amazing
experience, and hey! I’m in a cult movie too.
There’s ‘Grease’ with Olivia, and ‘Trog’ with Rona!
On the first day of filming, Miss Crawford requested the cast to assemble
on the sound stage to meet her. Even before going to makeup, eight of us
lined up in order of importance (I was third from the end,) and waited for
our star to arrive. From watching all her movies I expected a tall broad
shouldered angular woman, and was amazed when she walked in with
director Freddy Francis (a famous English DP,) to see how tiny she really
I must still have been in shock, when I found that very familiar face with
those famous dark arched eyebrows and over painted crimson mouth
standing right in front of me smiling broadly and holding out a thin
“Good morning Miss Newton-John’ I heard. She was talking to me!
“Good morning Miss C-Crawford” I stammered… And she knew my name!
She had learned everybody’s names. We were all blown away, and still
talking about it at lunch. A couple of the actors who had already worked
with her that morning, said the extraordinary thing was she had remembered
all our names, but on set read all her lines from a huge cue card. Later I
learned she always had, which probably accounts for the proud lift of her
head, and that far away look in her eyes.
Joan Crawford was already well in her sixties, and it was an unusually
hot summer that year in England. Outside on location, her long time
assistant held a big umbrella over her when she wasn’t working, and
constantly held a small battery operated fan up to her face attempting to keep
her cool, but mainly to stop her thick makeup from running.
Early one morning on my way to the set, I was surprised to see her sitting
on the steps of her trailer already dressed in her white doctor coat, made up
and ready to go. I had watched one of her classic films ‘Autumn Leaves’ the
night before, and was dying to tell her how much I loved her in it. As I got
closer, I realized that she was busily scraping the sole of a very high-heeled
red satin shoe with a Brillo pad, and noticed at least a dozen more shoeboxes
were piled up next to her.
“Good morning Miss Crawford.” I said. She looked up.
“Hello Rona,” she answered. “I bet you’re wondering what I’m doing.”
“Well, actually I came to tell you how much I loved you in ‘Autumn
Leaves’. It was on TV last night.” I told her.
She lifted up the shoe showing me the scratched up sole.
“Thanks dear.” Briefly acknowledging my compliment she said. “I always
scuff up the bottom of my new shoes so that I don’t have to pay that damn
tax at Customs”
“Great idea” I agreed. “Silly to pay those taxes if you don’t have to.”
The great legendary Joan Crawford went back to scraping her shoes, and
I continued on my way to the set, totally amazed that a woman who I
understood owned the majority of shares in Pepsi Cola, would work that
hard to save a few bucks.
Thinking back, it was probably just some life-long habit left over from a
poverty-stricken childhood in Texas.
A few days after we wrapped, a letter arrived for me from the Grosvenor
House Hotel addressed to Rona Newton-John Esq.
Amused at my new title I opened it to this.
27th August 1969
It was lovely working with you.
Good luck in the future
And I hope we work together again.
Wow. A letter from Joan Crawford to me!!
Maybe she was Mommie Dearest to some, but to that small group of actors,
she was a very classy broad.