By Julie Miller. Photos: Getty Images.
Long before Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop, Joan Crawford was offering the world her own movie-star advice about health, food, fashion, travel, relationships, and more, with her 1971 book My Way of Life. Some may have called her extravagant lifestyle tips out-of-touch—and yes, she did recount how she once cured a common cold by flying to Jamaica. She also made a case for why 37 pieces of luggage were absolutely necessary for a trip to London. But readers were buying a book from one of the hugest movie stars Hollywood had ever known—and if they wanted modest tips on housekeeping, they should have looked to someone a little more Bette Davis than Joan Crawford.
“I feel a great sense of accomplishment. . .when I get down on my knees and scrub my own floor. When I spend months without doing a movie or a TV show and spend all my time at my desk or on a dais every night, I have a lot of surplus energy to use up. Scrubbing, for me, is the greatest exercise in the world. It gives me rosy cheeks, and I just have a ball.”
On building a lasting marriage (from the woman married four times):
“Make your husband talk about his work. Drag it out of him, if you have to. But, you’re saying, my husband’s a cashier. How can I take an interest in that? Well, for openers, you might say, ‘Any holdups today?’”
On choosing the best guest list for a successful party:
“The best parties are a wild mixture. Take some corporation presidents, add a few lovely young actresses, a bearded painter, a professional jockey, your visiting friends from Brussels, a politician, a hairdresser, and a professor of physics, toss them all together, and try to get them to stop talking long enough to eat! It’s especially important to have all age groups. . .Of course I wouldn’t want to have hippies come crawling in with unwashed feet, but all the younger people I know are bright and attractive and have something to say. They also dress like human beings.”
On menu planning:
“When I plan a menu I consider color. . .A red vegetable next to a yellow one looks unappetizing. Two white ones, like celery and cauliflower, look awful.”
“Americans who overslept invented the word brunch, but the ingredients and the casual atmosphere bear a strong resemblance to breakfast in an English country house or to a French midnight supper. The choice of menu can be as wide as the imagination.”
On passing one’s tastes onto their children:
“I discovered that I must have instilled a few of the social graces in the children when I let the twins take charge of their own ninth birthday party aboard the Andrea Doria. They invited the whole of the first class and decided on the menu by themselves. There was vodka and caviar, a clear soup, New York cut steak with a large selection of vegetables, a salad, and cheese trays—accompanied by a good red wine. Finally there was a tremendous birthday cake for all the guests, and Dom Perignon. I didn’t suggest a bit of it to them. It was entirely their own menu.”
“Both swimming and dancing strengthened my chest and back muscles, so that I’m often able to go without a bra—even in films.”
“I carry around little tubes of rosewater and glycerine to use on my hands every time I wash them, and I always work it up my arms and into my elbows. Women hardly ever look at their own elbows, but other people do! I pay attention to my knees and ankles, too.”
“One year when I had a terrible cold that threatened to ruin my whole winter I went down to Jamaica, soaked up sun and salt water, and was completely cured in two days.”
On traveling abroad:
“Learning at least one gracious phrase in the host country’s language is the easiest applause-getter there is—and the fastest way of making friends. I’m usually offered some gift as a memento (in Texas a ten-gallon hat, in Wisconsin, cheese), but I had to refuse the kind offer of my hosts in Brazil: they wanted to give me a wildcat to take home with me.”
On packing practically:
“When I went to London to make Trog I had thirty-seven pieces of luggage. This isn’t sheer vanity. I study the script carefully and get a feeling for what the character should wear. I select several outfits for each scene. But the producer is the final judge. He knows what color is right, and whether a dress is too busy for a dramatic scene, or for a certain set. We test all the clothes before shooting begins so we don’t make any mistakes.”
On how mere mortals, like movie stars, can ruthlessly hold themselves accountable to looking good:
“I think a marvelous stunt would be to have your best friend (or your most critical acquaintance) take some candid color snapshots of you from all angles, dressed just as you usually appear at, say, six in the evening. The same hair-do, the same makeup, and if possible the same expression on your face. Be honest! Be sure to have her take the rear views, too.
There ought to be some other shots of you wearing your best going-out-to-dinner dress, or your favorite bridge-with-the-girls costume—hat, gloves, bag, and costume jewelry. Everything. Then have that roll of film developed and blown up. You can’t see much in a tiny snapshot. An eight-by-ten will show you the works—and you probably won’t be very happy with it. Sit down and take a long look at that strange woman.”
“I feel as if clothes are people. When I buy a dress, or buy the fabric to have one made, that’s a new friend. Am I to let it hang there and not give it warmth and affection? Course not!”
“When you’re ready to say yes to the purchase, go out into the shop and take up a position about twenty feet from a full-length mirror. Walk toward yourself. Do you like what you see coming?
“My rule: Don’t buy a dress until you can afford all the right accessories and if, like me, you can’t spend your life in hair curlers, have a hat made to match.”
“That old saw, ‘When in doubt, don’t,’ is never so true as when it comes to clothes. Or getting married.”
This story originally appeared on Vanity Fair.
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