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A Mother's Day Extravaganza with Christina Crawford

Town Hall
New York, NY
May 6, 1998

By Julie Wiskirchen

When I heard that Christina Crawford was coming to town to promote the 20th anniversary of Mommie Dearest, I knew I had to be there. My enthusiasm increased when I heard the event would take place at Town Hall, that Christina would sign copies of the new edition (featuring 150 pages cut from her original manuscript), that Rex Reed would interview her, that Lypsynka (Joan Crawford drag queen) would perform, and that the movie would be screened with audience participation welcome. Even with the steep $25-35 ticket price, I knew I had to be there. After all, this movie was my own personal Rocky Horror in high school and college and I couldn't wait to scream out "TINA, Bring me the AXE!!" along with Faye and others in the cult.

While I was waiting outside the theater for my friend to arrive, I noticed that the crowd was largely gay men, just a few women. I saw Lady Bunny of Wigstock fame and Michael Musto, Village Voice columnist and E! Gossip Show correspondent. Some guy from a news service interviewed me and wanted to know how many times I had seen it and why I was here. Why not? He wanted to know if I felt guilty for laughing at it and I said sure, but the movie is so over-the-top campy that it's impossible not to laugh. People were vamping behind cardboard Joan masks that were being sold by The Gay Men's Health Crisis, a beneficiary of the event. Everyone was giddy with anticipation.

As the evening began, we were told that Joan Crawford was interviewed in this very theater in the early 70s and that the interview would be reenacted for us tonight. An interviewer and Lypsynka came out. Lypsynka looked so much like Joan, it was really scary. They lipsynched to a tape of the actual interview! It was hilarious and their timing was perfect. Joan talked of her hatred for Bette Davis and asserted that there is no class in Hollywood today. She also spoke of her pride in her actress-daughter. The audience laughed and hissed.

After the interview, the comic Reno came out and did about ten minutes of mostly unfunny material on how she was adopted too. Then she said we were moving on to the "Mommie Dearest, this is your life" portion of the evening. She brought out the actress who played young Christina in the movie who is now around 30, has a baby of her own, and still acts. She said the movie was a great experience and that she had several pillows and other padding in her back during the wire hanger beating. She also said that she was allergic to cleanser, so they had to use a cornstarch mixture as a substitute in the bathroom cleaning frenzy scene. She did not appear to have been scarred by the experience. Then Reno brought out the actress who played Carol Anne, the maid. She seemed more bitter. She read an account from the diary she kept during the filming of the day they shot Joan's funeral. She said seeing Faye in the coffin gave her a perverse pleasure. She plugged a couple of upcoming movies of her own.

Next, Rex Reed was introduced and he told some stories about Joan and her infamous feud with Bette Davis. He said that when they were filming Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Joan was married to the Pepsi CEO and insisted that only Pepsi be on the set. One day, Bette lost it and screamed, "Who do you have to fuck around here to get a Coca-Cola?!?" Then, Rex introduced Christina, who got a semi-standing ovation and he began the interview.

Christina kept emphasizing the good she thought the book had done, how it had brought child abuse to greater attention, out of the closet. She talked about her efforts as a social activist in this area. She said she had made peace with her mother before her mother's death but she seemed extremely bitter and would only refer to Joan as "our adoptive mother." She said she was purchased on the black market, some kind of mafia child ring. She also said that she was very close to her stepfather, the Pepsi guy, and she implied that her adoptive mother was guilty of foul play in his untimely death! And she talked about how awful the movie was and how she never got her promised percentage--her bitching about money seemed to discredit her statement about wanting to share her story with the world to make a difference, if you ask me.

Rex asked why, if Christina is telling the truth, do Joan's adopted twins still side with Joan against Christina, and Christina said, "First of all, they're not twins." She said Joan had ordered twins but couldn't get any, so she adopted two babies with brown hair and brown eyes and called them twins and dressed them alike. She said one grew up short, one tall, and they didn't look a thing alike. Bizarre. She also said that Christopher got the worst of the abuse, because of Joan's love/hate relationship with men that she transferred to the poor kid. Rex related this story that Glenda Jackson told him about how Joan had a big dinner party and brought out a huge 20 lb. box of chocolates for the guests and found one chocolate missing. She flew into a rage, ordered Christopher dragged out of bed, marched him down the stairs and made him eat the entire box of chocolates until he vomited! Christina said, "Why didn't any of the guests interfere?" Good point, Christina. Rex really brought the room down with that story.

Rex brought the room back up when he told this great story that he heard from Tallulah Bankhead, about Joan's extreme vanity and the time Joan showed up at a party for Tallulah, dressed in a grand gown and covered in gold glitter. All eyes were on Joan and Tallulah marched up the stairs, into her bedroom, and slammed the door. Later, Tallulah emerged, went to the balcony overlooking the partygoers, stark naked with gold glitter in her pubic hair and announced, "guess who just went down on me?" Christina and the audience found this hilarious.

At the end of the interview, Christina requested that Lypsynka come out on stage, and she presented Lypsynka with a gold, decorated wire hanger as a token of appreciation.

Then we had an intermission and then the screening of the movie. People were saying the lines from the movie from the get-go. All of the lines. They would clap along when Joan was getting applauded onscreen too, stuff like that. Very Rocky Horror. The scenes that got the biggest reactions were, of course, the abuse and confrontation scenes, especially wire hangers (imagine about a thousand people yelling NO WIRE HANGERS...EVER at the same time) and the scene where Joan slaps and tries to strangle teen Christina who had deliberately defied her in front of a reporter.

So, in the end, I guess this evening taught me that I'm really sick and twisted...wait, I already knew that...I guess I just found comfort in the fact that there are more sick and twisted people out there. And our indulgence in sick and twistedness benefited charity, so it's not all bad, right?

What Mommie Dearest line do you love to shout?

For more information on the "author's cut" of Mommie Dearest and on Christina's tour, check out mommiedearest.com



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