Joan Crawford starred in adult films before her big Hollywood break
Joan Crawford fought monsters for years in Hollywood. She was known for starring in classic films such as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? with Betty Davis. She was also known for her less than comforting parenting style: her abusive tendencies were the subject of the book and movie Mommie Dearest.
There’s also a movie that Crawford did that most people don’t know about.
Joan Crawford’s first little-known film
Crawford made her debut in 1924 in the Broadway show Innocent Eyes as part of the show’s chorus line. She had already performed in several traveling revues under a different stage name before she was finally discovered dancing in Detroit.
The year before his debut, however, Crawford did another project called The Casting Couch, which was his very first screen work. The Casting Couch was an ad-ult softcore film, which at the time was explicit erotic pornography. The film features aspiring actors who go to a Hollywood party and dream of being stars and act out scenes from various movies.
Of course, with a title like The Casting Couch, it’s no surprise that some steamy encounters happen backstage at the party. Crawford played the small role of Gloria, an attractive amateur actress who finds herself performing sex acts in hopes of launching her career in Hollywood.
According to The Daily Mail and biographers who have studied Crawford’s life, The Casting Couch was just one of many erotic films Crawford appeared in, including Velvet Lips, The Plumber and She Knows Best.
Joan Crawford’s family weren’t happy with the movies
The Daily Mail reported what happened after The Casting Couch based on the biography Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr. Author David Bret said that while the films might seem out of place for Crawford, they showed how much Crawford wanted to be a star at the time.
“You could almost say that they reflect what was soon to become [Crawford]to make herself known: that of the starlet who seeks so desperately to break into the cinema that she administers a blowjob to the surprised producer before tearing off his clothes and jumping on the sofa in his office,” says Bret.
Crawford’s mother found out about the movie and was about to kick her out of the house, but days later she was offered a contract with movie mega-studio MGM. In the late 1920s, she began supporting her mother and brother financially before eventually releasing them.
Joan Crawford has been blackmailed multiple times
Shortly after she stopped supporting her mother and brother, they started threatening her, saying they would release the video to the press. Crawford was reportedly cornered with no option but to pay his own brother.
Crawford reportedly cut several checks to his brother, actor Hal LeSueur, to prevent him from leaking stories about his pornographic past to the press. Ryan Murphy’s series Feud explores the first celebrity sex tape scandal in one episode and shows just how opportunistic his own family was.
Still, Crawford denied ever acting in films such as The Casting Couch, but implied in her 1962 memoir that she had received threats to release such films. She also wrote that she even received threatening phone calls while on her honeymoon in 1935. “Two men said they had in their possession a stag reel that I was dancing in. They wanted to sell it to me,” she recalls.
Bret’s research proved that a transaction had indeed taken place. “There is an entry in Joan’s FBI file indicating that as much as $100,000 may have been given to this unknown blackmailer around this time – and that MGM had made a previous payment, almost certainly to the same man, who some believed to have been Joan’s brother, Hal,” he said.
While it’s unclear who exactly was behind this threat, it was clear that the payment prevented any future scandalous stories from reaching the press. “Payment must have been settled with a stern warning, if not an actual death threat to the perpetrator,” Bret wrote. “Although several of Crawford’s ‘deer films’ are known to still be hidden away in private collections, Joan never had to deal with the matter again.”