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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Christina Crawford Describes her Famous, Abusive Mother

Aired August 10, 2001 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MOMMIE DEAREST")

JOAN CRAWFORD, ACTRESS: I'll get you everything, anything you want, I promise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, on camera, Joan Crawford was the movie land image of motherly love. Behind the scenes...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MOMMIE DEAREST")

FAYE DUNAWAY, ACTRESS: And you don't care (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from wire hangers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A Hollywood horror story. Joining us, the woman who shocked the world in her memoir, "Mommie Dearest," Christina Crawford. An intensely personal hour about abuse and survival next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Our guest tonight is Christina Crawford, Joan Crawford's adopted daughter, author of the famous book, "Mommie Dearest," maybe the most famous, if we could call it, tell-all book ever written, certainly in point of view of sales and interest, led to a major, major motion picture. She's written other books, including more recently, "No Safe Place," about the prevention of family violence, which she appeared on this show for about five years ago.

It's good to see you. What are you doing now, Christina?

CHRISTINA CRAWFORD, CLAIMS TERRIFYING ABUSE BY MOTHER: Well, amazingly enough, I live in north Idaho and I'm sales and marketing director for an Indian casino hotel on the Coeur d'Alene reservation owned by he Coeur d'Alene tribe. And it's been a most amazing experience. And I don't even know how I got there.

KING: Coeur d'Alene is a great resort I hear.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, that's Coeur d'Alene City. And the name comes from the Coeu d'Alene people, the tribe. And I work for the tribe.

KING: I bet you never thought when you were a kid with Joan Crawford, "Someday I'm going to work for an Indian tribe in a casino," right?

C. CRAWFORD: No.

KING: "Mommie" -- you would got hit again, right?

C. CRAWFORD: I don't think it ever was in my wildest dreams, but it's been the most wonderful experience.

KING: "Mommie Dearest" was on the "New York Times" bestseller list for 42 weeks. The 20th anniversary edition was published in '98 where you added more details.

C. CRAWFORD: Right.

KING: Why did you communicate forward like that?

C. CRAWFORD: In the beginning?

KING: Yeah. Why did you decide to write that? I mean, that had to be painful.

C. CRAWFORD: It was. But I -- first of all, I just wrote it for myself and my family. It was like a diary, a memoir, that kind of thing. I never really knew that it was going to be published.

KING: Really?

C. CRAWFORD: No, I didn't. And, of course, it was my first book so I didn't know. I sent it to some friends of mine in New York that were writers, and quite famous themselves. And they said this should be published.

KING: You said you wrote it for family. What family?

C. CRAWFORD: My personal family and friends. I was married at the time, and my brother and I were always very close. And I got -- I think after Joan Crawford died and I was disinherited, there was a lot of sort of nasty, "Why did she disinherit her children?," whatever, whatever. And I got tired of it. I really got tired of always having to explain, always having to defend myself.

And I thought, "I'm just going to sit down and tell the truth." Well, what happened was the truth was something that a lot of people knew, but many people were unwilling to acknowledge. So a lot of people said, "Oh, this can't be true. This is fiction," you know, that kind of thing.

So then I wrote my second book, which was a novel, and they said, "Oh, she writes novels like they're true." So you can't win, you know, you can't win, that's right.

KING: Were you shocked at, one, the success of the book and the film?

C. CRAWFORD: Those are two separate issues. The success of the book, I came to understand that the reason it was so successful is because it told the story of so many millions of people that had never had anything to do with show business or celebrity...

KING: Well, it involved a very famous person.

C. CRAWFORD: It did. And that's what got at the attention. But that's not what has kept it alive for 20 years, and that's not why I reissued the book as a 20th anniversary edition.

KING: Domestic violence has done that.

C. CRAWFORD: Exactly. And the number of people that were helped by it and the conversation that we can have today that we could never have 20 years ago. Now the film is a completely different thing. The film is not actually accurate. It doesn't come from the book. I never met Faye Dunaway. They've never paid me any residuals.

KING: How were they able to do the title the way they did?

C. CRAWFORD: Because they bought the rights to it, which I tried to buy back after...

KING: So you got paid for the rights.

C. CRAWFORD: I got paid for the rights.

KING: But you had no say in what they do with it.

C. CRAWFORD: Exactly. And that's why I never sold anything else.

KING: Were you unhappy with the movie?

C. CRAWFORD: I was devastated by the movie.

KING: Because?

C. CRAWFORD: Because it was clear to me when I only saw it once that it was so over the edge, it was a melodrama. They had made it into...

KING: They made her worse than she was?

C. CRAWFORD: No. And it didn't even make her more bizarre than she was. What it did is it switched the whole story from being the story of the child suffering the abuse and trying to live through it and survive to a woman of Hollywood who just wasn't obeyed and flew off the handle and had great makeup.

KING: She did. She looked good.

C. CRAWFORD: Well, the makeup was wonderful.

KING: You have a brother who was also adopted?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: And twin sisters. C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Were they adopted?

C. CRAWFORD: I suppose so.

KING: You don't know or have any relationship with them?

C. CRAWFORD: I don't, no.

KING: So when you say "suppose," are they older than you, younger than you?

C. CRAWFORD: They're younger than I am. And actually, there were five of us. We were all bought through private brokers.

KING: So there was nobody -- she never gave birth?

C. CRAWFORD: No, well, not that I know of anyway.

KING: Right.

C. CRAWFORD: And the second child who was a boy lived with us for about nine months, and his original -- his birth mother came and got him. It was a very traumatic occasion with sirens and everything. And I hid in a closet. Then the third child was the brother that I grew up with and were very close. And then there were two other children.

KING: We'll be back with Christina Crawford, an incredible tale. If you remember it, you'll want to hear about it again. If you don't, get ready. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MOMMIE DEAREST")

DUNAWAY: Why Christina? Get out of that bed. Get out of that bed. You live in the most beautiful house in Brentwood and you don't care.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Mommie.

DUNAWAY: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from wire hangers.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Mommie, don't; mommie don't.

DUNAWAY: And your room looks like a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) in some cheap back street town.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of the late Joan Crawford. By the way, just set the record straight, I interviewed your mother when she was chairman of Pepsi after Alfred Steele died. And she was an extraordinary interview, you know. She was very bright and very with it, new Pepsi Cola in and out. You know that?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, she did.

KING: I mean, she knew that company, bottling deals and who was manufacturer. I mean, she was really with it.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, yes. I did some work with her during those years after Mr. Steele died, who was incredible man, by the way, and we went...

KING: He was your stepfather.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, he was. And it was very interesting. I enjoyed it and I did some Pepsi commercials.

KING: She was impressive.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, she was.

KING: As an interview subject, very impressive.

C. CRAWFORD: She was dramatic, she was dynamic, she was charismatic. She was totally focused.

KING: Right. And well within herself as they say.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, yes. And I think if she hadn't had the personal problems that she ended up having, she easily -- and if she were alive today, she could be head of a company.

KING: You were born in June of '39, right?

C. CRAWFORD: That's correct.

KING: Do you know your birth parents?

C. CRAWFORD: It took me a long time and it was a very difficult decision to make, but I finally made it not so many years ago. I found all of the information that was necessary. I have some living relatives. My parents -- both my mother and father are long gone, but I could have known my father. He grew -- he lived in California, in southern California until he died. So I'm sorry that I didn't make the decision earlier but it was a really good decision to make.

KING: You have sisters and brothers?

C. CRAWFORD: I don't. I have some half brothers.

KING: Any cousins?

C. CRAWFORD: I have some cousins on my mother's side.

KING: Have you met them?

C. CRAWFORD: I have, yes. It is amazing.

KING: What did your dad do?

C. CRAWFORD: He was an engineer.

KING: And why did they give you up?

C. CRAWFORD: Because he was married to somebody else.

KING: Oh, good thinking.

C. CRAWFORD: So my half brothers had quite a bit of soul searching to do when they met me.

KING: And your mother was married to whom when you were adopted?

C. CRAWFORD: Nobody.

KING: They allowed a single parent adoption?

C. CRAWFORD: No, they didn't. She was declared an unsuitable candidate to go through Social Services, and so she went to Nevada where she had connections.

KING: This was like a private purchase?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, we were purchased, all of us.

KING: But she was your legal mother.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, she was.

KING: They -- in other words, no one could have come and taken you away. No one tried anyway.

C. CRAWFORD: Unfortunately, not. No, they didn't. But they couldn't have.

KING: When did trouble begin for little Christina?

C. CRAWFORD: I think around the time I was about four, maybe five. But no later than that. When I started to become a person, when I started to want to say, "Well, I'd like it this way," or "I don't want that," or, "I like this," and...

KING: Was she a control freak?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, completely, completely.

KING: Even of a 4-year-old?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, most especially of a 4-year-old, yes.

KING: What's your first memory?

C. CRAWFORD: I don't know that my first -- I don't think I have a first memory.

KING: A continuum of them would be striking you...

C. CRAWFORD: No...

KING: ... or yelling at you?

C. CRAWFORD: No, probably my very first memory would be of being on a soundstage because she used to...

KING: Watching her work...

C. CRAWFORD: Well, at least in the dressing room. She used to take me to the studio, and she would put me in the dressing room, and she would keep me there as long as she could. And I really -- my kindergarten was the soundstage.

KING: She wouldn't let you watch her work?

C. CRAWFORD: She did later on. She did much later on. But most of the things that she did were very dramatic, and fights and tears and that sort of thing and so -- no, but I was there all the time. And so that really is my first memory.

KING: When you would be hit as a child, it would be for things like?

C. CRAWFORD: Not picking up my clothes, saying no, a look, an attitude, an attitude, yes.

KING: And what kind of hitting? What kind of abuse? I mean, was it a slap on the hand?

C. CRAWFORD: No, no, no, no, no. It was with objects. It was with...

KING: Objects?

C. CRAWFORD: Objects.

KING: Paddle?

C. CRAWFORD: Hair brushes, and -- the famous hangers, of course. It was very violent. And one time, you know, she tried to kill me. I mean, I am positive that if there was not somebody in the house, she would have killed me. She knocked me over. She was choking me. I thought I was going to die.

KING: How old were you?

C. CRAWFORD: Thirteen. And that was the last time we had any physical violence, because I knew that if it happened again, I would do everything in my power to protect myself.

KING: We'll find out how you broke that in a minute.

My guest is Christina Crawford. We'll be right back with this fascinating story. Don't go away. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MOMMIE DEAREST")

DUNAWAY: You're always taking and taking. You wanted to be my daughter. You have always taken everything, everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We are back with Christina Crawford.

How you were able to break it after 13?

C. CRAWFORD: Well...

KING: She almost killed you.

C. CRAWFORD: It was very dramatic because they called the juvenile authorities, and I had a long talk with the officer. He told me basically that I had to learn to grow up and survive until I was 18 and could leave the house, because if it was -- if they were called the second time, they would take me to juvenile hall. And he said that he didn't think I could survive in juvenile hall because I wasn't tough enough. So he said, "My advice to you is just to keep your mouth shut and wait until you're 18," which was five years, which was an eternity when you're 13.

KING: So what did you do?

C. CRAWFORD: That's what I did, and -- but...

KING: What do you mean?

C. CRAWFORD: Well, I just tried to keep my mouth shut and stay out of her way.

KING: You didn't get hit again?

C. CRAWFORD: No, I never got -- well once, once when she accused me of making a pass at Mr. Steel when I kissed him good night. I mean, ludicrous. That was 13 and he saw it. And that was a big fight between the two of them. But I started getting very depressed, because it is such an extraordinary concept to have somebody try to kill you. I mean, I saw her eyes. I knew what had happened. And she had gone into some other realm. She was like a wild animal. And at that age, to think that the person that you're supposed to love and trust the most is the person that just tried to kill you, that is almost too much for anybody to handle at that young age. So I became very suicidal and very depressed.

KING: And she got afraid and didn't hit you again.

C. CRAWFORD: That' right.

KING: How old were you when she died?

C. CRAWFORD: I was 38.

KING: You left the house at 18 as told?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, and I never came back.

KING:: You ran away or just...

C. CRAWFORD: No, I just left.

KING: You said good-bye?

C. CRAWFORD: I said goodbye and left.

KING: Did she keep in touch with you?

C. CRAWFORD: Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

KING: When she did interviews, "S'il Vous Plait," all those famous magazines, she'd talk about her loving daughter Christina.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: She did.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: So she talked about being a mother.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Was she tough on your brother?

C. CRAWFORD: Oh, worse, worse.

KING: Worse on him?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, because fundamentally, she did not like men, and she took all of that out on my poor brother.

KING: And the two younger sisters, you don't remember anything about that?

C. CRAWFORD: Well, I was eight years older than they, and we grew up a...

KING: So they were 10 when..

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: You never saw them hit or anything?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, I did. Yes, I did, of course.

KING: Well, this may be weird. Did you love your mother?

C. CRAWFORD: No, I didn't. KING: You hate her?

C. CRAWFORD: Sometimes. I tried very hard to love her because she was the only mother that I knew. But I realized when she died I was the only one to go and see her body partly because I had to assure myself that with life that I had led that she was really dead. Now that's a terrible thing to say, but it's true. I had to assure myself that she wasn't going to get up and start yelling at me again.

KING: It was that bad?

C. CRAWFORD: And so I went and I saw her, and she was so frail and so small, and it was the best thing that I could have done, although I was scared to death. I was shaking and shivering and crying all at the same time. And I told her then that I loved her, which was true in the sense that I had tried to love her. I don't think that she ever was capable of loving me but I think she tried.

KING: What did she die of?

C. CRAWFORD: Well, nobody really knows because she wouldn't go to the doctor. But the death certificate says heart failure, but of course when you're dead, your heart stops.

KING: How old was she?

C. CRAWFORD: Nobody knows that for sure either but she was in her early 70s probably.

KING: Her last film was what? The one with...

C. CRAWFORD: I think her last film was a science fiction kind of thing called "Trog." She asked me to go see a screening of it and to critique it or to tell her -- and I went to see it, and I thought, "What am I going to do" What am I going to say?" It's the worst piece of junk I have seen in my whole life. What am I going to say?

KING: What did you say?

C. CRAWFORD: I said, "You must have worked very hard, because it was sort of physically grueling." And, "What was it like working with all those sort of stuffed animals?" She hung up on me. I guess so...

KING: That's a funny story in a tragic set of circumstances.

Back with Christina Crawford, the author of the famous book, one of the famous books of the 20th century, "Mommie Dearest." We'll be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "RAIN")

J. CRAWFORD: You don't I think want to stay in this raincoat, do you?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: You are being given every opportunity of getting out. UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Come on, Sadie, don't say anymore.

J. CRAWFORD: I know your kind, you dirty two-faced mutt. I bet when you were a kid, you caught flies and tore their wings off. I bet you stuck pins in frogs just to see them wiggle and flap while you (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I know you. Why you'd tear the heart of your grandmother if she didn't think...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE BEST OF EVERYTHING")

J. CRAWFORD: I told Mr. Shalimar that you were not qualified, Ms. Bender. You're too soft. I don't think you could stand up to a writer and say, "Your work is no good." I don't think you have the guts.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: Thank you for your confidence in me.

J. CRAWFORD: I call them as I see them.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: I'm beginning to think you're right not to like me, Ms. Farrell.

J. CRAWFORD: Miss Adams, on your way to my apartment tonight, will you pick up four dozen cocktail napkins for the party. And I'd like these by noon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Christina Crawford.

What happened, for the benefit of those who don't know, with the hangers?

C. CRAWFORD: Well, actually, the basis of that is true. She would go...

KING: Greatest scene in the movie?

C. CRAWFORD: But by some accounts, she would go into rages in the middle of the night that nobody could predict and nobody knew why they happened. But suddenly...

KING: Was drink involved?

C. CRAWFORD: I think it was. And I think there may even have been prescription drugs involved, because later on, that's what she used. And that's another story. But she would get very upset in middle of the night and she would start doing something. Sometimes she'd haul me out of bed and make me clean the bathroom floor.

Sometimes nothing to do with the kids. She would be outside cutting down rose bushes. That night, she came into my room and took -- threw everything out of the closet. We were supposed to put all the clothes from the cleaners or the laundry on to crocheted hangers that my grandmother had made for us. And then she hauled me out of bed and took the bed apart and said, "Clean up your mess."

But she hit me with the hangers and her hand, and she was strong. Years and years later, I thought about something and I thought, boy, I'll bet you that's it. She hated wire hangers. When she was a little girl, her mother had no way to earn a living so she went to a laundry and asked if she could work in the laundry and live in the storeroom behind the laundry with her two small children. And I thought, I bet she hated that place, and I'll bet she hated those wire hangers.

KING: And that's all they had.

C. CRAWFORD: And she probably had to help hang the clothes on the hangers hours and hours and hours to help her mother. And it all sort of fit together and made some sense.

KING: Do you try over the years to find some excuses or reasons for your mother?

C. CRAWFORD: No. I have -- no.

KING: Inexcusable?

C. CRAWFORD: No, no. It isn't excusable because she was offered help. There were many people later on that tried to get her to get help not only with the kids, but also with her own drug addiction and alcoholism.

KING: Did Mr. Steele, her husband, famed head of Pepsi-Cola, did he try to get her help?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: She refused?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Did she deny anything was wrong with her?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: What school did you go to as a kid? Did you go to Beverly Hills High?

C. CRAWFORD: No, no, no, no. I went to Brentwood Elementary. And then from there, I went to Chadwick School as a boarding student and basically I never lived at home again.

KING: So you were at boarding school until you were 18.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: That saved you probably. C. CRAWFORD: Well, 17.

Yes, it did. I used to call it the foster care of the rich because it was -- had a lot of people from Hollywood. They used to call it broken homes. We kind of counseled each other. This one had a violent father and I had a violent mother so we'd...

KING: Did you talk to each other about your...

C. CRAWFORD: Oh, yes: "How do you survive? What do you do?"

KING: And they were not shocked? They all had similar things?

C. CRAWFORD: Oh, yes; oh, yes.

KING: When did you first feel free to talk about being abused?

C. CRAWFORD: Certainly there. Mine was sometimes worse than other people's.

KING: Did she ever behave this way outside the house?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, oh, yes.

KING: Like at dinner?

C. CRAWFORD: Oh, yes; oh, yes.

KING: So people had to see it.

C. CRAWFORD: Not only that, but by the time I was about 11, and I just came home sometimes for weekends, she couldn't get any domestic help from any agency because everybody knew she abused the servants. She abused the children, and nobody wanted to work with her anymore. I mean it was well known; well known.

KING: Was it printed?

C. CRAWFORD: It almost was printed.

KING: Well, today, it would have been front page of the "Enquirer" seven years ago.

C. CRAWFORD: Exactly. The old "Confidential" found out about it, and was going to do a front-page spread -- I mean, a series on it. And the old studio system managed to...

KING: Kill it?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, yes.

KING: Well, you couldn't kill a lot of things in "Confidential."

C. CRAWFORD: Well, but...

KING: They did. C. CRAWFORD: Money speaks.

KING: For the benefit of our younger viewers, "Confidential" was a week -- a monthly, I think, monthly, yeah. And it came out very big in the '50s and pre-dated the "Enquirer" and all the rest.

Back with more of Christina Crawford on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "I SAW WHAT YOU DID")

J. CRAWFORD: You married a childish, empty headed little tramp.

But now we can make something wonderful together. We have made it; you know that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Christina Crawford now lives in northern Idaho.

Happy, everything well?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, yes.

KING: And do you have family of your own?

C. CRAWFORD: No, I don't.

KING: Not married now?

C. CRAWFORD: No.

KING: You were married, though?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Do you think this led to difficulty in your own relationships?

C. CRAWFORD: Always.

KING: Had to have an effect.

C. CRAWFORD: Always, always. In fact, that's -- I think I have gotten everything else straightened out except that, and that may not be it for me for this lifetime, but at least I have a calm, peaceful, happy, productive life, and I'm still writing, so you know, that's all the good stuff.

KING: Do you have another book coming?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, I do. I have been working on it for about five years.

KING: Novel?

C. CRAWFORD: No, it's nonfiction.

KING: About?

C. CRAWFORD: About actually -- the core of it is about the inquisition and what it...

KING: Oh, really?

C. CRAWFORD: ... and what it did to women's lives.

KING: You are really into inhumanity, right?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, and it's such a powerful subject that sometimes I have a hard time with it, because it went on for so long, and we are paying a tremendous price for it today.

KING: Did you ever talk to anyone, an adult, who tried to counsel you, who tried to help you in this?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, and that was the head of the Chadwick School, both of them, and the result of it was that I was removed from Chadwick School. As soon as anybody tried to help me, they were dismissed or I was taken away.

KING: She had clout.

C. CRAWFORD: Well, she was paying -- well, she actually wasn't paying for the school, but she had the ability to...

KING: Who was paying?

C. CRAWFORD: Nobody.

KING: How did you go to school?

C. CRAWFORD: They took pity on me and I did work/scholarship.

KING: And she never paid them?

C. CRAWFORD: She did after she married Al Steele. He paid.

KING: Didn't she have a lot of money?

C. CRAWFORD: No, she didn't. She'd spent it all on herself.

KING: Because she was a major film star -- now, we're not talking minor leagues here.

C. CRAWFORD: But one has to -- right, but one has to remember that the latter part of her career, she was doing maybe one independent film every couple of years, and her spending addiction was far greater than that.

KING: Do you have any good childhood memories? A walk in the park, a trip to the zoo?

C. CRAWFORD: Carmel. I loved Carmel-by-the-sea.

KING: Who doesn't? And she was nice to you there?

C. CRAWFORD: She was -- when she got out of Hollywood, she was a little -- in the early days, she didn't travel very much, but she was a little bit more relaxed, and -- but then, I found out -- it makes me laugh -- then I found out that it was always like camouflage for something else. She would be meeting a man there, or she would be making a deal there that she didn't want anybody in Hollywood to know, so I would have to talk to the reporters once they found out where we were.

KING: She was -- and this has been written about by others -- put it mildly, sexually active.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Is that correct?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, that's what I have heard.

KING: She got around pretty good. Did the children ever see any of this?

C. CRAWFORD: Well, I certainly did. I don't know about anybody else.

KING: You saw it with?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: ... workers and actors -- I mean, there are famous stories about Joan Crawford.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, yes, yes, and people running up and down the stairs, through my bedroom, great chases, her on the roof and -- I mean, crazy stuff. And, yeah, that was my childhood.

KING: Did you ever try to kill yourself?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, once.

KING: How old?

C. CRAWFORD: Fifteen.

KING: Pills?

C. CRAWFORD: Yeah.

KING: They found you?

C. CRAWFORD: Yeah.

KING: How did your mother react to that?

C. CRAWFORD: I never heard.

KING: You were at school?

C. CRAWFORD: Yeah.

KING: You never heard from your mother?

C. CRAWFORD: Never.

KING: Mr. Steele treated you well.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, but he died so quickly after they were married, it was only three years. And I always thought it was very suspicious.

KING: About his death? You suspected foul play?

C. CRAWFORD: I always did, yes. There was nothing wrong with him.

KING: What was the cause of death?

C. CRAWFORD: Somehow he fell down the stairs.

KING: Now, your brother and you are very close, right?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: He had a lot of abuse.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: What does he -- more than you, you say?

C. CRAWFORD: I think on some levels, yes. I think it was -- it was more annihilating. I was being abused by another woman, he was being abused -- as a young man, he was being abused by a woman, and I think it was very, very difficult. But I think that the abuse was more devastating to him, it went to more the core of his being, and I was his protector, and sometimes I couldn't do anything, I just had to watch while he was being beaten.

KING: He wasn't sexually abused, was he?

C. CRAWFORD: Not that I know of. Just very, very badly.

KING: What is he doing now?

C. CRAWFORD: He is a very, very private person. He is married. He has children, grown children, and...

KING: Is he successful? C. CRAWFORD: Yes, he's fine, he's fine, God bless him. He has just been through so much, and we have always been quite close, and I'm grateful for that.

KING: So, you see him, speak to him?

C. CRAWFORD: I do, yes.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Christina Crawford on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "SUDDEN FEAR")

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the terms don't satisfy you, I can change them to anything you like.

J. CRAWFORD: To my husband on my death, income $10,000 a year for life or until he remarries. Steve, I wouldn't do a thing like that to someone I love, not for all the money in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with Christina Crawford. You have no relation with your adopted sisters?

C. CRAWFORD: No.

KING: You were left out of the will?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Was the will sizable?

C. CRAWFORD: No.

KING: Did you go to the will's reading?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes. Well, it was read to me. Yes.

KING: Were you shocked?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, actually I was.

KING: Were you mentioned?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: In what way?

C. CRAWFORD: I believe it said something to the effect of that -- I leave nothing to my daughter Christina or my son Christopher for reasons that are well known to them.

KING: Like the old joke, "to my brother Abe who said I would not be mentioned in the will: hello, Abe." Right?

C. CRAWFORD: Something like that, yes.

KING: So, you were not shocked?

C. CRAWFORD: I was surprised when I found out that that was the same language that had been in the will many years before, because I had had a relationship with her as an adult, and I was very much a caretaker for her. I stood in when she was too sick or too drunk to make appearances, I was -- I was the caretaker, really. I tried to get her help with her doctors -- nobody would help me -- anyway, so...

KING: So, even though you were treated this way, you remained friendly?

C. CRAWFORD: I tried, I tried, because it was the only -- I had not made up my mind yet to find my birth family, and so it was the only family that I knew, dysfunctional as it was.

KING: Did she ever express regret to you over the way she treated you as a child?

C. CRAWFORD: No, she never did. It was as though it didn't happen.

KING: Did you ever discuss it? Did you ever say, mom, why?

C. CRAWFORD: I tried. I tried. I tried, and she said the past is the past, let it go.

KING: What were the -- what was the Hollywood reaction to this story?

C. CRAWFORD: It was as varied as Hollywood itself.

KING: People get mad?

C. CRAWFORD: Some people got mad, some people said that it was not true. Other people defended me, and so it was -- you know, other people said, well, I wouldn't sit down to dinner with her, but that's the way life is.

KING: Did you ever feel there is a part of me here that is doing the tell-all?

C. CRAWFORD: That -- that phrase was coined after the book, so that was never my intention. The one thing that surprised me...

KING: You mean, tell-all resulted from your book.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: The term "tell-all?"

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, yes. The one thing that surprised me was that so many people who knew did not understand that I was speaking as the victim and the survivor. I was not the perpetrator. But that's how it began to be switched by some people.

How could you do this to your poor sainted mother? I mean none of that was true.

KING: Did she have lots of close friends?

C. CRAWFORD: I think she had loyal fans. I don't know how many close friends she had.

KING: Did she have a fan club?

C. CRAWFORD: Tremendous, and it was what kept her going. It was like she drew the energy from their adulation.

KING: So, when she was 70, 71, she would read leaders from fans?

C. CRAWFORD: That is all she did. That is all that was left to her. She didn't go anywhere, she didn't ever go out, she was terrified that somebody was going to kill her. And, I think that that probably had a basis in fact. But she had become a complete recluse, and the only thing she had left were her fans. So heaven help them, they probably kept her alive longer.

KING: Did she die at home?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, she did.

KING: Any quality about her you admired?

C. CRAWFORD: She had a wonderful sense of humor and she was quite street smart. She had very little education. That always bothered her, and so when I got an education that also bothered her.

KING: You were in a no-win no matter what you did.

C. CRAWFORD: Absolutely and I had to come to terms with that and make my peace with that. I had to be who I was, and do what I needed to do, and just move along. And fortunately I was smart and tenacious.

KING: Did you ever express rage at her?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Hit her?

C. CRAWFORD: No.

KING: But rage, like in your teens?

C. CRAWFORD: Well, no, much later.

KING: How did you deal with your own psyche coming out of this? What were the most difficult years?

C. CRAWFORD: Oh, in my 20s, definitely, because I was, I suffered terribly from depression. I had no money, and yet I was always -- I often thought it would be so wonderful to change my name, and just disappear.

But then I saw that some of the people that came from Hollywood did change their name, and people found out anyway, so I thought well, I may as well be who I am and forget about it.

KING: But the scars were there.

C. CRAWFORD: Sure they were and mostly I think it came out in relationships. Because it was impossible to trust anybody.

KING: We will be back with more of Christina Crawford. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "MILDRED PIERCE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: And he is going to divorce you and marry me -- and there is nothing you can do about it.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: Mildred, use your head. This won't solve anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We are back with Christina Crawford. Did you fare better if she had a hit movie?

C. CRAWFORD: I remember very well when she won the Oscar for "Mildred Pierce."

KING: That was a great performance.

C. CRAWFORD: It was, and awfully close to what ended up being her real life, of course. But she was determined that she was not going to go. And so she said that she was sick, to the Oscars. Because years ago -- before that -- she had gone on a big tirade about how unfair they were, and this, that and other thing. And so she said publicly that if she ever won one she wouldn't be there.

And then she was nominated and everybody thought she was going to win, and so she took to her bed, but beautifully. And she had the photographers and the director come to the house, and they had all these photographs and boy did she get well quick when that Oscar appeared through the door. Oh, she was Joan Crawford up and at 'em.

KING: And that was a good day for you?

C. CRAWFORD: I was very little. I was 6 or 7 years old, but yes, of course, it was wonderful. We didn't quite understand it, but...

KING: Now you wrote, "No Safe Place" because of all this. Do you think now this society is firmly into parental abuse family abuse?

C. CRAWFORD: Do they understand it? I don't think totally. It still goes on, and we have, you know, mothers drowning their children all over the country, and we have children being locked in closets for 10 years. It goes on.

I think that we are able to talk about it in a way that we were never able to talk about it before. There are organizations that can help people if they have the ability to go and ask for help. All of that has changed, but it is very hard for people to change human nature, and I think the books that I have written have done sort of a miraculous journey of their own.

I got a letter not too long ago from Australia from women that had used "No Safe Place," which was my fourth book, in women's programs, and women's prisons in Australia, and wrote me to tell me that it had changed their lives because it is a paradigm change.

KING: How about adoption reform. You are involved in that, too. What do you want?

C. CRAWFORD: I am. I think that it is absolutely necessary for every person who has been adopted to have access to their own personal records.

KING: That is not true in every state?

C. CRAWFORD: No, it is not.

KING: True in some?

C. CRAWFORD: Some, yes, and, the American Adoption Congress that I work with, we are working state by state to change the laws. And that is what it takes, it takes a grass roots...

KING: And why should that happen?

C. CRAWFORD: Because, well first of all, the most obvious thing is medical reasons. Now that they have all the breakthroughs in genetics, and modern medicine, we have the right to know where we came from just as everybody else in America has the right.

KING: They can have gene splicing some day and correct things.

C. CRAWFORD: Exactly, but if you don't know it you can't change it. Thing is, and I have learned this from working at the -- the, with the tribal people, the Coeur d'Alene people, I never understood how important it was to know where you came from, because if you don't know, it sort of is like, you are just hatched out of an egg.

You don't know what the people look like, you don't know what the family traits are. I mean, I found out that in my mother's family, my birth mother's family, there are wild women. And I thought ah-ha, I finally belong somewhere. I'm not, you know, this abortion. And I'm not a bad person because of it. It was extraordinary to find out my father was an engineer, a very bright person, an entrepreneur, that my brothers were well, and some of them are in show business, and it was -- it was this great relief. It was this burden taken away from me, I belonged somewhere.

KING: There is no downside to it?

C. CRAWFORD: Sometimes there is. And I think that is the fear and I think why I didn't search earlier. I was afraid that I would find somebody or something worse than what I knew. That is the fear.

KING: Fear of knowing what...

C. CRAWFORD: Exactly. The fear you know is the fear that you have come to live with, you know. But, and also some people think well maybe I'm intruding on somebody's life. And that is a worry also. We don't yet know how to do reunion. It is different for everybody. We don't have a, we don't have a guide book.

KING: Did your brother find out about his background?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, he has.

KING: And was his helpful to him?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, it was wonderful.

KING: Did your mother tell you you were adopted?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: At an early age?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: That was good.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, except that she told me that my mother died in childbirth, which was a lie, so that I would never try to find her.

KING: Trying to find something good here, can't even get good out of the truth.

C. CRAWFORD: Sometimes that is true.

KING: We will be back with our remaining moments with Christina Crawford, the author of "Mommie Dearest." She's currently writing a book on the Inquisition. She also wrote "No Safe Place." Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Do you visit your mother's grave?

C. CRAWFORD: Never.

KING: Never? C. CRAWFORD: No. Why would I?

KING: Is she buried next to Mr. Steele?

C. CRAWFORD: Unfortunately yes, she is.

KING: She is. Where are all her -- where are the Oscars -- Oscar?

C. CRAWFORD: There's only one, and I think it's been sold at auction.

KING: Clothes and all the rest?

C. CRAWFORD: Everything.

KING: What do you make now of this frequent news about celebrity adoptions? Any concerns about it?

C. CRAWFORD: Yes, I have a lot of concerns. Adopting children should be for the child, primarily. And I think sometimes some people adopt children for their own self image, and that doesn't usually turn out very well.

KING: You want a child.

C. CRAWFORD: You want a child and sometimes you want to be known as a parent, a mom or a dad, more than you actually are prepared to provide for the child.

KING: The plus side is, as Jamie Lee Curtis says to her adopted daughter, I wanted you.

C. CRAWFORD: Oh yes, I think that's true; but for what reasons, one doesn't know.

But if all of that is true; if you're going to buy babies, if you're going to do mail-order babies, if you're going to order color of skin and hair and eyes and that kind of thing, or if you're going to go overseas, for heaven's sakes be kind to that child, and let them know where they came from.

KING: Would you adopt?

C. CRAWFORD: I would have if I were younger, yes I would have. Yes.

KING: Did you ever attempt to?

C. CRAWFORD: No, I didn't; no I didn't. Because most of my life was so unstable, both emotionally and financially that I couldn't -- I couldn't, in good conscience, visit on somebody else what had been visited on me.

KING: But you agree now that abuse is at least paid attention to. C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: The family domestic squabble, the police do come.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Arrests are made.

C. CRAWFORD: Yes.

KING: Do we know why adults take it out on children and animals?

C. CRAWFORD: I think we do.

KING: The least defensive.

C. CRAWFORD: I think we do, because it's a complete lack of self esteem. It's a feeling of powerlessness. It is rage, probably, over perceived abuse, whether it's true or not. And unfortunately, it is taken out on the least able to defend themselves.

So until we get a handle on that, on self-esteem, on empowering people in healthy ways, it's going to go on. It's going to go on and go on.

KING: Do you ever feel -- boy, I started all this -- there are so many, now, books that come out and tell about things, and there's also a group of people, as we have found out, that lie about abuse. They weren't abused, but say they were. What do you make of that?

C. CRAWFORD: Attention getting. You know, everybody wants their 15 minutes of fame. But, you know, if it's true it endures. "Mommie Dearest" has endured. The 20th anniversary edition is out. It's available; amazon.com didn't exist 20 years ago, but it is, and thank goodness for it.

If it is true, if it has lasting meaning it will endure. And now it's become -- this book has become part of the...

KING: Culture.

C. CRAWFORD: ... American fabric; yes, exactly.

KING: Thank you Christina.

C. CRAWFORD: My pleasure.

KING: Congratulations on holding up.

C. CRAWFORD: Thank you.

KING: Christina Crawford. You can still get "Mommie Dearest."

Thanks for joining us on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. "CNN TONIGHT" is next; good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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