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Mildred Pierce was what Joan Crawford had hoped for. After all, she left MGM feeling like they weren’t giving her the right roles. Under contract to Warner Brothers, she waited for the right part, passing on scripts which didn’t meet the mark.
And that’s when it came.
“Mildred Pierce was a meaty James M. Cain story,” Joan said. “I was eager to accept this change to portray a mother who has to fight against the temptation to spoil her child. As I have two adopted children, I feel I could understand Mildred and do the role justice.”
And do it justice, she did. The film grossed approximately $5 million and earned Crawford her first and only Oscar.
1. Other stars were considered.
Bette Davis was offered the part first, but she declined. Rosalind Russell and Ann Sheridan also passed. Director Michael Curtiz hoped to cast Double Indemnity star Barbara Stanwyck, who said, "I desperately wanted the part.” But Joan Crawford wanted it too and set out to prove herself. She said, “I asked to test with each potential member of the cast – a task usually relegated to a stock actress—but I’d been away from the cameras so long.” According to Crawford, Curtiz was so affected by her audition that he cried.
2. Mildred’s character changed.
Producer Jerry Wald suggested that Jack Warner purchase the rights to Mildred Pierce (for which he paid $15 thousand), despite the book not being a bestseller. In pitching the film, Wald anticipated the need to tweak the main character by making her nobler and toning down content that wouldn’t make it past the censors. In fact, one of the working titles was Courage. Interestingly, the marketing campaign pushed a different image of Mildred altogether with “The kind of a woman most men want but shouldn’t have” and “Loving her is like shaking hands with the Devil.”
3. Joan was friendly.
She memorized the names of cast and crew and even had a cake and a gift given to them if they had a birthday during filming. Ann Blyth remembered Joan by saying, “[She] was the kindest, most helpful human being I’ve ever worked with. We remained friends for many years after the film.”