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“You can’t imagine what receiving my Oscar meant to me. I had always wanted to win one, and I treasure mine,” Crawford said about her win for Mildred Pierce.
Interestingly though, she wasn’t there on the big Oscar night – for good reason.
The category of Best Actress for the 1946 Academy Awards ceremony included the following: Ingrid Bergman (The Bells of St. Mary’s), Greer Garson (The Valley of Decision), Jennifer Jones (Love Letters), Gene Tierney (Leave Her to Heaven), and Crawford. Talk about competition.
In fact, Crawford was sure that Bergman would win. And as she thought about the ceremony, she got more and more nervous.
“I was afraid of losing. The tension is so terrible when you’re sitting there waiting… You have to look composed and applaud at all the right moments when you can hardly concentrate,” she said. “The only thing worse than losing was winning. I would have to go up to the stage and make a speech as myself.”
According to Joan, she got so worked up from thinking about it that she developed a temperature and was ordered by her doctor to be in bed.
“Then I really couldn’t go. The decision was made for me.”
Still, she listened to the ceremony on the radio.
Much to her surprise, when Charles Boyer opened the envelope, he read her name.
Director Michael Curtiz accepted the award for her and later brought it to her house with Jerry Wald, the producer who found the project and backed Crawford for the part.
Christina Crawford, Joan’s adopted daughter, remembered the night in her memoir Mommie Dearest. Recalling her mother’s reaction after the win, she wrote, “Her health seemed to improve drastically. She bounded out of bed and took a shower. She brushed her hair and waited for the photographer to arrive.”
Some speculated that Joan faked her illness, especially since her photos with the Oscar turned out so well. However, the star maintained her story.
“I did my best to look my best, but I really was ill.”
Many reached out to the star on her big win, including Bette Davis, whose telegram simply read: “Congratulations.”
Davis was not nominated that year for her role in The Corn Is Green (read about that here). But Bette didn’t appear to be upset about the Oscar snub since even she recognized Mildred Pierce had done much better at the box office.
“The thing I most appreciate about Bette Davis is that she turned down Mildred Pierce,” Joan Crawford said. “I honestly believe that she regretted turning it down when I got my Oscar, but she got plenty of Oscars, and if she had taken the part, she wouldn’t have gotten an Oscar for it.”
Even Christina recognized the importance of the award to her mother and wrote, “She sat holding her Oscar, turning him around to view from every angle. She let me hold the statue for a few minutes. He was surprisingly heavy. Then we walked down the stairs together and she placed him all alone in a special little niche at the bottom of the staircase.”
In the years to come, Joan would again look for a role similar to Mildred and be cast in several film noirs with similar themes.
“I loved being called a star, and even more being a star. But it was nice with Mildred Pierce to finally be certified as an actress.”