Friday, January 11, 2013
One of the first names that comes to mind when thinking of classic Hollywood is Joan Crawford. Her amazing career spanned six decades and the longer she made films, the more iconic she became. As an icon, she sometimes morphed into a caricature of her own screen image. The eyes bulging under uber heavy, arched brows and lips painted deep crimson, twisted into a melodramatic snarl. But long before she was Mildred Pierce, Harriet Craig or even Crystal Allen, displaying her learned screen affectations and perfect diction, she was a burgeoning MGM starlet, a movie queen in training. Her pre-code shop girl was a box office bonanza. In 1930, after years of being everyone's favorite flapper, Joan made the film Paid, her first real dramatic attempt and it was both a personal and professional success, ranking her in the top tier at Metro.
Directed by Sam Wood, who had joined MGM just a few years earlier, the movie was based on the play Within the Law by Bayard Veiller. It was originally slated to star Norma Shearer, the queen of the Metro lot, but when she became pregnant, the role was open. Crawford pleaded with her bosses to give her the part and Irving Thalberg (Shearer's husband and second in command at the studio) gave her the chance she needed to put her "Dancing Daughter" days behind her.
Paid was a hit and to show his gratitude, head honcho Louis B. Mayer gave Joan a financial boost. She received a $10,000 bonus with a note that read: "In appreciation of the co-operation and excellent services rendered by you, we take great pleasure in handing you your check made payable to your order in the amount of $10,000...this does not affect the terms of your contract dated November 2, 1928." Not bad for a shopgirl.
The film also marked the debut of Douglass Montgomery, billed here as Kent Douglass, who played Bob, the innocent who Mary Turner weds to get her ultimate revenge. It's fun to watch Crawford here, honing her craft and giving a good performance before she would ultimately become JOAN CRAWFORD. She and co-star Marie Prevost would become friends during the filming of Paid and remain so until Prevost's untimely death in 1937 of acute alcoholism. Among a collection of empty liquor bottles detectives found a promisory note of $110 to Crawford and it was reported that it was Joan who paid for the funeral.