I just realized this a few weeks ago. Am I on to something here?
I saw the film Mommie Dearest when I was young. Young enough to use it against my own mother like a little brat. “Yes, Mommie Dearest!” So maybe I was just too young to get it, but I was always really freaked out by the wire coat hanger scene. I thought that mother was crazy. Why on earth would anybody freak out over such a minor detail?
Watch the scene:
I’ve heard so many people make pop-culture references to this scene. It’s always from the perspective of “WTF?!”
I think I figured it out, and it’s even more depressing.
Wire hangers were a popularly known instrument of so-called back alley abortions.
You might recall that the Mommie Dearest film follows the lives of two of Joan Crawford’s adopted children (two younger adopted children deny the events and were omitted from the film.) Perhaps Joan was scarred in an earlier back-alley abortion procedure, or even a self-induced procedure. It almost seems like an inevitable conclusion.
Ms. Crawford’s unyielding drive to be seen in the public as a good mother is central to the plot. But when the public was not around, her insanity did not stop. Rather it intensified. She simply must not be able to shake her mental scarring from her own abortion procedure. One that presumably left her unable to carry children to full term. Every waking moment spent with her adopted children was a reminder of this scar.
I’ve seen pro-choice signs co-opting the wire hanger line from the film. But their usage comes off as flippant and coincidental. Like a ‘look at me, making a clever pun!’ sort of thing. Even Christopher Hitchens wrote an article about Mother Teresa called Mommie Dearest. He quoted her saying “Abortions are the greatest threat to world peace.”
But I think they were spot on, in more than just a coincidental coupling of famous references.
It turns out that Joan Crawford even admitted to a series of miscarriages and at least one abortion (in Tijuana). Horrifying experiences, obviously. coupled with alcoholism and possible bi-polar / personality disorder, it’s no wonder she was described in such a time-bomb manner.
In the end, just as many of Joan’s friends sided with Joan as they did with her daughter, Christina. Many first-hand witnesses came forward, on both ‘sides’.