Mommie Dearest “No wire hangers” explained by abortion?

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’.

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  • All the most reason to keep abortion a safe, clinical procedure, unthreatened by laws made against it.

  • ema

    I think you’re making some wild assumptions. As a rule people of Ms. Crawford’s financial means do not (and never did) have black alley abortions. They have wink-wink, nudge-nudge spontaneous/inevitable abortions in nice clinics or hospitals.

    Also, as a rule, having an abortion does not scar you mentally/make you physically abuse your adopted children.

    • Justin Griffith

      Your first point is very good. I’ve been beaten up over other things on my facebook wall as well. 🙂

      Your second point is not so good. From the article:

      “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.”

      I’ve seen PTSD up close and personal, and it’s sufferers can be triggered by a suprising variety of things.

      Keep ’em coming though!

      • ema

        I don’t see a link to the article, so who is saying “Horrifying experiences, obviously.”?

        • FormerlyNavy

          He was referring to the second point you made about miscarriages/abortions making you beat your children…he emboldened the words describing her mental health: Coupled with alcoholism and possible bi-polar / personality disorder

          • ema

            Unless it’s Ms. Crawford saying the experiences were obviously horrifying, there’s nothing related to having an abortion to be coupled to her alcoholism and bi-polar/possible personality disorder.

        • AJ

          i think that’s justin’s editorialization.

    • Tsu Dho Nimh

      As a rule people of Ms. Crawford’s financial means do not (and never did) have black alley abortions.

      Joan Crawford was 20 when she was signed to a movie contract (1925) … and wasn’t a ‘star” for several more years.

    • JMH

      Abortions, like any other… let’s say, vacating of the womb, can cause postpartum depression/psychosis. Someone who is already mentally unbalanced can completely lose their minds from a birth of any kind. An abortion that goes poorly, and even in modern medicalized abortions bad things can happen, just like they can in any other kind of birth, is a hard thing to cope with. Say you wanted babies, just not this one/right now. Say something goes wrong, and now that baby you decided not to have is the only chance you’re ever being given because you decided not to have it and there’s damage. Because abortion is not just shameful but completely undiscussable, you can’t get psychological help…

      We do the pro-choice movement no favours by pretending it’s risk-free. There are potential physical and mental side-effects. It’s not a given, it’s not even very likely, but it isn’t rare either. Just like with a to-term birth.

      Especially if you’re already mentally unbalanced.

      • ema

        Who is this “we” pretending pregnancy termination is risk-free?

        Also, a bit OT but just for the record, the physical and mental side-effects of carrying a pregnancy to term/delivery are not comparable to those of [legal] abortion. The former are orders of magnitude more frequent/serious vs. the latter.

        For example, a woman is at least 30 times more likely to require admission for a psychotic or severe mental illness in the month following delivery than she is in the previous 2 years*. During the postpartum period, 10-15% of women develop a non-psychotic postpartum depressive disorder, and 0.1-0.2% of women developing full-blown [postpartum] psychosis.

        On the other hand, severe distress/psychopathology are rare after abortion, and no causal relationship between abortion and mental health problems has been found by [well-designed] studies (p24).

        *Williams 21ed, p1419

  • Maybe you’re right, and it’s a disturbing thought, but it might have been something like her own mother being equally nutty on the subject.

    Certainly all the evidence that I’ve seen is that making abortion illegal doesn’t actually reduce the number of abortions – it just makes them unsafe. But I suspect a lot (not all!) of “pro-life” supports are actually anti-women and anti-sex. The sluts should be punished for not being virgins!

    I always wondered where the coat-hangers came from. Do five-year-olds usually get to chose their own coat hangers? I’m sure I didn’t have any control over the coat-hangers in my room until I did my own clothes shopping.

  • Aquaria

    I don’t think it was tied to anything regarding abortion, given that Crawford didn’t have one associated with wire hangers.

    I think it helps to remember the context of the incident, which is explained better in the book. Crawford was very, very bitter about how her “Hollywood royalty” in-laws (Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.) despised her for being common or even a bit of an opportunist/gold digger, after she married Doug Jr. many years before this incident. Pickford made some catty remarks about her daughter-in-law in public; this is well known. To her credit, Crawford did her best to ignore them, even though they angered her. However, after the divorce, Crawford made many, many remarks over the years through leaked bitchiness talking about how Pickford/Doug Sr. hated her. So she’s already got a chip on her shoulder about not being good enough.

    Couple that with how Crawford was extremely particular about coming across as a well-bred woman, when she wasn’t one by birth. She had to copy their attributes, rather than having them ingrained from birth. One of the things that distinguished a well-bred woman back then (and still does, to an extent), was her closet. Wealthy women had cloth hangers for their expensive clothes. Poor women used wire hangers. You can bet that Crawford saw this, first hand, when she was Mary Pickford’s daughter-in-law.

    Throw in how she’s panicking inside about her career being in decline, how she’s had so many failed marriages, and how her alcoholism is distorting her rationality even further, and Crawford goes gonzo at the slightest threat to this fragile delusion she’s built for herself as a woman of quality. Being common enough to use wire hangers is one of those threats, silly as it seems. But it was life and death to a driven woman like Crawford.

    • FormerlyNavy

      You make some very good points. Kudos.

    • Ms. Crazy Pants

      My impression of the wire hanger scene was the same as Aquaria’s. I think it has more to do with being a “proper” wealthy person.

    • sailor1031

      I agree. Wire hangers mean poverty to me too! They come free from the dry cleaners and, being indestructible, get passed on and on. I hate them, because they are such crappy hangers and remind me of when I couldn’t afford high quality hangers, and I never use them now either. Plus, another part of the video rant, they ruin good natural fibre clothes if you use them much. Maybe there weren’t many synthetics around back in the day!

    • Midnight Rambler

      That makes a lot more sense in the context of the scene, where she’s ranting about how she buys the best clothes but the daughter puts them on wire hangers, in the best house in Brentwood, etc.

  • lordshipmayhem

    This is why I refer to the “right to life” crowd as the “pro-wire-hanger” movement.

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  • Such a great actress. Damn shame her reputation was ruined by a book of lies

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  • StarBorne

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but Christina Crawford said that scene was added by the movie’s makers, but it didn’t happen in real-life

    • Danlos

      He didn’t say it happened in real life