If there’s one person Casey LaLonde will be rooting for at the Emmys Sunday night, it’s actress Jessica Lange, who's nominated for her portrayal of his grandmother Joan Crawford in “Feud.”
Ryan Murphy’s FX show tells the story of the movie star’s collaboration with Hollywood rival Bette Davis in the highly publicized 1962 film “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” It was nominated for 18 awards. Both Lange and Susan Sarandon, who played Davis, are nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie.
LaLonde, who was contacted by Murphy’s production company last fall for his insight on Crawford, gave Lange some footage from his grandmother’s home movie collection shot in the late ‘50s to give the 68-year-old a close look at the woman behind the legend. LaLonde and his mother Cathy, one of a pair of twins adopted by Crawford in 1947, were depicted on the show’s final episode.
“I truly enjoyed the entire series Ryan Murphy produced,” LaLonde told Fox News. “It was a very critical, adult, non-campy look at the history of Joan and Bette Davis… And of course, just because of who my grandmother was, I will root for Jessica Lange to win… Nothing against Susan Sarandon. She’s a wonderful actress. But for personal reasons, I’ll be rooting for Jessica on Emmy night for sure.”
Even though Crawford passed away in 1977 at age 71 when LaLonde was 6-years-old, he still has vivid memories of his grandmother, an actress who starred in more than 80 films since 1925.
“We’d go to to New York City, she would greet us at her apartment door [and] she would be in a housecoat,” he recalled. “But of course, I was never allowed to call her grandma because she was Joan Crawford. So our nickname for her was JoJo… She was loving, supportive. She was intently interested in what I was doing, even me as a 5-year-old. And wanting to just be a grandmother. She was always there. She was always present and focused on us whenever we would visit.”
LaLonde, who lived two hours outside of New York City, said Crawford enjoyed babysitting whenever his parents would drop him off at her Upper East Side apartment.
“She would feed us lunch, she played with us, she hung out with us,” said LaLonde. “And at that age I didn’t know who she was, except she was just my grandmother. I vividly recall being in her apartment, her plastic-covered furniture, her parquet floors… I was a little kid in the big city, so I was completely excited to be there.”
LaLonde revealed that while Crawford stayed in touched with loved ones, she rarely stepped outside during the final years of her life. Her last public appearance was in September 1974 in New York when she hosted a party for fellow actress Rosalind Russell. When a photo of the 69-year-old appeared in the papers the following day, LaLonde said Crawford declared, “If that’s the way I look, they won’t see me anymore.”
“She didn’t feel she looked like Joan Crawford anymore,” LaLonde added. “She started to retreat and never went out in public again… [But] she had good friends over… She’s famous for writing over a million-plus fan letters in her life. She still sent photographs to friends and fans. She kept in excellent correspondence with everyone.”
LaLonde recalled when something changed with "JoJo."
“… On her death certificate it said heart attack, but she had pancreatic cancer,” he said. “I don’t know where she was diagnosed or when, but as time when on, even in my childhood eyes, she started to get thinner. She would wear a wig when we’d see her. She still had makeup on, but it wasn’t overdone. It was very natural.”
Despite newfound interest on Crawford’s career, LaLonde was concerned how “Feud” would address “Mommie Dearest,” the shocking 1978 tell-all written by her eldest adopted daughter Christina, which depicted her as an abusive alcoholic prone to rage.
In 1981 the story, which was published shortly after Crawford’s death, was then turned into a film starring Faye Dunaway. LaLonde’s mother and her twin refuted all of Christina’s claims but their adopted brother Christopher stood by them until his death in 2006 at age 62.
“I don’t think any reconciliation could ever happen because of the impact ‘Mommie Dearest’ had as a book and a movie on the overall family from Christina’s perspective,” said LaLonde, who has never met his aunt. “I think once the book came out, we were already headed downhill. Once the movie came out, it was over. I don’t think there’s any room for reconciliation.”
He added the last time his mother ever saw Christina was when Crawford’s will was read after her death. Crawford famously omitted both Christina and her adopted son Christopher “for reasons well known to them.”
In 2008, Vanity Fair reported a dying Crawford may have believed Christina was gearing up to publish a slanderous memoir “full of lies and twisted truths” to make money. Consequently, Christina and Christopher were disinherited.
But these days, LaLonde is determined to revamp Crawford’s legacy in Hollywood, which has become forever linked with “Mommie Dearest.” This year, he reissued her 1962 autobiography, as well as a 1971 lifestyle guide titled “My Way of Life.” The audiobook for that self-help book is actually Crawford reading her own words.
“In 1973, a couple of years after the book was published, she did a recording of herself reading it,” he explained. "It was pressed on vinyl. We located what we believe is the only copy in the world, bought it, and had it digitized. So it’s Joan herself reading the entire copy with extra comments peppered throughout.”
New fans will even learn some fun facts about Crawford in “My Way of Life,” which was previously out of print for decades. It’s one of many things LaLonde enjoys sharing about his grandmother.
“Joan kept a tiny refrigerator next to the bed for [husband] Al Steele, where she’d feed him cheese, pepperoni, salami, and Pepsi Cola,” he chuckled.