Saturday, August 12, 2017

"My Way of Life" Autobiography Review

A Special Guest Blog Review of "My Way Of Life" by Freelance Writer Julie Reynolds

My Way of Life
By Joan Crawford
Originally published by Simon & Schuster, 1971
Reprinted by Graymalkin Media, 2017 

 Although they both cringed whenever it was suggested, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis had a number of things in common.  Among them was the fact that they both authored books (with the help of co-authors or ghost writers) about their lives and viewpoints on various subjects.  In 1971, with her 46-year acting career winding down, and nearing the end of her tenure as board member and goodwill ambassador for Pepsi Cola, Joan Crawford penned My Way of Life.  (Davis’ books were The Lonely Life, published in 1962, and This ‘n’ That with Michael Herskowitz in 1987).

She had written her autobiography nine years earlier, and countless magazine articles over the decades; but My Way of Life is Crawford’s literary magnum opus in a surreal sort of way.  It is part memoir, part advice book for executive wives.  It is a “how to have it all” blueprint for the modern woman of the 1970s.  It is also Crawford’s contribution to a genre of publishing that, perhaps unofficially, is known as “gracious living”.  Although this genre is still going strong today with Martha Stewart as its most obvious heir, its heyday was the 1960s and ‘70s, when celebrities and society figures published wonderful coffee table books dispensing their advice on everything from entertaining and decorating to how to keep a man and live one’s life with panache.  (One excellent example is My Favorite Things by Dorothy Rodgers, the wife of composer Richard Rodgers and renowned hostess – who, by the way, concurs with Joan about many points regarding entertaining. When I read Dorothy’s fine points on taste and texture balance in one’s dinner menu, I thought, “I already learned that from Joan!”)

My Way of Life was out of print for decades, and until recently, was hard to obtain without spending several hundred dollars online.  Happily, due to the recent success of the FX series “Feud: Bette and Joan”, My Way of Life has been re-released and is now available, and affordable, in paperback and Kindle versions.  And trust me, it is required reading for everyone from the casual to the hardcore Joan Crawford fan.

In this comprehensive, well-meaning, sometimes over-the-top and out-of-touch book (which makes it even more fabulous), Joan Crawford discusses in detail the following topics:

         Marriage (four times married, Crawford provides a brief but candid assessment of why her first three marriages failed and her part in it)
         Entertaining (lots of menu suggestions and some of her favorite recipes)
         Women in business:  The Do’s and Don’ts  (to quote the fictional Barbara Bennett in a certain film we all know, how to “have it all – a career, home and famileee!!”)
         Clothes – Joan’s and yours.  This is a lengthy chapter, and fair warning: Joan already suspects that in all likelihood, your wardrobe is tragic, and you will need to toss it all and build an entirely new wardrobe befitting your way of life.  But fear not – she tells you how.
         Diet and fitness (Joan believes in good, whole foods - protein, vegetables, fruits)
         Skin care and cosmetics
         Charm  (it can be cultivated, but never faked)

A theme winds its way through the whole book that is a key to how Joan Crawford approached everything in her life.  You can, indeed, have it all if you employ Organization, Planning, and Hard Work.  Discipline, discipline, discipline.

Some of the advice is, admittedly, either hilariously out of touch or just plain odd, and you’ll savor every word of it.  But paradoxically, Joan had a very down-to-earth, streetwise side to her, and there are some real gems in My Way of Life that it wouldn’t hurt us a bit to appropriate today, such as taking pride in one’s appearance, especially when we go out in public.

Let’s talk about that one for a minute.  Admittedly, by 1971 some of Joan’s fashion directives were already becoming passé.  For example, older women still wore hats and gloves, but as everyday accessories, certainly for younger women, they were already going the way of the corset – and to Joan’s outrage, pants in public for women were here to stay. 

But what Joan knew all too well is that, fairly or unfairly, we are judged, at least in part, by our appearance.  And don’t you just feel better when you make the effort and go out knowing you look you best?  People treat you differently.  You treat others differently.  Besides physical attributes, you just give off a whole different vibe than when you slink into a store, a mess behind the sunglasses, praying you don’t run into anyone you know.  At least that’s my experience.  Joan knew what she was talking about, and in an era when websites like “People of Walmart” exist, her call to attractiveness and good grooming is sorely needed today.

She also knew what she was talking about when it came to keeping one’s partner interested.  “Surprise him…You have to be attractive, sexy, to him.”  Don’t take each other for granted, she advises:  “There should always be a precious time together at the end of the working day.  Turn off the phone, ignore the door, pour a glass of wine or fruit juice.  Shed the world and learn about each other in your own romantic oasis.”  Great advice that’s even more relevant in today’s environment of chronic information overload than when it was written. 

My Way of Life is a treasure trove of information on Joan Crawford’s way of life and her advice on how to successfully design your own.  It really must be experienced.  Some weekend soon, why not pamper yourself with a homemade facial of apple puree and sour cream (for precisely 20 minutes) and curl up with this book?  Then, change into riotously colorful hostess pajamas, have your friends over, and serve them a delicious buffet supper starting with appetizers of peanut butter and bacon on toasted black bread.  Believe me, you’ll thank Miss Crawford later.

Julie Reynolds is a freelance writer, voice actor, and an irreverent but devoted fan of Joan Crawford.   
She can be reached at