Hollywood Palace was an hour-long variety show that enjoyed a long run on ABC from 1964 through 1970 and a Sunday night mainstay when Joan showed up in October 1965 and let ’em have it. Loosely occupying the same chronological space as her back-to-back performances in director William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964) and I Know What You Did (1965), Joan’s comparatively gentle interpretation of Milton Geiger’s horrible monologue might be regarded as the last great Crawford performance in the spirit of her best film work. As Doug Bonner points out in his incisive analysis of this performance on his blog Post-Modern Joan, “the show’s post-viewing effect is of having witnessed a sighting, a visitation.” Indeed Joan Crawford seems to be conjuring a much younger, more vital version of herself in this six-minute piece. The there is actually no movie built around the scene and it makes no sense at all is an irrelevant detail when confronted with Crawford’s pathological commitment to the enterprise. In that sense she was completely convincing.
“Mad hatters have had matters long enough their way in ‘Wonderlind’!”
Hollywood has never produced an actor who exemplified the best and worst aspects of classic studio acting technique more than Joan Crawford. Here—as in all of her films—she deploys her crystalline Culver City-by-way-of-the-Thames MGM diction that indicates a complete range of emotions without ever conveying an iota of authenticity in any one of them. What Crawford’s acting does convey with laser-like precision is narcissism and her desperate commitment to being Joan Crawford. It is hypnotic. In her Hollywood Palace triumph, Joan manages to be wholly compelling without ever being good, intensely appealing and utterly repellent. We watch her delivering wretched dialogue and catching flies with her darting eyes; we know it’s phony and yet it’s undeniably electric. The camera loved Joan Crawford and she loved the camera with heartbreaking need. Crawford believed in her own bullshit so completely that, like a car crash, it is hard to avert one’s eyes. Such was the duality of Crawford’s brand of star power. It ain’t for the subtle or the faint of heart, but it’s undeniably somethin’!
Crawford’s not-subtle work here strikes me as the dramatic equivalent of the Keane “Big Eye” paintings that adorned every suburban home at the time. One can almost imagine the brand-new color Zenith TV console tuned to Joan’s big night on ABC that Sunday in October 1965, with Keane paintings displayed above the TV in a “wood”-grained cabinet the size of an Chevy Impala. It might be worth noting that after repeated consecutive viewings of this piece (12, to be exact), my eyes grew big and glassy just like a Keane painting and I experienced an almost pharmaceutical-induced level of deep relaxation, suggesting that prescribed medically and, of course, properly supervised, Joan’s Hollywood Palace monologue could easily replace Ambien.
If you’ve ever longed to see late-period Joan Crawford reciting an incoherant six-minute poem while wearing a wiglet, be prepared to be amazed.
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