Call it what you want... fate, luck, chance or early talent, Lucille LeSueur aka Billie Cassie, broke all the rules and defied the odds to become, Joan Crawford, one of the biggest female Motion Picture stars ever! 1925 was the year it all happened for young Lucille as she set out for Culver City, California on New Years Day 1925. We can only imagine what was going through the teenagers' head at the time she was boarding the train, it would be a decision that would change her life and the lives of the entire world.
Above: A very rare photo of Lucille LeSueur in January 1925.
Lucille never knew what her future would bring as the end of 1924 rolled around. Lucille was somewhat satisfied with where she was at; she was dancing in shows and making decent money in New York City. She loved to dance and she was doing just that, but as 1925 approached young Lucille was tired of dancing in clubs trying to make ends meet and competing with prettier girls. Lucille was ready to pack it all up and leave the dancing world for a while when she heard that an MGM talent scout, Harry Rapf, was going to be in New York looking for young talent for the newly opened Culver City MGM film studios. Lucille was granted a screen test but failed miserably, but her early determination that the world would eventually see, came out and she fought for a second screen test.
Above: An extremely rare photo of Harry Rapf and Lucille LeSueur signing a contract at MGM studios.
Lucille didn't immediately hear back from MGM and the holidays were growing near. Feeling defeated, Lucille heads back home to Kansas City three days before Christmas to be with her family and then "companion" Ray Sterling. Lucille was about to receive the biggest Christmas present she had ever received! On Christmas Day, Lucille received a telegram from Nils Granlund on behalf of MGM saying:
"You are put under a five-year contract starting at seventy-five dollars a week.
Above: MGM showcases some of their brights and newest stars. Joan is labeled in the back row.
Lucille was on her way to a new chapter in her life as she kissed her family goodbye she got on the train to Los Angeles, California on January 1, 1925. She also was saying goodbye to a man that she was very close to, Ray Sterling. Sterling and Lucille started out as lovers but it ended up being a strong friendship that would last a lot longer than most knew about. Lucille arrived in Los Angeles on January 3rd 1925 to be greeted by Larry Barbier an MGM publicity guy. Overjoyed, frightened, nervous a young Lucille probably talked his ear off as she was eventually dropped off at the Hotel Washington.
Above: Lucille secures the welcome sign for the New York American Tour Party on the MGM lot.
During Lucille's first couple months at MGM she did the typical things a budding starlet would do. She posed for cheesecake photos, mingled with other upcoming hopefuls and doubled for established stars at MGM. Lucille also attracted a rich young man, Michael Cudahy an heir to a meatpacking company. The two become well known in the dance circuit and won several dance competitions together. Lucille's first film appearance was in "Lady of the Night" posing as a body double for one of MGM's biggest stars at the time, Norma Shearer. Lucille only appeared in the film for a brief moment when Norma is faced with her twin in the back seat of a car. You get a glimpse of a young Lucille's profile. The movie was released on February 23, 1925 and Lucille was uncredited for her minor part. Lucille's second film appearance was in "Proud Flesh" on April 27, 1925 starring Eleanor Boardman. Lucille's first and only picture to be billed under her birth name was in "Pretty Ladies" released on July 15th 1925 starring ZaZu Pitts.
Above: This photo shows a picture of a young Lucille LeSueur (1925) compared to herself evolved into 'Joan Crawford' (1933).
It was March 1925 and Lucille was about to celebrate her birthday on March 23rd. Lucille's birth year to this day is still a mystery, no one knows for sure what year she was born but two years make the most sense: 1905 & 1906. The more research I do the more signs point to the 1906 birth year which I will use to base this website off of. Lucille had just turned nineteen years old and the studio was not sure what to do with her. Studio head, Louis B. Mayer, was not fond of her name he thought it sounded too much like a 'sewer' and the studio launched a name contest to rename the upcoming actress. Originally Joan Arden was chosen for Lucille but there were more than one submission for that name. Finally, on August 18th 1925, Lucille was christened with the new name Joan Crawford! Joan was still given bit parts and uncredited in "The Merry Widow" released on August 26, 1925 starring John Gilbert and Joan also appeared in "The Midshipman" released on October 4, 1925 starring heartthrob Ramon Novarro.
Above: Click in the image above to read the article that appeared in
Lucille was none to pleased with her new name; she thought it sounded like "Crawfish." Lucille had met another young upcoming star named William Haines on the MGM set and they formed a strong bond almost immediately. It would become a lifelong friendship for the both of them. Haines joked with Lucille on her new name saying, " Be thankful your name's not Cranberry like a turkey, hope you never make one!" Off and running with her new name, Joan ended the year with FOUR movies being released in only a month time frame! "Old Clothes" released on November 9, 1925 starring Jackie Coogan, "The Only Thing" released on November 22, 1925 again starring Eleanor Boardman, an uncredited part in "The Circle" released on December 2, 1925 and ending the year with a her first "hit" film "Sally, Irene, and Mary" released on December 7, 1925. Joan Crawford was born and a young actress was blooming!
Above: A glimpse into the face of a young Lucille LeSueur.
Lucille LeSueur/Joan Crawford appeared in TEN films in 1925.