The Joan Crawford Effect reveals the life of a star who spent time in Columbia

The exhibit at Stephens College gives insight to the life of a classic film star and her time in Columbia.

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Stephens College is offering the chance to find out more about a classic film star with its fall exhibit on Joan Crawford. The exhibit displays some of Crawford’s classic costumes and outfits as well as many details about her life.

Stephens fashion professor Lori Hall-Araujo curated the exhibit after finding out about Crawford’s Columbia roots. She also found a copy of one of Crawford’s iconic dresses and wanted to display it.

“Macy’s sold over 50,000 copies of this dress, but I had never seen one in an exhibit,” Hall-Araujo said.

Although that figure was an exaggeration used to market the “Letty Lynton” dress, named after a 1932 film of the same name, the gown did have an immense impact on fashion. Interpretations of the gown have been worn as wedding dresses in every decade since.

According to this exhibit, Crawford worked at the dining hall at Stephens to help cover her tuition, which, Hall-Araujo added, was likely embarrassing for her, since she had to serve her peers while they ate formal, sit-down meals. Crawford left Stephens after her first semester but kept in close contact with Stephens’ then-President James Madison Wood for years. Some of their letters and exchanges are displayed as well.

The exhibit also investigates the controversies of Crawford’s life, including the film based off her daughter Christina’s memoir, Mommie Dearest. The film displays Crawford as an abusive mother, though, according to the exhibit, this was disputed by two of Crawford’s other children. The exhibit also discusses her relationship and her rivalry with fellow actress Bette Davis.

The centerpiece of the exhibit is a copy of the white organdy gown that Crawford wore in Letty Lynton. These copies sold by Macy’s have the same puffy shoulders and cinched waist that the original dress had, as well as some simple floral designs. In the exhibit, it stands alongside an indigo dress that’s similar in style. Also on display are three skirt suits designed by Elsa Schiaparelli. The exhibit explained that Crawford was drawn to Schiaparelli’s designs because they emphasized her broad shoulders and made her waist look smaller.

The exhibit is a fascinating glimpse into cinema’s past and its historical ties to Columbia. Stephens changes these exhibits every few months. The Joan Crawford Effect is available until Dec. 17 in the mezzanine of Lela Raney Wood Hall on College Ave.

Edited by Brooke Collier | bcollier@themaneater.com

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