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Ferocious Ambition - Joan Crawford’s March to Stardom

Ferocious Ambition

Joan Crawford’s March to Stardom

By Robert Dance
Hardcover : 9781496846518, 368 pages, 114 b&w and 16 color illustrations, October 2023

An astute, lavishly illustrated evaluation of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars


Robert Dance’s new evaluation of Joan Crawford looks at her entire career and—while not ignoring her early years and tempestuous personal life—focuses squarely on her achievements as an actress, and as a woman who mastered the studio system with a rare combination of grit, determination, beauty, and talent.

Crawford’s remarkable forty-five-year motion picture career is one of the industry’s longest. Signing her first contract in 1925, she was crowned an MGM star four years later and by the mid-1930s was the most popular actress in America. In the early 1940s, Crawford’s risky decision to move to Warner Bros. was rewarded with an Oscar for Mildred Pierce. This triumph launched a series of film noir classics. In her fourth decade she teamed with rival Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, proving that Crawford, whose career had begun by defining big-screen glamour, had matured into a superb dramatic actress.

Her last film was released in 1970, and two years later she made a final television appearance, forty-seven years after walking through the MGM gate for the first time. Crawford made a successful transition into business during her later years, notably in her long association with Pepsi-Cola as a board member and the brand’s leading ambassador.

Overlooked in previous biographies has been Crawford’s fierce resolve in creating and then maintaining her star persona. She let neither her age nor the passing of time block her unrivaled ambition, and she continually reimagined herself, noting once that, for the right part, she would play Wally Beery’s grandmother. But she was always the consummate star, and at the time of her death in 1977, she was a motion picture legend and a twentieth-century icon.


"Ferocious Ambition presents a commendable, well-researched study of its subject from a sharp-eyed scholar."

- Marion Meade, author of Dorothy Parker: What Fresh Hell Is This?

"Robert Dance writes from the perspective of an historian who respects deep and broad research, not as an over-the-top fan. As a result, he nails much about the actress and her era in a fascinating, well-told story graced with stunning photographs."

- Cari Beauchamp, author of Without Lying Down: Frances Marion and the Powerful Women of Early Hollywood

"In a day when our rich film history is slowly becoming forgotten, it is refreshing and exhilarating to come across such a beautifully written, delightfully insightful book as Robert Dance’s delicious Ferocious Ambition: Joan Crawford’s March to Stardom. . . . Dance has achieved a proper biography of the legendary Joan Crawford, for which many a reader will be forever grateful."

- Stephen Michael Shearer, author of Gloria Swanson: The Ultimate Star and Glamour and Style: The Beauty of Hedy Lamarr

"With equal doses of wit and research acumen, Robert Dance documents Joan Crawford’s astounding determination to overcome the vicissitudes of Hollywood’s star system. Ferocious Ambition is the most comprehensive and accurate career biography of Crawford to date—it not only details the development of her skills as actress and status as Hollywood icon but makes long overdue connections among the contributions of producers, directors, portrait photographers, and costume designers to the ascent and longevity of one of the system’s most recognizable stars. Beautifully and copiously illustrated with photographic portraits and film stills, this biography will delight both fans and scholars of studio-era Hollywood."

- Mary Desjardins, author of Recycled Stars: Female Film Stardom in the Age of Television and Video and coeditor of Dietrich Icon

"Dance (The Savvy Sphinx: How Garbo Conquered Hollywood) exceeds his promise to deliver more than just another biography about Joan Crawford, digging deeper into the reasons behind her lifelong drive for fame. The book examines the relationships she cultivated to craft the movie star identity she craved. It also discusses the choices she made to transform herself based on industry standards and box-office demands. Crawford was a legend who understood the power of the press and the role fans played in actualizing celebrity status, Dance argues. His book is as much about her strategic moves as it is about stardom, which adds an interesting angle: she was a woman who built herself. It’s beautifully illustrated with more than 120 photographs that illuminate the poise and personality Crawford exhibited even in her earliest days. VERDICT: This skillfully written, engaging, and carefully referenced biography will appeal to fans of old Hollywood glamour and to readers interested in the social construction of gender, especially within the context of the film industry."

- Emily Bowles, Library Journal

"For readers seeking insight into a world of female rivalries that simultaneously shaped and were shaped by MGM from its birth in 1924 through the transition to talking pictures, into the Great Depression and beyond, Dance’s biography provides much insight into what differentiated Crawford, an amateur dancer turned actor, from the studio’s leading ladies Norma Shearer and Greta Garbo, in addition to contextualizing Crawford’s infamous feud with Bette Davis, the Queen of Warner Brothers."

- Gabrielle Stecher, PopMatters

"Kudos to the author and the University Press of Mississippi for this well-researched overview of Joan’s life and career. . . . A professionally published, well-written, and annotated bio with good-quality photos is always a welcome addition to the Joan literary canon."

- Stephanie Jones,