My dear friend Billy Haines had introduced me to Joan almost as soon as I hit Hollywood. Joan was the sweetest, kindest, most gracious hostess in all of her house, which covered rather more territory than you’d think. When we arrived, she greeted us in the doorway, casually dressed (for Joan) in a $20,000 Orry-Kelly creation of shimmering gold lamé, with her husband, Philip Terry Crawford, whom I believe had some sort of show business connected job [Phillip Terry was a major film actor who appeared in some 67 movies between 1937 and 1972. He starred in The Leech Woman, a film of major importance in my own career, but that’s a story for another day. -Douglas], who was sparkling in a matching gold tuxedo with Christmas green piping, and little Christina in a Shirley Temple hand-me-down gownette by Adrian. I was wearing a $500 suit myself and I felt underdressed.
"Horrid Christmas!" Mother, Phil and I shouted gaily as we climbed out of my understated Rolls Royce.
"Merry Christmas!" Joan corrected, kissing each of us. Joan had mistletoe actually in her hair.
"We always say ‘Horrid Christmas’." I explained, "So, have a horrid Christmas Christina."
"It’s too early to tell." Replied the somber small child.
"Where’s that dear little angel Christopher?" I asked.
"Christopher misbehaved this afternoon and is being punished." Answered Joan in a more serious tone than before.
"What did the poor little boy do that would keep him punished on Christmas?" asked Mother.
"He got a little too excited about Santa Claus coming, and ran around the house this afternoon, laughing and shouting." Said Joan, one eyebrow arched, clearly vexed again at the memory.
"That sounds like every two year old on earth three hours before Christmas." Said Phil.
"Maybe the children of common people," snapped Joan, eyes flashing fire, "But my children will be perfect, and Perfect Children are never loud or obstreperous. Christopher must learn this now, mustn’t he, Christina?"
"Yes, Mommy Dearest!" Christina blurted out smartly.
As the maid took our coats, Phil asked Philip, "Do you go along with that policy?"
Philip’s eyes darted about in terror as he said in a quiet rush, "Joan knows best. Joan knows best."
"Really darling," said Joan, her Gracious Manners mode re-engaged, "I don’t believe it’s asking too much for my children to be well mannered and behaved. After all, they have every advantage over the children of nobodies. Don’t you, Christina?"
"Yes, Mommy Dearest."
"Good, darling." Said Joan, "Now let’s all go in and eat dinner and at Midnight I’ll go down and unchain Christopher, as I promised, and he’ll be up just in time for storytime."
At Joan’s house, at midnight on Christmas Eve the tradition (being inaugurated that evening. A new tradition.) was that the whole family, except servants of course, would sit around the living room with low lights, sipping eggnog, munching a single cookie, and listening while Joan read aloud a family Christmas story she had actually written herself. Until Midnight arrived, we had a sumptuous dinner, and enjoyed each other’s company, ignoring the occasional scream from Christopher in the dungeon.
As Joan went to check on the cooks preparing dessert, Philip, who seldom spoke, or did anything but moan slightly, suddenly perked up. He turned to us in a panic and said, "For God’s sake, flee! Save yourselves! It’s too late for me, but you can still get away!"
Joan entered the room and Philip, eyes screaming, said, "I was just telling the Thanatoses how lucky I am to live with the world’s greatest homemaker."
"Aren’t you sweet, darling?" Joan said, pausing beside her husband and presenting her cheek for a quick dry peck, before marching past behind us towards the hall door, giving my posterior cheeks a strong, surreptitious squeeze in passing.
Promptly at midnight Joan appeared in the living room archway carrying her storybook in one hand and Christopher’s semi-conscious form, with his newly bandaged thumbs, draped over her other arm. We all took seats on the massive sofas that curled around the twenty foot frosted white Christmas tree that dominated the room, with the blazing hearth to our right. Christina and Christopher were popped down beside Joan, who opened her book and began reading the following story:
A Christmas Fable by
"Hooray!" cried foul Little Hagatha and blemished Roquat the Squat, "Santa is here!"
"And don’t worry," yelled Santa from his sleigh as he rode out of sight, "If those two turn bad, there’s plenty more where they came from."