Leesha Faulkner


We’ve been archiving some photographs here at the Oren Dunn City Museum, and you never know what you’ll find. We found a photograph recently of actress Joan Crawford with Mayor James Ballard. When we probed deeper, we discovered that Crawford had visited Tupelo.

It was April 25, 1964. Hollis Kinsey, president of the local Pepsi Bottling plant, was about to open his shop. Crawford was chair of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. She had taken over after her husband Alfred Steele had died. Donald Kendall, president of Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co., came for the big event as well.

Tupelo rolled out the red carpet. Mayor Ballard declared the week as “Joan Crawford Week.” She was to spend the night at Rex Plaza, owned by Cy Burnett, says Terry Swindol. Crawford had some demands, Swindol added. For example, she required larger space, so the folk at Rex Plaza knocked out a wall to make her room an ample size. She needed room for all her clothing, Swindol said.

Crawford had traveled a good bit before arriving in Tupelo. She had arrived in Hawaii on April 14 and on April 20 she announced the winners and runners-up of the Kaiser Cookout held at the Hilton Hawaii Village. Just before that trip she had been in Los Angeles for wardrobe fittings for an upcoming film, “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte” that would see her acting, once again, with Bette Davis.

Swindol said students at Tupelo High School were in the midst of preparing a stage show, “The Boyfriend,” and had prepared a musical number from the parody of 1920s music to present for Crawford. As recorded throughout her career, the famed actress arrived too late to enjoy the performance. Swindol said many people attended. Her limo pulled up. She toured the plant, and then left.

During her visit, she obliged some people with photographs, including one of her smoking a cigarette, sitting next to Jack Cristal with a microphone in front and Ernest Bowen recording the session for WELO. A Pepsi is at her left. Cristal’s daughter, Rebecca Nelson, said her dad didn’t talk much about it, although a photograph hung in their house. She did say, “Ms. Crawford told Daddy that while she was talking to someone else, she heard this voice and just had to know who it was coming from. It was Daddy.”

The following day, Crawford shot up to Nashville to open that Pepsi-Cola Bottling Co. After that, she began filming “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte.” Crawford refused to stay on the set after noon, saying she was ill – first dysentery and, later, an upper respiratory infection. The end? The late Olivia de Havilland replaced her in the role.

LEESHA FAULKNER is curator of the Oren Dunn City Museum. You may reach her at leesha.faulkner@tupeloms.gov.

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