Joan Crawford's Husband Was Hugely Successful

by Andrea Towers
Kurt Iswarienko/FX

Ryan Murphy is the king of drama, so it makes sense that his next biggest anthology series, Feud, is one that's based on one of the most famous feuds ever between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the series takes place before and after the filming of their 1962 movie What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? and, with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon in the lead roles, there's no doubt the show will be smartly-acted and intense, the way most of Murphy's shows are. While Crawford's feud with Davis is certainly memorable, there's another part of her life that's also memorable: Crawford's revolving door of husbands but specifically her fourth husband, Alfred Steele.

Crawford's fourth and final husband was a businessman. According to Charlotte Chandler's biography of Crawford, Not The Girl Next Door, Steele was born in 1901 in Nashville, Tennessee and graduated from Northwestern in 1923. Steele basically set out to become a businessman, working at places like the Chicago Tribune, Standard Oil of Indiana, and D'arcy Advertising Company. Chandler's biography reports that Steele first worked for Coca-Cola before moving over to Pepsi-Cola, where he eventually became chairman of the board. He later died in 1959 after suffering a heart attack, according to The New York Times.

History remembers him as being a key part of a massive corporation. But even more than his business antics, he became famous when he married Crawford. Both Steele and Crawford were smart beyond their years, especially when it came to success. And, after Steele's death in 1959, Crawford used her business savvy to focus on her late-husband's company, according to a 1971 Movie World article, by Sara Murray.

"The suddenness of [Steele's death], the shock were almost too much for Joan. She didn't want to see anybody. She was numb with grief, but she is a strong woman — and she had faced sadness and heartbreak before. She knew she had to go on. So she went to the offices of the Pepsi-Cola Company, turned her attention to her late husband's business. Soon the other executives knew — this was no empty-headed film star, but a shrewd business woman who knew what she was doing."
Suzanne Tenner/FX

According to Chandler's biography, Crawford assumed her late-husband's role on the board and was paid $50,000 a year to make promotional appearances for the brand.

According to IMDB, it doesn't look like we'll be seeing Steele in the FX series, but expect to see influences of Crawford's late husband in other ways. For example, Harper's Bazaar, in an explanation of a timeline for the series, mentioned that Davis had had a Coke machine put in her dressing room simply to spite Crawford and her Pepsi ties. Knowing how Crawford felt about her husband and her business, I can't imagine she took that very well, and we'll likely see the drama play out on Feud.