Betty Barker (photo), Joan Crawford’s longtime personal assistant, died last Jan. 27 in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles-born (Sept. 30, 1916) Barker was 95 years old.
According to a paid obituary published in the Los Angeles Times, Barker grew up in the L.A. suburb of Alhambra. Following a stint in Washington, D.C., in 1944 Barker returned to Los Angeles, where she began her secretarial career at RKO. Later, she was to become a personal secretary to Howard Hughes, who gained control of the studio in 1948.
When RKO officially moved to Las Vegas in 1955, Barker opted to remain in Los Angeles. That’s when she began her professional association with Joan Crawford, whom, as per the Times obit, she had known since the early 1930s. By then a Hollywood star for nearly three decades, Crawford was still busy, appearing in movies such as Ranald MacDougall’s Queen Bee, with Barry Sullivan, and Robert Aldrich’s Autumn Leaves, opposite Cliff Robertson.
Although Crawford moved to New York after her marriage to Pepsi-Cola executive Alfred Steele in 1957, Barker continued working as her secretary from an apartment in West Hollywood. As per film historian Anthony Slide, letters written in Los Angeles would be mailed to New York City for Crawford’s signature.
Following Crawford’s death in 1977 and prior to her own retirement in the mid-1980s, Barker worked as Eva Gabor’s personal assistant. In the ensuing years, she volunteered at The Cinema Glamour Shop benefiting film-industry charities.
Regarding Christina Crawford’s sensational bestseller Mommie Dearest, Barker denied having ever seen or heard of Joan Crawford abusing her children.
And regarding Roy Newquist’s interview book Conversations with Joan, right after it came out veteran Metro Goldwyn Mayer publicist and photographer – and Joan Crawford collector – Dore Freeman told author Mark Vieira that he had called Betty Barker to ask about it. In an email sent me, Vieira quotes Barker telling Dore: “How could this Newquist person have interviewed Joan without my knowing? His name is not even in her Rolodex.”
January 2019 update: In “Bette and Joan,” the 2017 season of the (as planned) FX Network anthology series Feud, Mamacita, the formidable housekeeper played by Jackie Hoffman, is a fictional creation partly inspired by Betty Barker. In Feud, Jessica Lange plays Joan Crawford and Susan Sarandon plays Bette Davis.
Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson Autumn Leaves image via Doctor Macro.
Joan Crawford personal assistant/secretary Betty Barker image via the Los Angeles Times obit.