Joan Crawford made her final performance in the eerie TV tale ''Dear Joan: We're Going to Scare You to Death''
The Hollywood legend wrapped up her career in a psychic tale, now part of Night Gallery.
The Sixth Sense arrived on television at the perfect time. Coming out of the psychedelic and tumultuous 1960, the early 1970s were somewhat shell-shocked. It was the New Age era. Crystals, Hare Krishnas and cults spiked in popularity, while horror splashed across all facets of popular culture. The Exorcist was a blockbuster. Stephen King's telekinetic tale of a tormented teenage girl named Carrie moved millions of paperbacks. Black Sabbath was playing in NBA arenas.
Naturally, this all carried over to television, where scary TV movies sat between series like Night Gallery and The Night Stalker on the schedule. Following the adventures of a professor of parapsychology, The Sixth Sense was following the ghosts in the zeitgeist when it aired in 1972. Future host of the Miss America Pageant, Gary Collins starred as Dr. Michael Rhodes on the show.
Well, except for one notable episode. As Halloween neared, Joan Crawford turned up to star in "Dear Joan: We're Going to Scare You to Death." Collins would only appear briefly at the end, in a bizarre manner, but more on that later. First, a recap of the plot.
We open on Crawford's character, Joan Fairchild, driving along a dark country road. A hound springs in her headlights. She swerves her spearmint Cadillac into a ditch. She pulls herself from the wreck. A vision of a woman floating over a lake shoots through her brain like a migraine. She grimaces and gasps. Joan will go on to do a lot of grimacing and gasping.
Joan stumbles to a beautiful house. This being 1972, the manor is filled with candles, sideburns and mustard tones. Groovy young adults dwell there. They wear clothes that have bold patterns and barely fastened buttons. And they happen to all be honing their psychic abilities.
Soon, Joan finds herself in a web of seances and wicked intentions. The sinister dudes running the show decide to use their E.S.P. powers to conjure images of Joan's dead daughter. They want to scare her to death!
Joan's daughter drowned, and, of course, this house happens to sit alongside a lake. The spectre of her deceased daughter (played by Anne Lockhart of Battlestar Galactica) floats into her room. Joan widens her eyes, clutches at her gold brooch, and scrapes her nails along her well-pancaked face.
But the asthmatic Joan Fairchild proves to be far craftier and psychic than the hippies imagined. When she accidentally smashes her inhaler under the heel of her white pumps, Joan heads into the bathroom to run a steamy shower to aide her breathing. There, in the mist, her daughter's ghost turns skeletal and grabby — as seen in the photo up top.
She uses her own mental abilities to save the day. Fans of Nixon-era TV horror will spot similarities to Let's Scare Jessica to Death, a popular telefilm from a year earlier that also involved a small body of water. The episode title certainly does not hide the similarities.
The climax of the plot is hardly the surprising end to the episode. After the conclusion of the story, Crawford sits down with Collins on set, out of character, to have a chat about their belief in psychic phenomena. Crawford tells of a dream she had about her poodle in peril. The following day, something actually happed to her dog. She is a believer.
The Sixth Sense lasted two seasons, 25 episodes. In syndication, the hour-long show was chopped into 30-minutes episodes and repackaged as Night Gallery. Today, Rod Serling introduces "Dear Joan." You can see it on MeTV. The conversation about her poodle did not make the cut. But this would do down in history as Joan Crawford's final screen performance. She passed away in 1977.