Joan Crawford was many things in her life. First she was a leading lady of classic Hollywood cinema, then “box office poison,” then a comeback queen. First she was the adoptive mother to four children, then the subject of one of the first Hollywood tell-alls, Mommie Dearest, in which her oldest daughter portrayed her as an abusive alcoholic. And in her later years, Crawford—born on March 23 in the first decade of the 20th century (she was never keen on sharing her exact year of birth, though it was probably 1905 or 1906)—was also a purveyor of social advice for ladies.
In her 1971 “handbook of social savvy,” Joan Crawford: My Way of Life, the Oscar-winning actress offered up advice for women, much of which she had dictated while visiting Pepsi plants around the world in yet another role: as a director at that company, for which her late husband, Alfred Steele, had been board chairman. In a LIFE profile pegged to the book’s release, several of her tips were revealed, as paraphrased by writer Thomas Moore:
Surround yourself with happy colors like shocking pink.
Be a giver not a taker.
Learn to camouflage the points you don’t like about yourself.
In planning a menu, never never put a red vegetable next to a yellow one. It looks unappetizing.
Her advice ranged from grooming to relationships to kitchen management, but it would have disappointed those hoping the book might be a tell-all reflecting on a career that had as much drama offstage as on it. Talking to Moore, as she fed cheese puffs to her shih tzu, Princess Lotus Blossom, Crawford admitted that even she sometimes found herself difficult.
“I often have to handle me with kid gloves,” she said. “I always treat me as another person. I don’t like all the things I do. Sometimes I lose my temper, and I don’t like that. But if I’m a Miss Mushy Mouth all the time, I wouldn’t like that either.”
Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter @lizabethronk.