In the suit filed Monday in federal court, Cathy LaLonde alleges that Christina Crawford repeatedly made defamatory statements about her on a book tour last spring.
Christina Crawford allegedly made the statements while promoting a new edition of "Mommie Dearest," her best-selling 1978 book about her Academy Award-winning mother.
For decades, LaLonde, 51, has been known as one of Crawford's adopted twin daughters. But Christina Crawford told interviewers that LaLonde was not a twin, just a girl who looks like another adopted daughter of Joan Crawford named Cynthia.
Christina Crawford made the statement to People Online, the website for People magazine, according to the lawsuit. She repeated it to nationally syndicated talk show host Jim Bohannon and at four personal appearances.
"They were raised as twins. She (Joan Crawford) called them twins," Christina Crawford reportedly said. "Her career needed a boost, and one child alone wasn't going to get her the publicity she wanted, so she got two girls who both had brown hair and brown eyes."
LaLonde alleges that, in making that statement, Christina Crawford lied. Her lawyer, Richard Orloski of South Whitehall Township, attached birth certificates for Cathy and Cynthia to the lawsuit, identifying them as twins.
LaLonde accuses Christina Crawford of making it seem as if LaLonde had been lying for years about being Joan Crawford's twin adopted daughter. And she alleges that, by talking about the adoption issue, Christina Crawford violated laws that require information about adoptions to be confidential.
In addition, LaLonde alleges that Christina Crawford harmed her reputation by implying that only Christina was legally adopted. According to the suit, Christina supposedly meant that Cathy, Cynthia and the fourth Crawford child, Christopher, were bought on the black market and never legally adopted.
That statement is false and makes it seem as if LaLonde is illegitimate, according to the suit.
LaLonde has "repeatedly, constantly and proudly represented herself in her personal life as an adopted daughter of Joan Crawford," the suit states.
Another allegation is that Christina Crawford made statements that LaLonde has been "institutionalized," which LaLonde claims is false.
Christina Crawford's supposedly defamatory statements constitute outrageous, intentional, reckless and malicious conduct, according to the suit.
"Mommie Dearest," which in 1981 was made into a movie starring Faye Dunaway, casts Joan Crawford as a child-abusing, alcoholic, sexually obsessed woman.
For years, LaLonde has denounced the book as fiction. And in the lawsuit, LaLonde contends the book was intended to "defame the dead for crass commercial purposes."
LaLonde describes the Hollywood legend as a "good, kind and loving mother."
Orloski asked that his client not grant interviews about the lawsuit. But LaLonde said in a 1978 interview that she had a good relationship with Christina until her sister wrote the book.
"I had no indication how Tina (Christina) felt about my mother," LaLonde told the former Evening Chronicle of Allentown. "I'm heartsick, ashamed and disgusted that she could write such a book about her own mother. Now, I feel only contempt and pity for her.
"As I read the book, I saw no resemblance between the woman Christina described and the mother I knew and loved," LaLonde said. "In her book, Christina has described my mother as a monster when, in fact, I truly believe it is Christina who is the monster."
Cathy and Cynthia were each left $77,500 in their mother's will. Christina and Christopher got nothing.
Born in Tennessee, LaLonde lived with her mother in Los Angeles and New York City. She married at age 21 and, at age 25, moved to Lehigh County because of her husband's job.
Last year, LaLonde sold dozens of pieces of her mother's memorabilia at Wlazelek's Auction Gallery in Lower Macungie Township. The items included personalized stationery, costume jewelry, publicity photographs, fur hats and a gold dress with matching turban, belt and gloves.
Crawford, who died in 1977, won the best actress award in 1946 for starring in "Mildred Pierce." A year later, she was nominated for a second Academy Award for "Possessed."