Her Own Private Idaho

updated 08/08/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/08/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

CHRISTINA CRAWFORD GREW UP in a 22-room Brentwood mansion, but it wasn't a home many would envy. One of four adopted children of the late screen legend Joan Crawford, she wrote the shocking 1978 autobiography Mommie Dearest, revealing the physical and emotional abuse her mother inflicted on her. The book—and a subsequent movie—made Crawford famous, earned her an estimated $1.5 million and helped crack open the issue of child abuse at a time when it was rarely discussed. None of this, however, gave Crawford the cozy, hospitable home she had always wanted—until May, when she opened her five-bedroom bed-and-breakfast on 166 hilly acres in Sanders, Idaho. Now 55, Crawford is host, chef and parlor maid at Seven Springs Farm, where she welcomes guests for $65 to $75 a night for a room. "I've always wanted a life where I could be in the woods and breathe fresh air," she says. "It just took me a long, long time to get here."

Born in 1939 of unknown parentage, she was adopted shortly afterward. Crawford grew up rich but miserable and left California for New York City at 18 to become an actress. Following a brief marriage to Harvey Medlinsky, a Broadway stage manager, she gave up acting in 1972 to complete her education. Back in California, she graduated magna cum laude from UCLA, then got a master's degree in communications from the University of Southern California. While working in public relations for Getty Oil, she married her second husband, film producer C. David Koontz. (They were divorced in 1986.) Though Crawford is still close to Koontz's son David, 30, she chose not to have children of her own.

As an adult, Crawford had ups and downs in her relationship with her mother, though they were estranged in the years just before Joan's 1977 death. A few months later, Christina wrote Mommie Dearest as a form of therapy. Both scorned and applauded for her frankness, Crawford later spent seven years serving as president of Los Angeles' Inter-Agency Council on Abuse and Neglect Associates and campaigning for the reform of child-abuse laws. She also wrote a novel, Black Widow, a murder mystery about a dysfunctional family.

In 1981 she suffered a nearly fatal stroke that left her temporarily paralyzed on her left side. It was during her five years of rehab that, she says, "I realized I wanted a different way of living." Then in 1988, on tour for her third book, Survivor, which chronicles her adult journey as a victim of childhood abuse, she fell in love with the Northwest. Two years ago she bought her farm, 60 miles southeast of Spokane, Wash., and commissioned the round, two-story cedar house that she moved into in March.

A jumble of styles, the house contains many artifacts from Crawford's past. The guest book dates back to a party she gave for her mother's 61st birthday in 1969 and starts off with three pages of good wishes from Joan Crawford's friends. A poster from Barefoot in the Park, in which Christina appeared on Broadway, hangs on a hallway wall. Two bookcases in the living room were built by actor friend Ken Kercheval (Dallas's Cliff Barnes), a castmate during her two-year stint on the CBS soap The Secret Storm. In her bathroom is a framed slogan that sums up her philosophy: It's Never Too Late to Have a Happy Childhood.

When Crawford finds time between splitting logs and baking muffins, she writes in longhand in an office off her kitchen. Her fourth book, No Safe Place—The Legacy of Family Violence, which she says is about "how family violence has affected children and how they can change their lives for the better," will be published next month by Station Hill Press.

Though her house is never empty and she says she knows "85 of the 100 people who live around here," Crawford looks forward to next year, when her third husband, Michael Brazzel, a federal government organizational development specialist whom she married in 1990, will join her in Idaho after his retirement.

Some of the neighbors didn't recognize her until she threw an open house to unveil her B&B. Most know by now that she is the Christina Crawford, and some guests have even shared their own experiences with childhood abuse. "They know I'll understand," she says.

Standing on her sunny deck listening to the wind, Crawford says, "This is a dream come true for me. I get to experience something here I never had before: basic human kindness and dignity."

CATHY FREE in Sanders

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