Christina Crawford was born in Los Angeles, California in 1939, to an unmarried teen. According to her personal interview with Larry King, her father was married to another woman and supposedly in the Navy; her mother was unmarried. Crawford was adopted from a baby broker in Nevada because Joan was formally denied an adoption by social services for being an unfit candidate in California in 1940 (due at least in part to her status as a divorcee).
Crawford was one of five children adopted by Joan. Her siblings were Christopher (1942–2006), adopted in 1943, and twin girls — Catherine (Cathy, 1947–2020) and Cynthia (Cindy, 1947–2007) — adopted in 1947. Another boy, also named Christopher, was adopted in 1941 but was reclaimed by his birth mother. Crawford has stated that her childhood was affected by her adoptive mother's alcoholism. At 10, Crawford was sent to Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, California, which many other celebrity children attended. However, her mother sent her from Chadwick to graduate from Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy in La Cañada (now the city of La Cañada Flintridge), California, and curtailed Crawford's outside contact until her graduation. After graduating from Flintridge, she moved from California to Pittsburgh to attend Carnegie Mellon School of Drama and then to New York City, where she studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse in Manhattan. After seven years, she gained a Bachelor of Arts degree from UCLA. After 14 years as an actress, Crawford returned to college, graduating magna cum laude from UCLA and receiving her master's degree from the Annenberg School of Communication at USC. Then she worked in corporate communications at the Los Angeles headquarters of Getty Oil Company.