Bette Davis is at the top of my list of incredible actresses of classic film and her infamous relationship with Joan Crawford is legendary. So, when I heard Ryan Murphy’s 2017 series “Feud” was recreating their tumultuous battles in the film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” I had to check it out. Susan Sarandon (Davis) and Jessica Lange (Crawford) bring back old Hollywood and pull back the layers of the complexity between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
Director Robert Aldrich’s cult classic “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane” (1962) is brilliant! It’s not fair, but to the powers that be, women in Hollywood age but men are considered “salt n pepper” hot. Aldrich’s production capitalized on the star power of the “past their prime” celebrated divas and the result is a glimpse into the real-life feud between the stars.
Bette Davis (L) Joan Crawford (R)
Not to be too biased😄 but, Ms. Davis literally kicked Joan’s behind! Crawford was way over her head onscreen and off as Bette outperformed and out strategized her nemesis. Bette is my hero because she took on roles other actresses wouldn’t touch because of their image.
Bette Davis in “Of Human Bondage”
She wasn’t afraid to go there and if the role required her to look unattractive she was game. An original in a class by herself, in “Of Human Bondage” (1934) her appearance was shocking to audiences of the time as she portrayed a callous woman dying of tuberculosis; not a pretty sight.
“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” is a 1962 American psychological thriller-horror film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, about an aging actress who holds her paraplegic sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion.
The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film’s release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White. (Wikipedia)
In true Bette Davis fashion, she came up with her own makeup for the role. She said that Jane was someone who never washed her face but just added more makeup.
In “Whatever Happened…” The young neighbor was played by Davis’ daughter B. D. Merrill who, followed in the footsteps of Joan Crawford’s daughter Christina, and wrote a scathing memoir, “My Mother’s Keeper”, that depicted her mother in a harsh light. However, unlike Christina who waited until after Crawford’s death to publish “Mommie Dearest”, B.D. published hers in 1985 while Davis was still alive but in poor health.
It was an open secret that Davis and Crawford loathed each other, and filming was contentious as their real-life hatred for one another spilled over into the production, and even after filming had wrapped.
The film’s success spawned a succession of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women, later dubbed the psycho-biddy subgenre, among them Aldrich’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? and What’s the Matter with Helen?. It was parodied by the Italian comedy film What Ever Happened to Baby Toto? (Wikipedia)
Shaun Considine’s 1989 book Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud chronicles the actresses’ rivalry, including their experience shooting this film.
Both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had incredible and challenging careers and personal lives. If I’ve peaked your interest and you’d like to learn more, check out this eye-opening documentary.