Think about somebody you really can't stand. Somebody who makes your skin crawl. If that person feels the same way about you, you have yourself a feud.
That hate-fuelled relationship will be put under Ryan Murphy's uniquely high-camp microscope in Feud: Bette and Joan, which begins on FX with some fanfare in March. #Feud is the true story of how that enmity reached boiling point in the most explosive fashion when the two actresses finally worked together on a movie, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? — and what happened next.
Check out the trailer for FX's 'Feud' below:
Because you can't possibly hope to have a feud of your own without taking tips from the women who mastered the art, let's take a look at the real-life story of exactly what went down between Bette and Joan in the Hollywood catfight of the century.
1935: A Feud Is Born
The feud began with a man. Franchot Tone was Bette's co-star in the 1935 film Dangerous, and although she fell hard for him during the shoot, he had caught the eye of Joan Crawford. Legend has it that, on the night she invited him to dinner at her home, Joan greeted Franchot naked in her solarium. Clearly she made an impression, because they married the same year. It lasted just four years, but the feud with Bette would last until Joan's death — and beyond.
For context, both Davis and Crawford were pure Hollywood A-list. Joan was the more glamorous, a movie star on the level of Angelina Jolie whose characters were often more straightforward, and usually very likeable. Davis, eleven-times Oscar nominated, took more risks — she was rarely cast as a bombshell but more associated with complex, sharp-tongued women who always spoke their mind (Jezebel being a fine example). You could say art imitated life, because by all accounts Bette could be either a consummate professional or an absolute nightmare on any given day.
1943: Under One Roof
Bette once said that Joan had "slept with every male star at MGM, except Lassie." In response, Joan said that Bette "looks like she’s never had a happy day, or night, in her life." The claws were well and truly out.
In 1943, Joan joined MGM, the studio Bette was signed to, and went on to win the Oscar for Mildred Pierce in 1946. Bette had turned that role down, which must have stung, and now the rivalry had crossed over from the realm of the personal to the professional.
Although Bette gave perhaps one of the greatest performances of all time in All About Eve (1950), both had become more or less blacklisted by Hollywood by the mid '50s. While the women still couldn't stand one another, they almost never crossed paths during those years in the wilderness, and so the feud was reduced to a simmer.
1961: 'What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?'
It wasn't until 1961 that a unique opportunity for a comeback presented itself — a horror script titled What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?
Having read the script — and hoping to play the titular role of Baby Jane, a psychotic former child star now living with her disabled sister — Crawford decided that Bette Davis would make a perfect co-star as the sane, abused sister, Blanche.
She approached Davis after a performance on Broadway one evening in '61, convincing her to read the script. Davis later called director Robert Aldrich and agreed to star — on two conditions. First, she would play Baby Jane, the juicier role of the two. Second, Aldrich must not sleep with Crawford during filming. The implication was clear — Joan always sunk her claws in. Aldrich made Davis the promise, and Baby Jane began shooting the following year.
At the Cannes Film Festival in 1963, Davis talked in-depth about why she took the role and her desire to continue walking in Hollywood (see the interview clip above).
"I decided to make one more fight for it. It wasn't that I could not work anymore, it was that I could not do the caliber of film that I had been spoiled by [before]. I wanted a chance to prove once more that I can be an important contributor to the industry I love the most."
What she neglects to mention, though, is the vicious escalation of the feud on the set of Baby Jane. Thankfully, FX's Feud: Bette and Joan will do exactly that. If you're somehow unaware, the antics of both actresses have truly become the stuff of legend. Davis would allegedly refer to Crawford as "that phony cunt" — knowing her co-star was in earshot. While filming an abusive scene, Davis deliberately kicked Crawford in the head, leaving her in need of stitches.
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Before you start to feel too sorry for Crawford, though, she was no angel either. Davis had a bad back, so during one scene where Baby Jane has to drag Blanche across the room, Crawford lined her pockets with stones (it's also been said that she wore a lead weight-lifter's belt under her dress). Once several takes were in the bag, Davis was in agony.
Crawford's ultimate revenge came during the 1963 Oscars. Baby Jane was a huge success, and Davis was nominated for Best Actress. Joan contacted each of the other nominees in the category to say that she would accept on their behalf if they were unable to make the ceremony. Anne Bancroft received the statuette, but was unable to attend. Crawford accepted with a short speech, and although the camera sadly didn't cut to Bette for a reaction shot, she was allegedly so enraged that she and her entourage immediately upped and left.
The women worked together briefly in '64 on follow-up Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but Crawford dropped out after just a few days' filming, and there's no record of the women ever crossing paths again after that day. Crawford died of a heart attack in 1977, and Davis died in 1989 after continuing to work throughout the '80s.
Bette's Shadiest Quotes
Presented without context, because shade of such comical proportions really just speaks for itself:
- "You were so right, Joan. The picture is good. And I was terrific."
- "The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs in Baby Jane."
- "Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it’s because I’m not a bitch. Maybe that’s why [Joan] always plays ladies."
- "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good!"
So, there you have it — the true story of how two Hollywood legends harbored the ultimate feud. Feud: Bette and Joan begins March 5 on FX.
So, now you know the story, are you Team Bette or Team Joan?