As if your interest weren’t piqued enough for Ryan Murphy’s new anthology series Feud—which will star Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, Old Hollywood’s premiere pot stirrers—the series has added another Oscar-winning actress to the mix.
Catherine Zeta-Jones will make her grand debut into the Ryan Murphy-verse by playing Olivia de Havilland, her Academy Award-winning predecessor who turned 100 this past July. While the series will center on Crawford and Davis’s legendary rivalry, it will hopefully feature de Havilland, a close friend and frequent co-star of Davis’s, in fabulous, scene-stealing supporting capacity.
De Havilland—whose own fabled rivalry was chronicled within Vanity Fair’s very pages—made multiple films with Davis. She also co-starred with Crawford in 1964’s Hush. . .Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the follow-up to Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Based on a story written by Henry Farrell, who wrote Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the film was meant to reunite Crawford and Davis after their 1962 collaboration proved to be a surprise success. Crawford feigned sick and dropped out of the project, though, which led to a casting crisis that sounds as juicy as the off-set antics of the film’s precursor.
Desperate to resolve the situation, “[director Robert] Aldrich hired a private detective to record her [Crawford’s] movements.” When shooting was suspended indefinitely on August 4, the production insurance company insisted that either Crawford be replaced or the production cancelled. Aldrich approached Katharine Hepburn, who didn’t return the studio’s calls, and Vivien Leigh, who demurred, saying, “No, thank you. I can just about stand looking at Joan Crawford’s face at six o’clock in the morning, but not Bette Davis’.” Barbara Stanwyck and Loretta Young also said no thanks. Bette Davis immediately suggested her good friend Olivia de Havilland.
Havilland wasn’t particularly satisfied with the end result—later saying that she only agreed to do the film because Davis insisted upon it. “I can’t say I regretted it,” de Havilland later said, “because working with [Crawford] was special, but I can’t say it was a picture I am proud to put on my résumé.”
De Havilland and Davis’s friendship was captured during an episode of the 50s and 60s documentary series This Is Your Life, during which de Havilland surprised Davis and recounted the rocky beginning of their relationship on television.
“The first time I saw Bette Davis, she scared the daylights out of me,” de Havilland said. “We had to make three pictures together for her to warm up to me.”
“I feel like I had always known and loved Olivia,” Davis countered. “I don’t remember that. It wasn’t true? Shame on me! I was probably jealous of you . . . you were so damn good-looking.”
“The first [film we made together] was It’s Love I’m After with Leslie Howard,” de Havilland continued. The second was The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Errol Flynn. And by the way, up until that time, I had always been Errol Flynn’s leading lady. But this time, inElizabeth and Essex, Bette was his leading lady and I was demoted to her lady in waiting!”
“I was humiliated,” de Havilland added after laughs from the audience. “And then finally we made Is This Our Life, and Bette at last got to play the bad sister. And I played the good sister. And we became great friends.”
“Does she still scare you?” asked the host.
“Just a little,” de Havilland laughed. “But I still love her.”
In addition to being a casting masterstroke, Zeta-Jones’s participation could be a clue about what to expect from Feud seasons to come. Given de Havilland’s notorious rivalry with sister Joan Fontaine, could Zeta-Jones be the star, (and de Havilland the subject) of a second season?
The first season of Feud will be eight-episodes long and co-star Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, Judy Davis, and Dominic Burgess.