In 1962, one of the most epic Hollywood rivalries began on the set of the psychological thriller,What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? The feud involved two famous actresses — Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The women were already household names at the time of the film’s release, but it wasn’t their talents on-screen that revitalized their careers; it was their viciousness off-screen.
The drama that unfolded between Crawford and Davis will soon be retold through the lens of Ryan Murphy, the man who brought us American Horror Story, The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, and Scream Queens. He has named the series Feud, and announced that it will star Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford, Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis, Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland (who had her own sibling rivalry), and Sarah Paulson as Geraldine Page. The first season of the series will take place on the set of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? where the two leads, playing sisters, were constantly at odds.
The most infamous story that sheds light on the intensity of their dislike for each other takes place at the 1963 Oscars Award Show. Davis was nominated for Best Actress for her role as Baby Jane Hudson, while Crawford, who played sister Blanche Hudson, was not. Scorned and desperate to be in the spotlight, Crawford contacted all the other actresses who were nominated for the award and offered to accept it for them onstage if they were not able to attend. She also apparently encouraged the Academy not to vote for her co-star, thus choosing her own ego over the success of the movie overall. In the end, Anne Bancroft, who could not attend, won for The Miracle Worker, and Crawford got to accept the Oscar. Brilliant, but evil.
An article in Vulture points out another reason the two might have been especially at odds with each other: Apparently, they were crushing on the same guy, Franchot Tone, and he chose Crawford.
Then, there was the book incident. In a piece written by William Frye, a friend of Davis’, he says point-blank that Davis despised Crawford, nearly from the moment she learned they would be co-stars. Frye recalls the time Davis was forced to give a copy of her autobiography to Crawford. This is what she told him: “I autographed a book for La Belle Crawford. I wrote, ‘Joan, Thanks for wanting my autograph. Bette.’”
But overall, their rivalry was most likely fueled by sheer fear of being forgotten and replaced by a young set of rising talents. Both women were strong, talented, and aging starlets. They felt there wasn’t room for both of them at the top.
In the words of Barbara Walters, “While other actresses focused their sights on being likable, Bette Davis focused her sights on being memorable.” Sounds like this will all make for some devilishly great TV.
Watch the trailer for the film that ignited the best beef ever, below.