When Bette Davis was doing Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana on Broadway in 1962, Joan Crawford visited her backstage one night. She gave Bette a copy of the novel Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? with a note. “It says in oversize handwriting, ‘Love to Bette — Joan Crawford,’” says Ed Sikov, author of Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis. “That was the night Joan proposed to Bette they do Baby Jane.”
That was the last “love” felt between Joan and Bette, as their notorious catfights on the cult-classic film became Hollywood legend — and now an FX miniseries, Feud (due next year), with Susan Sarandon as Bette and Jessica Lange as Joan. “It was a very tense set,” Adell Aldrich, the film’s script supervisor (and director Robert Aldrich’s daughter) tells Closer. “They had baggage coming into this, and they were both in their 50s and considered has-beens.”
Bette (left) and Joan (right) in 1962. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
In that sense, art was imitating life. Bette plays the title role, a washed-up former child star living in a creepy mansion with her faded movie-queen sister, Blanche (Joan), paralyzed from a car crash in which Baby Janemay have been the driver. The stars convincingly taunt each other, channeling a deep hatred that can be traced back to 1935, when Bette was dating her leading man in the film Dangerous, Franchot Tone, and Joan stole him away and married him. “Franchot isn’t interested in Bette,” Joan said. “But I wouldn’t mind giving him a poke if I was in the right mood. Wouldn’t that be funny?”
Bette didn’t think so. “She took him from me,” Bette said in 1987. “She did it coldly, deliberately and with complete ruthlessness. I have never forgiven her and never will.”
Bette and Joan in 1962’s Baby Jane. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Through the 1940s and 50s, the pair competed for roles, if not men. By the time they arrived on the Baby Janeset, they were ready to fight. “They were two exceptionally ambitious, full-throated women who needed to be the star of every performance, including those of everyday life,” says Sikov.
Their personalities clashed immediately. “Bette sat out with the crew and was very friendly,” remembers Aldrich. “Miss Crawford hung out in her dressing room, and at 12 o’clock, the drinking would start.”