Feud :: A star is reborn

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Now that production on What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? has wrapped, where does that leave our cast of characters? On the fourth installment of Feud: Bette and Joan, we find most everyone on pins and needles wondering if the film will be a success, or if Bette, Joan and Robert put a stake through each of their careers.

For Bette and Joan, each thought coming off the starring roles of a major motion picture — opening in 400 theaters Joan will tell anyone who will listen — would have more offers pouring in to their agents. Joan has a whole team at her disposal but fires them all for doing nothing while she did all the work in getting Baby Jane to the screen. Bette, meanwhile, finds herself in the hands now of a junior agent, just 23, but finds herself in a desperate enough of a situation to take out an ad in the classifieds looking for work (something she later says was a joke) while making ends meet by “lowering herself” to take on geust roles on TV shows like Perry Mason.

Aldrich finds himself at the mercy of Jack Warner who just wants him to do more pictures pairing two old Hollywood stars, something he refuses and walks out. But while his stars are struggling, anguishing over what they may have done to what was left of their careers, Aldrich actually did get another picture, 4 for Texas, a comedic Western starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (with Victor Buono joining the cast). Unfortunately, Sinatra was more of a diva than either Crawford or Davis, being brutally cruel to Aldrich, Buono and anyone else within his sight lines. With Sinatra’s script revisions and costuming suggestions and then his edict to film around him while he jets off to New York, Aldrich was ready to get back to Crawford and Davis.

Interestingly, during a conversation with Jack Warner, Warner tells Aldrich he does not see any kind of greatness in him, that he’d always just be a director of B-movies. In reality, Aldrich did go on to have several major hits in the years after Baby Jane including The Flight of the Phoenix, The Dirty Dozen, The Longest Yard and Hustle, with a collection of other well-known titles as well. Of course, he did go back to the Gothic horrors of old movie stars with Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte right after 4 for Texas.

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And then an amazing thing happened — the film was a hit. A smash! Boffo at the box office. Crawford saw it firsthand at a sneak preview screening (which Davis opted not to attend). It was such a hit that the studio booked its stars on a nationwide tour to promote the movie, something Crawford refused to do, buying in to her own doubts about herself and, unfortunately for her, allowing Davis to steal all the thunder, appearing on various talk and variety shows, including one performance on The Andy Williams Show where she sang “What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?” instead of, interestingly, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy”.

But while Davis was basking in the adulation and seeing her star on the rise once again, Crawford was collapsing in on herself, not knowing that two other women were looking out for her. First there was Aldrich’s assistant Pauline, who had written a script in her spare time specifically for Miss Crawford. Instead of taking it to her, or to her boss, Pauline went straight to the source … Mamacita, who seemed in her Teutonic manners not to be impressed at all by Pauline’s script or her desire to also direct, but she was actually very supportive, telling her that in American women had opportunities she never had in her homeland. Oh, if she only knew.

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Hollywood was still a boys’ club, and even after high praise from Aldrich, even he stopped short of telling Pauline he would support her goal to direct a picture. He knew she had the talent and the drive, and he did want to get behind her but he knew Hollywood would never have it. In fact, even Crawford dressed her down for reaching for the stars, really brutally cutting her down, making the situation all about herself by telling Pauline that she wasn’t willing to waste what could be her last shot on Pauline’s first. It was heartbreaking but Pauline held her head high … until she discovered Aldrich had used pages of her script for scrap paper. It’s certainly interesting to see that even today, women in Hollywood are still looked upon, except in rare cases, as second class citizens, having to fight for equal pay with their male counterparts. And behind the camera the situation is even more dire with just a handful of women having directed major Hollywood films since 1962. As Mamacita pointed out even then, the female population was on the way to surpassing the male population, so women would surely have more opportunities in the next ten years. Things may have improved a bit, and Hollywood may change on the outside, but it’s still a boy’s club under the surface.

By the end of the episode, the Oscar nominations have been announced and from the sound of things inside the Crawford household, Mamacita did not have good news for Miss Joan. Will Bette’s Oscar nomination drive a wedge even further between the two women, and will we get to see this carry over into what was to be their next picture together, Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte?

And if you’re wondering, the Pauline character is not a real person, but an amalgamation of several real people, including Aldrich’s secretary Geraldine Hersey, who was actually responsible for bringing Baby Jane to Aldrich’s attention. He credited her with being able to see a film’s potential to make money better than some of the Hollywood experts could.

 

The Andy Williams show excerpt featuring Bette Davis (1962)

The Andy Williams Show

 

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 50th Anniversary (BD) [Blu-ray]

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4 for Texas

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