So far we’ve seen Bette Davis and Joan Crawford be cordial in their disagreements while working on their film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but with the film now in release and Oscar season in full swing, this Feud is about to take a nasty turn.
Up to this point, some have complained about the show playing a bit too fast and loose with some of the details surrounding the making of Baby Jane and the lives of its stars. So with this week’s episode depicting the bitter Oscar race between stars, one may look at this and think there’s no way even half of this is true. But, according to many sources interviewed for the book Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud, what we saw on TV this week was absolutely true, and maybe even a bit more tame than reality.
Of course both women expected to be nominated for their roles in the movie, but when Joan was passed over and Bette snagged a nom for what many expected to be her third Oscar — making her the first person to win three — the cordiality of their dislike went away, blooming into full on acrimony. But was it just sour grapes on Crawford’s part or did Davis take it too far by rubbing Joan’s nose in it? According to Davis’ friend Olivia De Havilland, Bette was the one who escalated the feud by failing to be the least bit gracious, instead showing everyone how badly she wanted that win and at any cost.
But that cost came at her expense when she basically drove Crawford to mount a campaign against her co-star, with the help of her “friend” Hedda Hopper (of course, Hopper saw herself the beneficiary of this feud by bringing more eyeballs to her gossip column). Hopper convinced Crawford that they would mount a joint campaign against Davis, sort of what today we’d call a “good cop/bad cop” scenario with Joan phoning their contemporaries and talking up how well Davis’ rivals did in their roles, while Hopper used her poison pen and influence to drag Davis’ name through the mud.
Crawford wanted so badly to take Davis’ Oscar glory away from her that she even approached Anne Bancroft (nominated for The Miracle Worker) back stage after a Broadway performance, and phoned Geraldine Page (Sweet Bird of Youth) to indirectly offer her services on Oscar night accepting the award for them so neither of them would have to leave New York. Page did confirm that Crawford had called her to offer such an arrangement, and evidence suggests she also made a similar arrangement with Bancroft who wanted Patty Duke to accept for her, but the Academy nixed that idea because Duke herself was nominated for Supporting Actress for the same movie. What isn’t so certain, but it added a bit of pathos to the story, is the both Page and Bancroft praised Crawford’s work and both felt it only right that she accept for them, feeling she needed that moment more than either of them did.
In the episode, Crawford also marched into the office of the Academy president Wendell Corey and asked to present either Best Director or Best Picture, and demanded a full hair and makeup crew, plus a car and driver. Crawford did star with Corey in Harriet Craig but this story seems apocryphal, having come only from Davis herself who swore it happened. It is true, however, that Crawford was decked out in a silver Edith Head gown and silver adornments from head to toe, including the silver powder sprinkled into her hair. Crawford also did turn the green room into her own party area, blatantly disregarding Academy bylaws.
In the end, Davis could not withstand the onslaught of the Hopper/Crawford anti-campaign against her, giving Anne Bancroft the win for Best Actress (Patty Duke also won that evening), allowing Crawford to steal the spotlight from Davis as she marched on stage to claim the award for Bancroft, shocking and humiliating Davis in the process. But even though the Oscar did not actually belong to Crawford, she made sure all the press saw her holding it, almost forgetting about all the other actual winners.
The episode ended with Crawford taking the Oscar home with her and setting it next to her one and only statuette. It seems unlikely that the Academy would have allowed her to do that as they need to engrave the plate and ship the award to the rightful winner, but it gave us one last moment with the now sullen Crawford staring at the golden prizes, suddenly coming to the realization that even though she won the night from Davis, she still was not the winner in the eyes of Hollywood. (Footnote: In real life, Crawford did fly to New York to present the Oscar to Bancroft on stage at her Broadway show Mother Courage and Her Children.)
With only three episodes to go, what can we expect next? Well, it looks like we are going to get into the beginning stages of the production of Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte which was to reunite the two women for another Gothic horror film. If you’ve seen the movie, you know it doesn’t end well for one of them.