Why Did Joan Crawford and Bette Davis 'Feud'? Here's Everything You Need to Know Before Watching!
By Leanne Aguilera
Hell hath no fury like two Hollywood actresses scorned!
That's the exact premise behind season one of FX's newest anthology series, Feud: Bette and Joan, which premieres this Sunday, March 5. The limited series, which heralds from the mind of executive producer Ryan Murphy, stars A-list actresses Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon as Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, respectively, and fixates on the bitter, lifelong rivalry between them.
But before you tune in, we've crafted the ultimate Feud cheat sheet to break down all the real-life drama!
Who Is Joan Crawford? Born Lucille Fay LeSueur in 1904, Crawford (Lange) became one of Hollywood's most prominent movie stars and one of the highest paid women in the United States during the late 1920s and early 1930s. However, by the end of the 1930s, her films began losing money and she was labeled "Box Office Poison." She made a major big-screen comeback in 1945 when she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her work in Mildred Pierce, and Best Actress nominations for Possessed (1947) and Sudden Fear (1952), but after that, roles for her in Hollywood were few and far between. Crawford adopted five children and married four times, with her first three ending in divorce and the last ending with the death of her husband, Alfred Steele, who was the company chairman for Pepsi-Cola Company. She died in 1977.
Who Is Bette Davis? Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (Sarandon) was born in 1908 and moved to Hollywood in the 1930s after establishing herself as a reputable Broadway actress. Over the course of her career, Davis was heralded as one of American cinema's most celebrated leading ladies due to her willingness to play unsympathetic, sardonic characters. She earned two Academy Awards for Best Actress for her performances in Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) and a total of 10 Best Actress nominations -- a first for any actress to do. After All About Eve (1950), in which she starred alongside Gary Merrill, her fourth and final husband, and The Star (1952), Davis' career began to decline. Married four times -- once widowed and three times divorced -- Davis and raised her three children as a single parent. She died in 1989.
Why Did Their Feud Start? Over the course of their careers, many factors contributed to Crawford and Davis' decades-long feud, but it all started in the mid-1930s with a clichéd Hollywood problem: they both liked the same man, Franchot Tone. In 1935, Davis co-starred with Tone in the drama Dangerous and she quickly fell for him, but in this real-life love triangle, it was Crawford who caught Tone's eye. Shortly after Dangerous wrapped, Crawford and Tone tied the knot, and even though their marriage only lasted a few years, this was the catalyst for the two actresses' bitter rivalry. In 1943, Crawford left MGM and signed with Davis' home studio, Warner Brothers, putting the women in direct competition for roles. Two years later, Crawford starred in Mildred Pierce -- a role Davis turned down -- and won an Oscar for her performance, thus adding fuel to the fire.
What Is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? With both Crawford and Davis' careers in a middle-aged rut, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was the silver-screen key to reviving their reputations in Hollywood. The 1962 psychological thriller, based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell, centered on the destructive relationship between two sisters. "Baby Jane" Hudson (Davis), a former vaudeville child star, holds her paralyzed sister, Blanche (Crawford), captive in a crumbling mansion in Los Angeles. Desperate to resurrect her failing career, Crawford, who was the first to sign on to the film, put her ego aside and flew out to New York to personally coax Davis to play Baby Jane and, surprisingly, she accepted.
What Happened During Filming? Despite the fact that both actresses knew that they needed What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to be a box office hit, many subtle (and not-so-subtle!) jabs were exchanged during the film's production. They fought over who would be featured in the left-hand-side of photographs -- thus securing first mention in the newspapers -- and publicly spread hateful rumors about each other. Since Crawford was married to the CEO of Pepsi at the time, Davis had a Coca-Cola machine installed in her dressing room. When Davis needed to drag Crawford's seemingly lifeless body across the floor during a scene, Crawford wore a lead-lined belt to add additional weight to irritate Davis' bad back. During the filming of a Baby Jane fight scene, Davis actually ended up kicking Crawford in the head and later gleefully spoke about what fun it was to get to push Crawford down a flight of stairs in a scene.
What Happened After the Movie? After filming was completed, their public comments against each other continued and propelled their animosity into a lifelong feud. Baby Jane, which was a surprise box office hit, gathered widespread critical and acclaim and was later nominated for five Academy Awards -- including Best Actress for Davis. In order to get back at Davis for not being nominated herself, Crawford secretly contacted each of the other Oscar nominees in the Best Actress category (Katharine Hepburn, Lee Remick, Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft), to let them know that if they could not attend the ceremony, she would be happy to accept the Oscar on their behalf. At the Academy Awards in 1963, both Davis and Crawford were backstage when the absent Bancroft was announced as the winner, and Crawford accepted the award for her.
How Did Their Feud End? Naturally, the studios wanted more of their highly publicized rivalry, and the women signed on for another psychological thriller, Hush . . . Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964. Crawford left less than two weeks into filming, claiming illness, but most agreed she simply didn’t want to be upstaged again. In the end, the two actresses' feud lasted past Crawford's death in 1977, when Davis allegedly got the last word in. "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good,” she reportedly said. “Joan Crawford is dead … Good!"
Feud: Bette and Joan premieres Sunday, March 5 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on FX.