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The Joan Crawford–Bette Davis Hollywood Rivalry That Inspired FX’s ‘Feud’

UNITED STATES - JANUARY 01: Joan Crawford And Bette Davis In The Movie Whatever Happened To Baby Jane. 1962 (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in ‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.’ 1962 (Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)


On March 5, FX premieres the series Feud. Co-developed by Ryan Murphy (The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story), it will feature what is surely a first in television history: a pair of Oscar winners playing a second pair of Oscar winners. Yes, Jessica Lange (two Oscars and six nominations) is Joan Crawford (one Oscar and three nominations) and Susan Sarandon (one Oscar and five nominations) is Bette Davis (two Oscars and 11 nominations). (If you’re doing the math, that’s a total of six Oscars and 25 nominations between the four women.)

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in between scenes from the film 'What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?', 1962. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Getty Images)
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in between scenes from the film ‘What Ever Happened To Baby Jane’, 1962. (Warner Brothers/Getty Images)


Of course, modern audiences may not be so aware of the two subjects of Feud: Crawford died in 1977 and Davis in 1989. While they were in many successful, celebrated films, surprisingly few of their movies are known today by any but hardcore film buffs; the notable exceptions are Davis’ All About Eve and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which starred both. Indeed, Davis today is arguably best known through Kim Carnes’ absurdly catchy single “Bette Davis Eyes,” and the words “Joan Crawford” bring up images of Faye Dunaway shrieking “No wire hangers!” from 1981’s Mommie Dearest. (It’s based on a memoir by Dunaway’s adopted daughter.) Which means it’s a great time to discover a Hollywood battle that lasted over 40 years and ended only when one of the two women died. (And even that didn’t stop the other from landing a great final insult, as you’ll see below.)

Here are some of the highlights of their mutual hatred:

1935: Getting Dangerous. Davis becomes smitten with her Dangerous costar Franchot Tone. According to legend, Crawford invites Tone to her place and answers the door naked. Tone and Crawford go on to get married.

1945: Another Trophy Bette Wanted. After Davis turns down Mildred Pierce, Crawford takes the role and the Oscar.

1962: Making It Work. The two film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. They unquestionably disliked each other, but there’s still debate over whether they expressed their feelings physically. (Allegedly, Davis kicked Crawford in the head.)

1963: If You Can’t Beat ‘Em … Davis gets an Oscar nomination for Jane; Crawford does not. Crawford notifies each of the other nominees that, should they be unable to attend and happen to win, she will be glad to accept on their behalf.

1977: The Last Word. Learning about the passing of Joan, Bette allegedly quips, “You should never say bad things about the dead, only good … Joan Crawford is dead, Good.”

To discover even more moments in their strange shared history, click here. Below, watch the trailer for their classic, utter crazy collaboration What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.


—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife