After learning about Feud — the upcoming show about epic fights, a la Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — and after watching All About Eve for the umpteenth time, I thought I’d tell a couple of stories I’d read about Davis and Crawford from both Dark Victory: The Life Of Bette Davis by Ed Sikov and Not The Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford by Charlotte Chandler.
So ... how did the feud star you might ask? Over a man, of course, an actor named Franchot Tone.
Bette was starring alongside Franchot in the 1935 film Dangerous, a part for which she won her first Academy Award, and the two fell in, well, most likely, lust:
“I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately. Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.”
But then along came Joan; Crawford, at that time, was an MGM star, and also newly divorced and looking for husband number whatever. Legend has it that when she heard of the Davis-Tone affair, she invited Franchot to her house for dinner and greeted him in the nude. Now, whether or not that happened, Joan made sure Bette knew about their liaison.
”He was madly in love with her. They met each day for lunch … he would return to the [Dangerous] set, his face covered in lipstick … He was honored this great star was in love with him. I was jealous of course.”
Still, Bette wasn’t happy about Crawford stealing her beau; she took to calling Crawford a shallow “mannequin” with eyebrows like “African caterpillars” whilst she was a serious, theatre-trained performer. She also called into question Joan’s reputation for being easy to bed by most male Hollywood stars:
“She slept with every male star at MGM, except Lassie.”
“Poor Bette. She looks like she’s never had a happy day … or night … in her life.”
And the feud grew worse in 1943, when Crawford was fired from MGM and signed with Warner Bros, the home of, yes, Bette Davis. Two years later, Joan Crawford won an Academy Award for Mildred Pierce — a part Davis turned down which probably added fuel the fire.
But it wasn’t until 1962 that the feud came to a full boil when both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford signed up to appear on screen together for the first time in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, the story of two former film stars living a lonely existence in their Hollywood mansion.
Joan was married to the CEO of Pepsi Cola at that time and so she had Pepsi made available to the cast and crew every day; Bette, of course, was a Coca Cola girl, dontcha know, and so she had a Coke machine installed in her dressing room to dole out free bottles to the entire crew.
For the scene in which Bette drags Joan across the floor, Crawford decided to make the haul heavier by filling the pockets of her costume with rocks.
Baby Jane enjoyed rave reviews and widespread acclaim and Bette Davis was once again nominated for a Best Actress Oscar; Crawford was not. And Joan Crawford was not at all pleased about this turn of events. She called all the other Best Actress nominees and offered to accept their awards if they won and, strangely, all the other women agreed.
So, on Oscar night, Davis and Crawford were both seated and waiting for the announcement of Best Actress: Bette was sure she’d win but … Anne Bancroft won for the Miracle Worker and then, to Bette’s horror, Joan Crawford stepped forward to rapturous applause to accept on Bancroft’s behalf.
“I almost dropped dead! I was paralyzed with shock. To deliberately upstage me like that- her behavior was despicable.” — Bette Davis
But it wasn’t over, yet. Given the success of Baby Jane, Davis and Crawford were signed to do Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte. Yes, it was called that until Bette said she hated it and suggested Hush … Hush Sweet Charlotte.
Neither woman was happy to work together again, so Bette demanded a higher paycheck than Crawford and Crawford doubled down by decreeing that her name be first above the title.
There were other differences; Crawford demanded she be treated like a movie star while Davis mingled with the cast and crew; Bette walked everywhere on the plantation location, while Joan was driven around the set in a golf cart. Joan left each day in a limousine with her maid while Bette hitched a ride back to the hotel with the crew.
What? You don’t remember Crawford in that film? Well, that’s because after working just four days on the production legend has it that Crawford chickened out of appearing alongside Davis again and checked herself into Cedars of Lebanon Hospital and refused to return to the set. She was eventually replaced by Olivia de Havilland.
Still, wouldn’t that have been something … in that film, it would have been Crawford’s turn to torment Davis’ character. Too bad she chickened out …