In Celebration of Old Hollywood Nastiness: Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford
With the truly majestic word that Ryan Murphy will be bringing the Bette Davis/Joan Crawford feud to our television screens, we will be at long last treated to the best Hollywood feud story of all time, something that still to this day has affected how we view celebrities and their friendships and foeships. You hate the nonsensical, vapid focus on famous people and their battles? Cool. You must be fun at parties. But it started here—often imitated, never fantastically, wondrously duplicated. When it comes to sheer, unmanaged, intelligent cruelty, Davis and Crawford were masters. As we would later learn of Crawford, that cruelty impacted all areas of her life. An abusive, terrible parent with ice in her veins. But between her and Davis, it was an art form and a vital part of Hollywood history and tabloid tradition.
Like all things, it started over a boy. Bette Davis fell in love with her co-star, Franchot Tone. Tone married Joan Crawford. And then the two just didn’t like each other. How dull.
As Davis began to become a major star, Crawford tried to befriend her, sending her flowers. Davis shrugged this off as “lesbian overtures” (Crawford was reportedly bisexual and there are those who speculate she was in love with Davis.)
Quotes that display why I’m eternally Team Bette…
“Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it’s because I’m not a bitch. Maybe that’s why [Joan Crawford] always plays ladies.”
“She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie.”
“I wouldn’t piss on her if she was on fire.”
“The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane…
Things did not go great on this set.
In one scene, Davis “accidentally” hit Crawford. Davis maintained she “barely touched her,” while others say Crawford needed stitches. Crawford got revenge during a scene where Davis had to carry her. Davis had a bad back, and Crawford made herself as heavy as possible—reportedly wearing a weightlifter belt and filling her pockets with metal. Even the director, Robert Aldrich, said “Crawford wanted Bette to suffer.”
In 1963, Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Her costar was not. Crawford wrote letters to the other nominated actresses saying if they won and were not in attendance, she’d happily accept in their absence.
Anne Bancroft did not attend. Start at 1:11 to see Joan Crawford completely unable to contain her joy.
Davis would say of the joyful acceptance: “I almost dropped dead! I was paralysed with shock. To deliberately upstage me like that—her behavior was despicable.”
Not that kind of coke. The two were supposed to reunite in 1964’s Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Crawford, as a board member of Pepsi-Cola and the widow of the company’s CEO, had a Pepsi machine installed on set. Mysteriously, someone (it was Bette Davis) had a Coca-Cola machine installed days later. Crawford soon dropped out of the film citing pneumonia, and no one bought that (the director even had her followed to confirm).
The “I don’t know her”…
“Enemies? I have no enemies. Who?”
“Joan Crawford?” ventured the journalist.
In a tone of “sugared innocence, Davis insisted: “Miss Crawford and I weren’t enemies. We made one film together. We didn’t know each other at all.”
The final word…
“You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good … Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”