Two women chasing after Oscar glory, but not ready to meet the finish line in their careers. Facing a sexist industry that had no idea what to do with aging actresses, they turned on each other, literally battling it out for the camera.
The 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? reinvigorated their careers, if only for a moment. It also reinvigorated one of the greatest Hollywood feuds of all time.
In FX's Feud: Bette and Joan, television camp master Ryan Murphy dissects the real-life drama between the two legendary screen queens Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, played with eerie accuracy by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon. It all plays out along the not-so-subtle backdrop of a villainous Hollywood patriarchy that has not changed as much as you'd think. You can't help but take sides while watching these two iconic women manipulate each other.
We saw some advance episodes and quickly chose teams. Stephanie will be defending Bette Davis. Brittany will be defending Joan Crawford. For each category, we will agree on an honorable mention in order to mend what's left of our own friendship. Just remember, in the words of Baby Jane: "All this time, we could have been friends."
Joan Fun fact: Bette Davis passed on the leading role in Mildred Pierce, Joan's only Oscar-winning performance. Joan's later career had more downs than ups, and in the end, she became more of a punch line than acclaimed actor. However, it should be noted that she was a smart businesswoman, having more control over her career than most. She's the reason Baby Jane even came to be after bringing the script to director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina). And she was smart enough to know her limits and give Bette the lead role.
Bette Do we even need to discuss this? I can't believe we're discussing this. Bette Davis is clearly the bigger talent, and her two Oscars (should have been three, as she explains to us over and over, if not for that foul Judy Holliday) aren't even the biggest evidence. She's unafraid to go there, unafraid to look ugly and deranged in pursuit of performance. Joan is more concerned with tightening her facelift strap between takes.
Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess) is a classically trained actor who clearly knows he is above this but remains appropriately giddy to hang out with these two queens.
Joan She's the epitome of Hollywood glamor. Arguably having the first reported case of "eyebrows on fleek," Joan loves a facial and a neck massage. She even knows the value of aerobics to stay fit and firm. But it's her colorful poolside attire that has me swooning. I long for a life dressed in kaftan dresses with a cocktail in hand.
Bette I would like to stand up for Bette here, but … she dresses like a Depression-era farmer. Joan takes it.
Famed gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) is detestable for her meddling, but a woman with that many feathered hats deserves recognition where it's due.
Joan There's practically no competition here, but I do have to mention her shade with the lovely little Anne Bancroft. After a meltdown, darling Joan visits Oscar nominee Anne, who is on Broadway starring in Mother Courage and Her Children. "You performed so lovely in front of a half-empty audience," sneered Joan. That's probably the best compliment you're ever going to get from Ms. Crawford, though.
Bette Bette keeps things direct and plays it cool when subjected to Joan's lilting cutdowns. When a reporter asks, "Care to comment on the fact that Miss Crawford says you look old enough to be her mother?" Bette keeps on walking, sunglasses firmly on. She's not the one throwing shade. She's the one taking cover.
Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman) is Joan's maid and confidant, giver of dry, expressionless remarks. In one scene, she even shades the entire male population of the United States. Bravo.
Joan Her combat skills are not physical. Joan is as sharp as her eyebrows, always one step ahead of whatever game she's controlling. And her cunning manipulations all culminate in one of the best Oscar moments of all time. However, the dirty little tricks Joan plays on the set of Baby Jane — such as putting weights in her dress for a scene in which Bette has to drag her out of bed — are deliciously hilarious.
Bette She kicks Joan square in the head and says, "I barely touched her" while Joan moans wildly on the floor. I think we're done here.
Frank Sinatra (uncredited role). Old Blue Eyes stops short of physical violence, but his verbal abuse scenes are nothing short of chilling.
Joan Yeah, relationships are definitely not her thing. Whether it's trying to coerce directors into bed, or getting her closest confidant Hedda to print the latest gossip, Joan's relationships always come with strings attached. She married four times, and in Feud, we meet her soon after her last husband died. When her robotic twins leave for summer camp, her modestly grand plastic-covered house is empty, and in one heartbreaking scene, Mommie Dearest tries to shrug off her loneliness by uttering, "Being alone doesn't have to mean being lonely." Joan is Joan's best friend, and she knows exactly who she is: Queen Bitch.
Bette Bette has some really solid friendships, not the least of which is with Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Despite a bit of teenage quarreling with her daughter, B.D. (Kiernan Shipka), she seems to really care about her loved ones' well-being, especially when B.D. lands an awkward role in Baby Jane. And we find out some sad, revealing details about another child in Bette's life. When it comes to men, her judgment might not be so sharp, but she still somehow manages a friendly rapport with the male species.
Booze has the best, closest relationship with everyone in this show. Everyone drinks, from sunup to sundown. Joan keeps a bottle of vodka in her bathroom. Bette pours herself a drink while literally calling Joan an alcoholic. Booze knows everyone's secrets.
Contact Stephanie Hayes at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @stephhayes. Contact Brittany Volk at email@example.com. Follow @bevolk.