Bette Davis And Joan Crawford: Inside The Famous Feud That Will Play Out On TV 50 Years Later

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were known for their big movie roles, but the late silver screen legends will now take over the small screen in Ryan Murphy’s latest FX anthology series. Davis and Crawford will be the subject of Feud, Murphy’s upcoming anthology series about famous feuds, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The eight-episode first season of Feud will focus on Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s notorious feud which hit its peak during the making of the 1962 film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. Jessica Lange will play Crawford while Susan Sarandon will play Bette Davis in the new FX series.


The feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford has was well documented, but the actress’ rivalry heated up when Davis received an Oscar nod in 1963 for her performance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane and Crawford didn’t. Davis lost the Oscar to Anne Bancroft (The Miracle Worker), but Joan Crawford put salt in the wound by accepting the award on Bancroft’s behalf.

While Bette Davis played Crawford’s aging sister in their 1962 psychological thriller, their off-screen relationship was anything but sisterly. According to Flavorwire, Bette Davis once said that her favorite scene in the movie was when she pushed her rival co-star down the stairs.

“The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs in whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

But, Bette Davis’ feud with her co-star was more than a movie rivalry. The movie website Queens of Vintage reveals that the catfight between Davis and her nemesis originally started over a man. Bette Davis won her first Academy Award for her role opposite Franchot Tone in the 1935 film Dangerous, but when they were shooting the film, Davis was more interested in winning the actor’s heart.

“I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately,” Davis reportedly said. “Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.”

Enter Joan Crawford, MGM’s newly divorced, reigning sex symbol, who soon invited Tone over for dinner and greeted him naked while lounging in her solarium. The two began a torrid affair that led to a 3-year marriage, and Davis later admitted she was extremely jealous over it.

“They met each day for lunch…he would return to the set, his face covered in lipstick,” Bette said. “He was honored this great star was in love with him. I was jealous of course.”

Davis reportedly also described her rival as a shallow “mannequin” with eyebrows like “African caterpillars,” and she accused the rival actress of sleeping her way to the top.

“She slept with every male star at MGM, except Lassie.”

By the time the two rivals made Baby Jane decades later, Joan was the widow of Pepsi-Cola CEO Alfred Steele, so Bette Davis went so far as to have a Coca-Cola machine installed in her dressing room. To get her back, Crawford was rumored to have filled her pockets with rocks for a grueling Baby Jane scene in which Bette Davis had to drag her across the floor.

In a 1963 interview with Hedda Hopper for the Los Angeles Times, Bette Davis teased that her feud with her co-star made for good copy for their joint film.

“Will it be disappointing if we get along well?” Bette mused. “Of course, there’s not a prayer they’ll admit everything is friendly — the other situation makes a better story. If I’m concentrating on what I’m doing, I can look as if I don’t know anybody else is around.”

In the same interview, Crawford called Davis out for not saying good morning to anyone on the set.

“I get absent-minded about things and this can be mistaken for something else,” Bette said.

Crawford said she had no problem with Bette Davis getting top billing in the movie because she played the title role, and that she relished the fact that she could watch her movie rival play the villain for once.

“I’m the crippled sister in a wheelchair,” Joan said. “When we rehearsed this morning Bette practically tore the set up. She whirled my wheelchair around and lifted it 6 inches from the floor. This is wonderful for me; I usually play the b*tches. Now I can sit and watch Bette do it.”

Fast forward to the ’80s: Crawford was the subject of a book and an expose movie—the damning Mommie Dearest, penned by her adopted daughter, Christina, while Bette Davis was immortalized in the 1981 Kim Carnes song “Bette Davis Eyes.”

Not only did Bette Davis have a difficult relationship with Joan Crawford, but the temperamental Hollywood legend butted heads in press interviews, too. In an interview on Oprah: Where Are They Now?, TV host Leeza Gibbons said Bette Davis was the most uncomfortable interview she ever did.

“I think the most difficult interview — for many people — was Bette Davis,” Gibbons said. “She didn’t really enjoy the process.”

Gibbons said Davis shut her down when she tried to make small talk as the crew was setting up for the interview, and she described her 25-minute silent standoff with the movie queen as “the most uncomfortable 25 minutes” of her career.

As for her most notorious rival, Joan Crawford died more than a decade before Bette Davis, so Davis ultimately got the last word. When her longtime nemesis died in 1977, Davis reportedly let her acid tongue fly one final time.

“You should never say bad things about the dead, only good…Joan Crawford is dead…Good.”

Take a look at the video below to see Bette Davis in the trailer for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane.

[Photo: Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons]