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Secrets of the Joan Crawford / Bette Davis Feud

Jessica Frye
Jessica Frye

Updated on July 17, 2024

Feuds. They are juicy. They are fun to watch but they are definitely not something one wants to be a part of. Unless you’re talking about Old Hollywood where feuds abound. None were juicier and more talked about than the one between actresses, Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.

bette davis and joan crawford
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford on set of “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

First of all, it must be said that Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange owned their roles as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. One wonders just how into their parts the actresses got. Will there be a book about the behind-the-scenes of Feud at some point? Oh sure, they’re all smiles in interviews but things are different for actresses these days. Being snide just isn’t done with all the social media watchdogs. Though it really does seem that things were quite friendly on set. Darn.

Speaking of actresses these days, it appears that Ryan Murphy did this series to highlight what women go through in the industry. In a SiriusXM town hall discussion, Murphy stated, “It is about two women who have reached this point in their lives where they’re just sort of at the height of their powers, and yet the industry has said, ‘There are no roles available for you anymore.” Murphy wanted to bring this to light because not much has changed.

susan sarandon as bette davis and Jessica lange as joan crawford in Feud
Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica lange as Joan Crawford in FX’s “Feud”

But enough about all that. Let’s get catty with the cast. Shall we?

The FX “Feud” Cast: What Would Joan Crawford and Bette Davis Think?

Wondering who is in the Feud FX cast? A juicy cast it is. Crawford would uproariously applaud Jessica Lange as her doppelganger. They really did a great job making her look the part and Lange took the rest on herself, she absolutely was the glamorous Joan Crawford.

Davis would cackle in delight knowing that the scrappy (yet always alluring) Susan Sarandon was the casting choice for her. Those Bette Davis eyes and that mischievous smile, Sarandon nailed it.

The rest of the cast was fantastic. Not only did the series feature Ryan Murphy staples Sarah Paulson (Geraldine Page) and Kathy Bates (Joan Blondell) but Judy Davis was divine as Hedda Hopper, the troublemaker gossip columnist who fed into the Crawford and Davis feud incessantly.

sarah paulson as geraldine page in Feud
Sarah Paulson as Geraldine Page on set of “Feud”

The list goes on; Alfred Molina as director/producer Robert Aldrich, Stanley Tucci(!) as Warner Brothers studio head Jack L. Warner, Catherine Zeta-Jones as the beautiful Olivia de Havilland and the ever maturing Kiernan Shipka as B.D. Merril, Bette Davis’ daughter. Ryan Murphy really knows how to pick a cast and it seems that more and bigger names in the industry want to work with him. More for us.

Stanley Tucci as jack warner in Feud
Stanley Tucci as Jack Warner in “Feud”
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland in "Feud"
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Olivia de Havilland in “Feud”

Evaluating the Word “Feud”

The OED (the Oxford English Dictionary) states the definition of “feud” as; “A prolonged and bitter quarrel or dispute,” or “A state of prolonged mutual hostility, typically between two families or communities, characterized by murderous assaults in revenge for previous injuries.”

According to Shaun Considine in Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud. Davis and Crawford were rivals from the beginning. Probably one of the biggest sparks to this feud was when they both competed for the one and only role of Scarlet O’Hara. Neither of whom won the role but that didn’t stop them from throwing shade at each other from then on.

Let’s see, with the Davis/Crawford feud, we could definitely include “prolonged.” What about “bitter?” According to Conversations with Joan Crawford by Roy Newquist Crawford once said of Davis, “Take away the pop-eyes, the cigarette, and those funny clipped words and what have you got? She’s phony, but I guess the public likes that.” Yeah, “bitter” works.

“Mutual hostility? Check. “Murderous assaults?” That one is a little more ambiguous. However, Bette Davis once said, “The best time I ever had with Joan Crawford was when I pushed her down the stairs in ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’” That almost qualifies.

So What is “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

The film, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” which most of “Feud” season one is based around, is classified as a psychological horror film about two sisters in the entertainment industry who hate each other. Sound familiar?

“Baby Jane” Hudson (Bette Davis) was a child star who fades into obscurity as she gets older just in time for her sister Blanche Hudson (Joan Crawford) to find success as a film actress. There is a lot of jealousy and animosity on the part of Jane.

bette davis and joan crawford in what ever happened to baby jane
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane”

When Blanche is in a mysterious accident, she becomes paralyzed and has to be taken care of by Jane. Oh, this is where the magic happens. Jane descends into mental illness while self-medicating with alcohol and Blanche gets treated with harrowing cruelty.

It becomes a twisted tale of sisters who are terrible to each other. Secrets are revealed and deaths occur. It’s a classic film that everybody should see. The Crawford and Davis feud was a driving force to the success of the whole thing. It was a magical recipe in many ways.

So a movie this good, with these actresses just had to have a juicy behind-the-scenes. And boy does it. Episodes three and six of “Feud” capture the very essence of not only their feud but every feud, in all its glory.

feud promo poster
Promotional Poster for FX’s “Feud”

What Happened On “Feud” Season 1 Episode 3 – Joan Gets Drunk on the  Beach

“Mommy Dearest” the title of the episode – taken from Joan Crawford’s daughter’s book – gets into the meat of filming the iconic movie that ironically mirrors the Crawford and Davis feud but we also get into the meat of something else. Motherhood. Joan and Bette as daughters and then mothers, both roles reflecting each other in the best and worst ways. Not only is this the theme of the episode but it sets up a delicate house of cards between the ladies.

Feud bette and joan season 2 episode 3
Snapshot of “Feud” Season 2 Episode 3

To kick things off, Bette’s daughter is caught teaching Joan’s twin daughters how to smoke seductively and this causes all kinds of drama, as you can imagine. To try to soften Joan, Bette takes it upon herself to go out to drinks with her rival and discuss parenting. This leads into some harrowing tales of childhood from both ladies and it looks like there might be some sort of civility happening.

Leave it to Joan, a woman who sees clothes as good friends, to bring in Hedda, the gossip queen, and knock that house of cards down. This is when things get good. The episode shows a great montage of Davis and Crawford doing devious things to sabotage each other during filming. It’s a great look into the pure hell it must have been to be on this set.

What Happened on “Feud” Season 1 Episode 6 – Bette Gets the Upper Hand

“Hagsploitation,” how could an episode with a title like that not be good? Things are not going well for Joan in this episode. She’s broke and has to take on humiliating film roles. Her tool of troublemaking, Hedda the gossip hound, is dying and as one of her last pieces, she has let Joan know that she is going to follow a lead that Joan did porn. Say what? Joan, of course, is not happy and there is a whole mess with her brother. How did she know to go to her brother?

Davis, on the other hand, is having a carefree time. Oh sure, she might be doing television but when their old director pal, Bob (Stanley Tucci) wants to bring Bette and Joan in on another project, “What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? ” she gets to turn her nose up, for a second. Of course, she relents and when she does, she finds out that Bob is getting a divorce and doesn’t know how to be alone, that’s perfect because neither does she.

As all this is happening, Joan loses her brother and even though it was complicated, it is still a loss. She begrudgingly agrees to do the film with Bette and finds herself out in the cold with the Bette and Bob pairing. Joan is not happy.

We know Bette getting the upper hand doesn’t last. No side of any rivalry ever has the upper hand for long. That’s why they are so much fun to watch and observe. “Feud” is very good at depicting this aspect of rivalry and “Hagsploitation” is almost a hard-to-watch example because Joan is so down.

Did the FX series get “Feud” right?

For those of you wondering how accurate FX’s series “Feud” is…every fact checking mission seems to pretty much check out. Ryan and his crew did their homework on Joan and Bette quite well. There were some embellishments and ambiguities (Did Joan do porn? It’s still unclear!) but no real fictional takes on anything that happened. Murphy’s documentary style for the series is very fitting as he got as close to true as a series like this can get. That makes the show just that much juicier.

What Are We in for with FX’s “Feud” Season 2?

Buckle your seatbelts because if you thought things were tense this season. Next season Murphy takes on the British Royalty with Prince Charles and Princess Diana divorce. Be still my heart.

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Jessica Frye
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Jessica Frye

Jessica loves two things most in this world; celebrities and her dog. She can be seen walking along Venice Beach with her yellow lab mix in tow, staring off into the sky hoping that looking uninterested and deep will get her discovered. She may or may not have followed Justin Timberlake's every move back in the day but now she is content to write out her obsession for Velvet Ropes along with ghost writing novels about celebrity romance. Jessica recently decided to bring her passions to Twitter. When she's not busy writing and making plans for her celebrity life after being discovered, you can find her there.