If you've been watching Ryan Murphy's latest anthology series Feud on FX, you've probably noticed that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford weren't exactly one another's biggest fans. Although each begrudgingly admitted the other was talented, the only reason they were willing to collaborate on Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? was because they struggled to find roles in an ageist, sexist industry that lost interest in their talent once younger actresses like Marilyn Monroe burst onto the scene. Although they already despised each other, Jack Warner urged Robert Aldrich to create even more tension and fury between the two, claiming that it would improve their performances and generate much-needed attention for the film. The movie turned out to be a surprise box office smash, but did Bette Davis and Joan Crawford work together after Baby Jane?
The feud between the two didn’t end when the filming wrapped up. The most high-profile moment came when Bette Davis received a Best Actress nomination and Joan Crawford did not. Crawford, of course, believed she’d been snubbed and was furious that Davis got this accolade. On Oscar night, Anne Bancroft was named Best Actress — but Crawford accepted the award on her behalf thanks to a stealthy arrangement she’d made with nominees who couldn’t attend the ceremony — and, in the end, thoroughly upstaging her co-star.
So, it’s not terrible surprising that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? marked the last time Davis and Crawford appeared onscreen together.
It is surprising is that the pair agreed to collaborate one more time. But, things didn’t exactly work out. Hoping to build off Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?’s success, director Robert Aldrich attempted to re-team the pair for a film called Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). It was initially titled Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?, but Davis pointed out that the public may think it was a sequel to Baby Jane.
Crawford accepted the role of Miriam Deering on the condition that she got top billing — but she dropped out less than a week after they began shooting, citing illness as the reason. Davis had agreed that top billing could go to Crawford, but she had a request of her own — higher pay than her would-be costar. Davis also demanded that she earn as much as Aldrich, who both directed and produced the film.
When Crawford dropped out, offscreen drama ensued once again. In the book Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Alain Silver and James Ursini wrote that:
Shooting was suspended indefinitely on July 4, and the production company demanded that Crawford be immediately replaced or the production would be cancelled altogether. Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Barbara Stanwyck, and Loretta Young all declined, and Davis suggested her friend Olivia de Havilland, who agreed to take on the role despite the fact that she was less than enthusiastic about it.
Of course, Crawford wasn’t forgotten simply because she wasn’t on set. According to media historian Hal Erickson, “[o]n the first day of shooting, Davis and de Havilland pulled a "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" routine by toasting one another with Coca-Cola - a catty observation of the fact that Joan Crawford's husband was an executive of the Pepsi-Cola company!"
This feud truly was one for the ages.