I'm keeping track of all the things I've learned from Feud: Bette And Joan so far: Acting talent isn't hereditary, lounge wear was much cooler in the '60s, and Bette Davis and Joan Crawford never met a topic they couldn't have a knockdown drag-out fight over. As production is starting to wrap on Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? in the series, the actors are looking towards — and bickering about — industry reception. Who'll benefit the most from the picture? And which of them will win the Academy Award? Barring a tie, only one woman can. And it wasn't the woman Davis expected. Crawford didn't even get an Oscar nomination for Baby Jane, but she still walked away with a statue.
I love this story because it's a masterclass in how to be petty. No one has even pulled a pettier stunt than Joan Crawford at the 1963 Oscars. Here's what happened: Bette Davis was nominated for the Oscar for her performance as the demented ghost of a child star, Baby Jane, alongside Katherine Hepburn for Long Day's Journey Into Night, Geraldine Page for Sweet Bird Of Youth, Lee Remick for Days Of Wine And Roses, and Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker. Crawford was snubbed by the Academy. And this must have stung, especially since it was her idea to work with Davis on this project anyway.
But as you must have gathered by now from Feud, Crawford was not a woman to crawl away to lick her wounds after a defeat. Instead, she worked out a scheme to get her second triumphant Academy Awards moment, regardless of that pesky lack of a nomination. (She won the Best Actress Oscar in 1946 for Mildred Pierce.) According to The New York Post, Crawford wrote letters to Page and Bancroft. She knew they were both in New York, and kindly offered to accept the award on their behalf in the event that one of them won and was not able to attend the ceremony in Los Angeles.
Anne Bancroft won the Best Actress Oscar at the 1963 ceremony. Her proxy, Joan Crawford, accepted the award for her. Davis, I presume, was seething silently in the audience. Video of this moment thankfully exists. Please observe Crawford's complete lack of shame. (Bonus Vegas comedy by Frank Sinatra!)
But the fun didn't stop there. Photographers were on-hand later to capture the moment when Crawford brought Bancroft her Oscar directly to the Broadway theater where the latter was starring in Mother Courage And Her Children.
1960s show biz: Anne Bancroft, on-stage as Mother Courage, finally gets her Oscar as presented by Joan Crawford, for THE MIRACLE WORKER. pic.twitter.com/3kCiNgBonN— Jon Sieruga (@Moonspinner55) October 5, 2016
Though it appears on Feud that Davis thought Crawford capable of anything, her coup at the Oscars surprised even the nemesis who knew her best. According to Vulture, Davis spoke later of the moment that Crawford strolled onstage to collect Bancroft's award, saying, "I almost dropped dead! I was paralyzed with shock. To deliberately upstage me like that — her behavior was despicable."
The FX series examines the showbiz misogyny that fanned the flames of Davis and Crawford's bitter battle, and it's all very disturbing and sad. But there was an honesty about their blatant rivalry that's lost in the era of air-kissing and chats by the Mani Cam. What Joan Crawford did at the 1963 Oscars was transparently vicious, and she was fine with that.