The Truth Behind 'Feud's Beauty Routines Proves That Joan Crawford Was Desperate To Fight Aging

Prashant Gupta/FX

If you've ever longed for a behind the scenes glimpse at a Hollywood rivalry, Ryan Murphy's Feud: Bette & Joan is as good as it gets. Although watching Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon exchange barbs doesn't seem like it'll get old anytime in the near future, the series also provides viewers with an in-depth look at the filmmaking process of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? and that's pretty fascinating in itself. One thing the two stars had in common was a battle against a sexist, ageist industry — so it's no surprise that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford's beauty routines on Feud are getting plenty of screentime.

In the pilot, viewers saw Crawford fight the aging process tooth and nail — she has an employee apply lotion to her face and neck, rubs lemons on her elbows as a matter of routine, and (in a moment that made me shiver from just watching) immerses her face in ice water. Of course, there is plenty of artistic license on Feud so I have to wonder if this depiction is entirely accurate. According to House and Garden, Crawford did use ice water on her skin as part of her beauty regimen — the actor would cleanse her face and then splash it with cold water for 25 minutes. This is decidedly less dramatic than plunging your head into a bucket of icy water, but it still sounds pretty miserable IMHO. In her book My Way of Life, Crawford described moisturizer as "probably the most blessed invention of the past two decades," so it's safe to say it was a key part of her beauty routine — but it seems more likely than not that she applied her own moisturizer when she was at home.

Suzanne Tenner/FX

Based on what's known of Crawford's personal beauty habits, it's no surprise that she was not especially eager to appear onscreen in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? looking less than pristine — even though her character was an invalid who had been homebound for 20 years. According to TCM's movie page, Davis had some strong opinions about her co-star's approach to makeup:

"It was a constant battle to get her not to look gorgeous. She wanted her hair well dressed, her gowns beautiful and her fingernails with red nail polish. For the part of an invalid who had been cooped up in a room for twenty years, she wanted to look attractive. She was wrong."

However, Davis added that Robert Aldrich slowly convinced Crawford to get rid of some of these habits — she claims he once spent an "entire morning" persuading her to take off her nail polish before filming a scene that showed her hand on a staircase railing. Although I'd take Davis' descriptions with a grain or two of salt, Crawford's longtime makeup artist Montague George Westmore, II also said the actress was vigilant about having the perfect makeup onset. According to Westmore, who worked with Crawford on multiple films including Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, it typically took three hours to get ready in the morning:

"[W]hile I was eating [breakfast], she’d make herself up. She let me apply her false eyelashes once, but it made her a nervous wreck, and me a nervous wreck. I’d lay out her makeup, step by step. She was very fussy about her false eyelashes and would discard the used ones after a day. For each film, I’d have to curl a gross of them. She wanted them in perfect circles, with the tips touching the back, so that while she lathered up her cake mascara–it was this German stuff she’d spit on–they’d uncurl right where she wanted them... She covered her freckles with Max Factor greasepaint in a tube and put Westmore powder on top. Her eyebrows were natural—she’d just put a little mascara on the ends."

Davis, on the other hand, relished the idea of making herself look purposely dreadful. According to TCM, she decided early on that she wanted to be responsible for creating the makeup of her character. "What I had in mind no professional makeup man would have dared to put on me," Davis said. "One told me he was afraid that if he did what I wanted, he might never work again." When Davis got inside her character's head, she imagined that Jane never washed her face and, instead, simply added another layer of makeup each day. The actor was reportedly thrilled when the original Baby Jane author Henry Farrell visited the set and told her that she looked exactly as he had imagined the character — proving just how important makeup can be on a film.