Most people would assume that, after the disaster that was the 1963 Oscars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford wouldn’t agree to be in the same room together, much less re-team to make another film – they would be wrong. Although it had been a huge success for the studio, Baby Jane had failed to re-ignite Davis and Crawford’s careers. As a result, the two aging actresses had been left to make gimmicky horror films such as the Crawford vehicle Strait-Jacket, the meticulously re-created trailer of which the audience sees at the beginning of the first of two episodes dedicated to the making of Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, the ill-fated follow up to Baby Jane.
Originally envisioned as What Ever Happened to Sweet Charlotte, the film was part of the so-called “Hagsploitation” genre. A genre, explained Jack Warner, that he created to showcase formerly “too beautiful” movie stars being degraded. The audiences was eating it up, and box office numbers were soaring. Warner wanted Bette and Joan to star in his next hagsploitation hit. Set to direct the Baby Jane follow up, Bob Aldrich initially refused to work with Bette and Joan together again, they were just too difficult, he explained. But Warner wouldn’t take no for an answer, and so Aldrich worked to sign the two actresses – for a price. Joan required that she be given top billing. Bette wanted an associate producer credit.
And yet, it became clear very quickly that Joan won’t survive another film with Bette. She’s throwing things at Mamacita, drinking too much, and making demands that just can’t be met on the film set in Louisiana. And the feud continues from day one. Since Bette is an associated producer, that gives her creative control over the film and she uses that control to critique Joan’s performance at every turn. When Joan overhears Bette, Bob and half the crew making light of Joan’s performance, it’s the last straw. And so begins a month-long illness that no doctor can quite diagnose. Joan, it’s clear, has decided that if she can’t get her way on set, she will delay the film.
Despite visits from the production staff and threats of a lawsuit, Joan is sure that her plot will eventually work. The studio won’t be able to replace her, she surmises, so they will give in to her creative demands. She’s wrong. The studio finds a replacement in Bette’s BFF Olivia de Havilland and Joan is out. The studio fires her. Outraged, Joan lashes out at Mamacita, her only friend. But Mamacita has had enough too and she quits. Joan is left really and truly alone, and the second Joan and Bette film does on without it’s former movie queen.
Can you believe that our next episode is the last??? We will be livetweeting the 8th and final episode of Feud: Bette and Joan tonight. Then check back with us for a recap of the show and the epic feud between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis next week.