7 January 2018



'You mean all this time we could have been friends?'

Oh my God. This showbizzy television series about the feud between legendary Hollywood actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford is the best thing to hit our small screens since HBO's mob drama THE SOPRANOS. And Jessica Lange deserves one of those telly Oscars for her role as Joan Crawford. Give her one right now, I say, and never mind the b***ocks. Give her all of them, in fact, she was that good.

I cried buckets as the series drew to a close on BBC2 last night. Best Christmas entertainment ever, bar none. Let's take a look at what exactly went on over the course of the eight drama-and-genuine-human-emotion-fuelled episodes.

I personally learned a load of stuff I hadn't previously known about the two grande dames of cinema. Like the fact that it was Joan Crawford herself who brought the book WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? to the attention of director Robert Aldrich, with a view to his making the picture and casting Joan and her arch-rival Bette Davis in the lead roles.

Neither Joan nor Bette were in the first flush of their youth any longer, and good parts for women over fifty in Hollywood were scarce in those days, as the series makes abundantly clear. Joan thought that a picture with both womens' names behind it would prove to be a huge box-office draw.

She was right, but filming brought major headaches for Robert Aldrich, the director. He had to keep his two lead actresses from clawing each others' eyes out, for one thing, and no sympathy was forthcoming from Jack Warner, the studio head, who made it clear he'd had a gutful of these two particular leading ladies.

Bette's performance in the film was phenomenal, and it was she who'd personally created Baby Jane Hudson's bizarre look of baby-blonde ringlets, chalk-white foundation and garishly painted red lips. It was a spectacularly brave move, making herself so hideous in a film starring her enemy Joan Crawford, but it paid off in spades.

Her Oscar nomination for BEST ACTRESS drove Joan into a screaming fit, but Joan's subsequent disgraceful 'hogging' of Oscar Night probably took all the joy out of it for Bette. Not one of Joanie's finer moments, that.

Both Joan and Bette, though mainly Bette, were in demand after that in the 'hagsploitation' genre as unintentionally spawned by the success of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? The two gals were to co-star again in HUSH HUSH... SWEET CHARLOTTE but Joan ruined that for herself with her spiteful, petty attempts to get the picture dropped. Seems like poor Joan was her own worst enemy at times.

Bette was in demand till more or less the end of her days, while Joan, disgusted by the level to which she felt she'd sunk with her last film, TROG, retired and died alone except for her beloved Mamacita. Like Dolores Claiborne looking after poor old Vera Donovan after she'd had all those strokes and become senile.

This little maid who stuck with Joan Crawford through thick and thin was more of a friend to Joan than any of her useless husbands or even, seemingly, any of her children. The relationship between the two women was lovely and heartbreaking to witness, and pretty true to life, I'd say.

Who else'd be there for any woman at such low times but another woman? Certainly very few men would do it. They rarely care enough. And Hedda Hopper wasn't really Joan's friend. She was just sniffing around for a 'story,' any story. There wasn't much depth of real feeling there.

FEUD demonstrates the Hollywood machine nearly better than anything I've seen yet. Women had to 'keep young and beautiful if they wanted to be loved.' Joanie reveals in the last episode that she had six molar teeth removed early on in her career, with no regard to her future health, to give her the hollow cheekbones the studio bosses (all men!) dictated sold pictures. When the actresses were old and decrepit, they were tossed onto the garbage heap. No wonder they turned to the booze, fags and pills that kept them company in their declining years. What else did they have?

Competition for roles kept women in constant competition with each other, even with their own daughters whose up-and-coming beauty only served as bitter reminders to them of what they were losing themselves. The men, as Bette remarks to her tubby lover Robert Aldrich near the end of the series, never had the same problem. But that's men for you.

 As men age, they merely become distinguished-looking and even more attractive to women, especially to the younger ones. Women merely wither and grow more hideous. Old women are constantly being used as the scare factor in horror films because- seemingly- there ain't nothing more frightening than the sight of a really old woman... I literally don't know what comment to make to that.

Catherine Zeta-Jones was surprisingly good and virtually unrecognisable as Olivia De Havilland, Bette's chum and co-star on HUSH HUSH... SWEET CHARLOTTE. Jackie Hoffman was marvellous as the aforementioned Mamacita, and Susan Sarandon was a wonderful Bette Davis.

It was Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford, however, who stole the show. She played the role with depth, emotional insight and great empathy. Joan came from tough beginnings and dragged herself up by the bootstraps to become one of Hollywood's biggest stars.

She was even blackmailed by her scumbag of a brother over pictures that were taken of her when she was a young starlet on her uppers. Big deal! Every starlet has nudie pictures taken of them. I wouldn't have paid him a red cent. I'd have told him to go f**k himself, show the snaps to whomever wanted to see 'em. Hell, I'd be proud of them, goddammit. They'd be living proof of how far I'd come.

Joan had it rough enough in her later years as well. Except for her maid, she didn't seem to have any friends and she hated the roles she was forced to play to 'keep the goddamn lights on,' as she put it herself.

Even though I personally think that any actress should be proud to act in a horror film, the favourite genre of millions of cinema-goers, I was still crying for her when she was forced to get changed in a crappy van on the set of TROG and when she fantasised in the week before her lonely death that she and Bette were friends.

They could have been friends. They should have been friends. What a friendship that would have been! Two strong, powerful hard-working icons of Hollywood chumming around together, what a difference that might have made to both womens' lives. Instead, Hollywood pitted them against each other because it was more interesting for the gossip columnists and their readers to have them at each others' throats.

Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were Hollywood, and their story is the story of Hollywood. Kudos, FEUD, for telling that wonderful story so absorbingly, kudos. Charles and Diana, next up for the FEUD treatment, will have a lot to live up to.


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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