What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
By 1962, Bette Davis’ days as a leading lady were long over. After successes like Dangerous (1935), Jezebel (1938), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), Now, Voyager (1942), and Mr. Skeffington (1944), Davis became unhappy with the assignments she was provided. Almost all the films she made from 1946-1949 were either financial and/or professional disappointments. Davis was also getting on in age (in Hollywood years anyway, she was only late 30s) and was not being cast in the romantic leading roles she had been given a decade earlier. In 1949, she was cast in the film noir, Beyond the Forest. At the time, Davis knew it was a clunker and the critics like Hedda Hopper provided the same assessment, even going as far to say, “If Bette had deliberately set out to wreck her career, she could not have picked a more appropriate vehicle.” At the conclusion of the filming of Beyond the Forest, Davis was finally released from her contract, after eighteen years with Warner Brothers.
By 1950, Davis was working as a freelancer. After completing Payment on Demand, Davis was offered the leading role of Margo Channing in All About Eve. ‘Eve’ provided Davis with one of her best known roles. While Davis worked steadily after ‘Eve,’ she wasn’t able to recapture the success she achieved in the 1930s-1940s. By the early 1960s, Davis’ career had segued into horror films. She made many horror films during the 1960s-1980s, including: The Nanny (1965), Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Watcher in the Woods (1980). Her most famous one however, is What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). A film that is just as notorious for what went on behind the cameras as what went on in front of them.
In 1962, Davis was cast in Robert Aldrich’s psychological thriller/horror film, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? She was cast alongside longtime rival, Joan Crawford. Davis’ character, “Baby Jane,” was a huge child star. Crawford’s character, Blanche, spent her childhood in Jane’s shadow always standing in the wings watching her sister perform. When the girls reached adulthood, Jane’s star was snuffed out. She was too old to be “Baby Jane” and wasn’t talented enough to be an adult actress. Blanche on the other hand, ended up becoming a famous actress and achieved the Hollywood stardom that Jane always wanted for herself. The pre-credit scenes are a flashback showing the two women’s careers in Hollywood. The sequence ends with one woman purposely hitting the other woman with her car and paralyzing her. It is assumed that Jane is the one who paralyzed Blanche.
The contemporary part of the film depicts Jane and Blanche as they are today–two sisters, former stars, living in a decaying Hollywood mansion. They are living off of Blanche’s money (which is quickly running out) and Jane is her caretaker. Jane however, is insanely jealous of Blanche’s success and career and does what ever she can to torment her. Jane is bonkers and the things she does to Blanche are terrifying. When Jane discovers that Blanche is planning on selling the mansion, her mental health deteriorates even further. She cuts the cord to Blanche’s telephone, essentially cutting her off from the world. Jane also starts tampering with Blanche’s food, making her scared to eat. On one occasion, there was a rat on the platter and on another, a dead bird. Jane ends up catching Blanche on the phone trying to get outside help and she beats Blanche unconscious, gags and binds her and locks her in her bedroom. When Blanche’s cleaning lady returns unexpectedly, Jane murders her.
The levity in the movie (if you can call it that) is when Jane decides that she is going to recapture the fame she experienced during her youth. She dusts off her old sheet music, “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” and hires a pianist (Victor Buono) to accompany her singing. Jane, a woman in her late 50s, still dresses like the 10-year old girl she was when she was superstar Baby Jane. She even still wears her hair in blond ringlets, except for now they’re ringlets of dirty and greasy hair. She also wears pounds of makeup which only highlights how haggard she is. Apparently, Bette Davis designed her character’s makeup, by stating that Baby Jane seems like someone who would never take her makeup off, she’d just put more on. Baby Jane looks like she’s wearing 30+ years of makeup, all at the same time.
Davis and Crawford’s animosity toward one another during the filming of ‘Baby Jane,’ was well known and in the 55 years since then, their feud has evolved into one of the most notorious stories in Hollywood history. There is even a new mini series, Feud: Bette & Joan, that is on right now that depicts the off screen shenanigans of Davis and Crawford. There is no way to know the real truth, unless you happened to be on the set with Davis and Crawford, but their feud definitely makes the on-screen drama even more juicy. Their feud was legendary and hard to place where and how it started. Did these two ladies really dislike each other that much? Or was it played up for publicity for the film? There are theories abound regarding professional rivalries (Crawford winning an Oscar for Mildred Pierce, a film Davis turned down), romantic rivalries (Davis’ crush Franchot Tone marrying Crawford), and even award rivalries (Crawford was upset that Davis was nominated for the Oscar for ‘Baby Jane’ and not her. However, she got her revenge by accepting winner Anne Bancroft’s Oscar that year after Davis lost).
Two years later, Robert Aldrich tried to recapture the “magic” (if you want to call it that) of ‘Baby Jane,’ by re-casting Davis and Crawford in Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. However, Crawford just couldn’t get through another period of drama with Davis and she feigned illness and eventually was replaced by Olivia de Havilland. De Havilland and Davis were friends, so there would be no drama with the new casting decision. ‘Hush, Hush’ shares many commonalities with ‘Baby Jane’ (except this time, Davis is the one being tormented). However, while it is entertaining, it isn’t as good as ‘Baby Jane.’ De Havilland, a wonderful actress in her own right, just doesn’t bring the right vibe to the film. The palpable tension between Davis and Crawford just makes ‘Baby Jane’ the film it is–a film that is delightfully creepy, hilarious, campy, and macabre, all at the same time.
Whatever the dynamic was between Davis and Crawford, it worked for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It’s a shame if their disdain of one another was all because of something petty or a misunderstanding. Depending on the circumstances, this final line from the film could have been applicable to Davis and Crawford’s relationship:
“You mean all this time we could have been friends?” BABY JANE to BLANCHE
10 thoughts on “Bette Davis Blogathon”
Whenever I watch HUSH . . . HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE, I can’t help can’t help to imagine how the scene where the “up-north” Cousin Miriam slaps faded Southern belle Charlotte (Bette Davis) would been like if Joan Crawford had played Miriam as originally intended.
I think Joan would have given everything she had if she’d had the opportunity to slap Bette Davis. I don’t think there would have been any pretend or “nice” slapping.
Love your post! This is such a great movie – the tension between the two legends is so palpable and it shows. I am also loving the Feud series as well. If it is true, it is so unfortunate how the studio created increased tension between Davis and Crawford who “could have been friends”.
I also just wanted to let you know that I am hosting a blogathon May 26 – 28 about Medicine in the Movies if you wish to participate! If you can’t, no worries! I have overcommitted myself to blogathons as well but I can’t help myself haha. Here is a link: https://charsmoviereviews.wordpress.com/2017/03/08/medicine-in-the-movies-blogathon-announcement-may-26-28-2017/?frame-nonce=c7eded9e16
Thanks! I too, am wondering if the feud was really all that or whether the studio played it up in order to gain publicity for their film.
I will check out your blogathon and will probably join. I am really enjoying participating in these blogathons and seem to be joining every single one I come across.
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It seems that there was a lot of feuding stirred up to gain publicity. The gossip columnists, especially Hedda Hopper, were probably loving it. In a nutshell, women need to support each other!
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Definitely. If all the stories are true, then it seems like there was pettiness on both sides. Imo, it sounds like professional rivalry (I’m sure made worse when Joan came to Warner Brothers in the mid-40s as Bette’s career there was winding down) as well as their romantic lives being a little too intertwined. If the whole Franchot Tone drama is to believed, then Bette was just being petty. I am curious if she had an issue with being turned down by men whom she was interested in. I’ve read that the reason she gave Errol Flynn such a hard time on the two films they made together is because he turned down one of her advances. Though I’ve heard that he propositioned her as well (which I can’t really believe, but who knows).
Regardless, whether or not Bette and Joan loathed each other or not, it sure made for great entertainment. When I see “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” I feel like I’m watching the world’s most sadistic cat fight.
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Great post! I just became a fan of “Baby Jane” this year and now have to watch it every time it comes on.
I would love for you to add it to the Classic Movie Marathon link party that launched last night. http://classicmovietreasures.com/classic-movie-marathon-link-party-premiere/
Very good post! It’s kinda bad that we will never know the truth about their rivalry – well, at least it gives a lot of fuel to imagination.
Thanks so much for participating in the blogathon with a great post on one of my all time favorite movies. I’m really sorry for the late reply. I’ve been very busy of late, but your entry was well worth the wait. Keep up the good work.