Bette Davis 'heartbroken' over comments made on her looks
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Bette Davis and Joan Crawford tonight star opposite each other in the 1962 psychological thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which airs on BBC Four at 9pm. It follows two former film star sisters, Baby Jane and Blanche Hudson, who live alone in a deteriorating Hollywood mansion. Blanche, unable to walk and restricted to a wheelchair, remains at the mercy of her sadistic sister Jane, as their life together breaks down on-screen.
The flick was nominated for six Academy Awards, including for Davis, in the Best Actress category, though she missed out to Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker.
The two leading women, though remarkably well-suited on the silver screen, were fiercely at odds off it, and their respective careers seemed always aligned in one form or another.
The feud can be first found in the mid-Thirties, when Davis became infatuated with co-star Franchot Tone in 1935’s Dangerous.
Tone, though, was more interested in Crawford, with the pair marrying before divorcing four years later in 1939.
In 1945, when Davis refused the title role in the film Mildred Pierce, she effectively allowed Crawford to take the lead and win an Academy Award.
Just two years later, Crawford took another of Davis’ roles, this time in Possessed as her rival was at the time pregnant and on maternity leave.
Crawford stepped in, and was again recognised by the Academy, presented with an Oscar for her role.
While Crawford would show an interest in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the star was adamant that the other lead role should be given to Davis, demonstrating a slight thawing of tension.
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But this tension remained fierce, and reports show that when Crawford’s fourth husband Alfred Steele, the Pepsi-Co CEO, died in 1959, Davis knew how devastated she had been.
While filming What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Davis insisted on having a Coca-Cola machine placed on set.
The rivalry on set did not stop there, with Crawford soon getting her own back.
Aware of Davis’ back problems, Crawford purposefully weighed herself down with a heavy belt moments before her rival was supposed to drag her across the floor.
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Even after Crawford’s death, Davis could not resist one final dig at the woman who had followed her throughout her Hollywood career.
When news that Crawford had passed away in 1977 emerged, David reportedly told the Los Angeles time: “You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead… good!”
Davis’ grudge with Crawford continued until her own passing in 1989.
Her impact on the Hollywood film industry remained strong, however.
She was held in high regard by many of her peers, including those who would pave their own way in the industry after her, including Oscar starlet Meryl Streep.
Streep is often compared to Davis for her range of acting styles, and when receiving the Bette Davis Foundation’s first lifetime achievement award, the actor complimented her.
She said: “My first memory of Bette Davis is a powerful image of an image burning on a small screen.
“For me, Bette Davis stood out from other actresses because of her signal audacity.
“How Miss Davis defied Warner Bros. in her determination for better scripts and how her career suffered at times for that defiance. But the audacity I’m talking about is the bravery of her work.
“Bette Davis seemed willing, she even had an appetite, for parts that were conventionally unappealing.
“She changed the requirement that actresses in the movies invariably be likeable or attractive. She lifted the veil of appropriate behaviour in women to expose what was scary, unexpected, or ugly — in other words, to do what was appropriate for the character.”
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? airs from 9pm tonight on BBC Four.
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