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While most of the attention given to 1962’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? has focused on the alleged enmity between stars Bette Davis, then 54, and Joan Crawford, then 57 (forming the basis for FX’s Feud, which begins March 5), THR‘s focus was on money.
The paper said the “lurid melodrama of hate, revenge and murder” had “made film history” when it covered its $825,000 production cost ($6.6 million today) plus distribution expenses by earning $1.6 million in just 11 days. (Davis was paid $60,000 and 5 percent of net profits; Crawford opted for $40,000 and 10 percent of net.)
For Davis, the hit arrived just in time. A month before it opened, she had taken out a tongue-in-cheek ad in THR seeking “steady employment in Hollywood.” Davis was enthusiastic about promoting the film and a few weeks after its release appeared on The Jack Paar Program, where she admitted she was “gloating” over its box-office success. She added that when the idea of her and Crawford doing a film together was first pitched to the studios, “the moguls said, ‘We wouldn’t give you a dime for those two old broads.’ ” A few days later, Davis received a handwritten note on blue stationery that read: “Please do not continue to refer to me as an old broad. Sincerely, Joan Crawford.”
This story first appeared in the March 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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