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[This story contains spoilers from Sunday’s episode of FX anthology Feud.]
The Academy Awards weren’t always the televised spectacle that they have become today; in old-school Hollywood the glamor was slightly more subtle, the ceremony was less grandiose and the stars didn’t always show up to accept their awards. But that didn’t make winning an actual Oscar any less prestigious.
It’s a time period that Ryan Murphy traveled back to during Sunday’s Feud: Bette and Joan, for the “And the Winner Is … (The Oscars of 1963)” episode of the FX anthology.
The installment focused heavily on Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) and her actions following her snub for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? while also exploring how much becoming the first actress to win three trophies would have meant to Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) had she won.
Instead, following a smear campaign aided by Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis), it was Crawford who was left holding an award in her hand as she accepted the best actress statue on behalf of Anne Bancroft, who had agreed to let Crawford say a few words on her behalf. A helpless Davis could do nothing but watch from the sidelines with her friend Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones) as Crawford not only stole her moment, but her potential future employment opportunities as well.
In order to re-create the epic night, production went back to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium where the 1963 Academy Awards were held, and spent a pretty penny rebuilding the vintage space. The result is what Murphy, who wrote and directed the episode, calls his “love letter” to the awards, and featured drama to rival that of this year’s #EnvelopeGate.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Murphy to discuss crafting the episode, the conversations he had with Davis about that devastating loss, and how he was able to get inside Joan Crawford’s head following some of her more heinous acts.
The fact that Joan Crawford picked up that cigarette felt like a very Bette Davis thing to do. Was that intentional?
That is a moment that we really researched. She was really smoking and dropped the cigarette. Joan Crawford did smoke cigarettes, everybody did then, but she really did walk past Bette Davis and look at her with a smile and walk into the press room. All of those moments that we played in that sequence actually happened so it was fun to recreate them and figure out where to put them.
Heading into the final three episodes, does the documentary format and interviews kind of represent your voice and thoughts on the feud?
Some of it is my voice but a lot of it is based on interviews that these actors did at the time too, where they were talking about Joan Crawford or they were talking about what it was like to be an actress coming through the studio system. I would say both. We’re obviously doing a work of drama; it’s not a documentary. But I thought the device was interesting because it let the women speak freely about what it was like to be a woman at the time. I like that device. It comes back really big. It’s barely used in episodes five, six or seven, but it pops up in a major way and is paid off in the finale.
Could that include Bette Davis giving her own interview?
You’ll have to see.
Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX. Thoughts? Sound off in the comments below.
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