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When What Ever Happened to Baby Jane hit theaters in 1962, it was a low-budget film starring two “washed-up” actresses in Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, portrayed in Ryan Murphy’s anthology series Feud by Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, respectively.
Under the old studio system it was a film no one wanted to touch, and it took director Robert Aldrich a ton of convincing, his own resources and a deal with the devil (a.k.a. studio head Jack Warner) in order to make it happen in the first place. But when reports of Crawford and Davis’ on-set feud surfaced and Davis was nominated for an Oscar for her role as Baby Jane Hudson, the film became a box office success that launched a whole new sub-genre of horror films dubbed “Psycho-Biddy” or “Hag Horror.”
That theme is explored in Sunday night’s installment of Feud, “Hagsploitation,” as Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) becomes desperate to get the old gang back together for a follow-up to Baby Jane as other studios profit from the genre.
In real life, Crawford, Davis and Aldrich (Alfred Molina) did re-team to make the film Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, although it didn’t exactly pan out to be the project everyone had hoped for. Here are few things to know heading into Sunday night.
1. Both women were still desperate
Despite the success of Baby Jane and its subsequent Oscar nods, neither Davis nor Crawford saw the career resurgence they had hoped for following the film’s release. Crawford was subjected to promoting her new horror flick Straight-Jacket with stunts and gimmicks, while Davis was taking TV stints that were beneath her just to keep working. And while both women were loath to work with each other again, it wasn’t like they were being offered a ton of other roles. In the end, they felt like they had no other choice.
2. Joan Crawford was still jealous
Even though she basically took over the Oscars of 1963, Crawford still had plenty of insecurities when it came to Bette Davis. Crawford’s nomination snub weighed heavily on her and she wanted to ensure that it didn’t happen again. Therefore, before agreeing to do Charlotte, she demanded top billing over Davis.
3. Bette Davis was responsible for the title
Originally the follow-up flick to Baby Jane was titled What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte. But Davis, who absolutely did not want audiences to believe that this film was a sequel, demanded it be changed. She drew inspiration from one of the film’s songs instead and thus the new title was born.
4. The film almost fell apart
As production got underway, it appeared as though Crawford realized she had made a mistake by signing on. When she called Aldrich’s room and heard Davis in bed with him, that was supposedly a final straw. And so the rumor goes that she faked an illness to get out of her commitment, appearing on set for a total of four days in a month. It was enough for the studio, 20th Century Fox, to demand that she be replaced.
5. It was also personal for Robert Aldrich
The film director really wanted this follow-up to work in order to carve a name for himself. And with things not so great at home (he was going through a divorce at the time), he was throwing everything he had, both personally and financially, into making Charlotte work. So when Crawford came down with an illness, he even hired a private investigator to follow her around to prove she was faking it.
6. Other actresses were in contention for the lead
Once Crawford was released from the film, there were only a few suitable actresses that Fox would allow to replace her. And so Aldrich and co. begged the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck to tackle the role with no success. In the end, it was Davis’ personal relationship to Olivia de Havilland that saved the film, when the actress finally agreed to sign on.
7. It was never as big as Baby Jane
Despite the wide publicity the film received (and the growing interest in the “hag horror” genre itself), Charlotte never did reach the same financial success as Baby Jane. It grossed roughly half of the original offering, and while it was nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead), neither Davis nor de Havilland received a nod.
Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.
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