Round Seven: Feud, Crawford Down for Count

DATELINE:  Series on Bette & Joan Continues…

Real Feud

A re-teaming of Crawford and Davis in a second movie was never going to work, despite filming on location in Louisiana and hypocritical attempts at camaraderie by the stars.

Joan Crawford soon went on strike by feigning illness.

Feud, the series with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, spends the penultimate episode on the crisis during Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. The two stars seemed to realize their careers were never enough to compensate for their shortcomings in personal life. Yet, they continued to self-destruct personally.

Interestingly, the miniseries puts more focus on the failed mother-daughter relationship between Bette and BD. We never see Christina Crawford interact with her mother, despite the famous Mommie Dearest legend.

The episodes rely heavily on the bad karma and worse characters that emerged from the slice and dice books done by the two daughters of the stars in subsequent years. Bette and Joan were done irreparable harm by the tell-all, revenge books by their progeny.

We told Miss Davis in 1986 that the BD Hyman book would never have a lasting impact to assuage the aging and distraught star. We don’t think she believed us, but responded politely to the reassurance. How wrong we were 31 years ago.

As for the episode in the sweep of Hollywood vindictiveness, we never hear why Bette nixed Vivien Leigh for the replacement for Joan—likely because Leigh won the coveted Scarlett O’Hara role that Bette wanted. It is also stated that Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyk turned down the key part in Charlotte because they were friends of Joan.

The emergence of Olivia De Havilland as the new co-star likely was the result of her ties to Bette, though even Livy suggested they call her sister Joan Fontaine to take over from the other Joan.

Juicy gossip has become the printed legend of whatever happened to the two star subjects of Feud. The knock-out punch should arrive in the final episode.

 

 

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Round Four: Bette & Joan in Post Production

DATELINE: Hold the Oscar

 lange as Crawford Crawfish

For those who forgot, we are reminded that Bette Davis gave the Academy Award its nickname, “Oscar,” because he resembled an old flame. As you might expect, Joan Crawford did not appreciate this usurping of Hollywood legend.

The two stars await bad news in the fourth episode. Word of mouth is that Baby Jane, or mistakenly called Baby Doll, is a stinkeroo. And, their work has not brought in more roles. In fact, everyone has lost faith in their project.

But, a sneak preview is a shocker, even more than the movie. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a hit. That sends Bette and Joan into different strata of psychology. Bette revels in the rejuvenation, and Joan realizes she is second banana for the critics.

Director Bob Aldrich (Alfred Molina) also comes to realize one-time success will not change his career. Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) wastes no time in belittling him as much as star Frank Sinatra who proves a boorish star in his rat pack picture directed by Aldrich.

The series continues to use sharp-edged Hollywood trivia to provide laughs and hoots about the era and the foibles of the stars. It was the age of television as a publicity machine—and Bette goes all out on TV guest roles (as in Perry Mason, or on talk shows like Jack Paar), while Joan wallows in drink, fires her agents, makes drunken calls to Bette.

All this precedes the dreaded announcement for nominations for Oscar; everyone thinks Bette Davis is a shoo-in, and Crawfish is a dead fish.

The crux is that we the viewers enjoy this stuff more than those “old broads,” as Crawford takes offense to Davis’s characterization.

 

 

Round Three: Bette & Joan Battle to a Draw

DATELINE: More Juice and Sauce

sarandon as davis

Sarandon as Bette Davis

With the principal photography on Whatever Happened to Baby Jane completed by the end of the third episode of the series Feud, you might wonder where the show goes from here.

During the third episode both women Davis and Crawford seem to miss working together, no matter how difficult and painful they are to each other.

Their lives off the screen became increasingly empty and lonely, alienated from their rebellious daughters, and wallowing in self-pity over growing older with little happiness to show for it.

Along the way, there are still plenty of laughs when it comes to their association. They never had a female friend of the same peerage, and however hard they knock heads, there is some respect for the other.

If anyone is the villain in this series, it is the dreaded dragon Hedda Hopper – the venomous gossip columnist who suckers in Joan repeatedly, but never Bette. She prints vile gossip wheedled out of Mommy Dearest.  Joan begins to regret most of it.

Along the way that Bette becomes quite attached to obese and gay actor Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess) and even bailed him out of jail when he’s caught in a police sting operation with a young man.

Suffering constant dyspepsia, Alfred Molina seems trapped in Robert Aldrich’s character, feeling self-loathing for his cruel misuse of the star actresses at the behest of Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci).  Aldrich’s assistant tells him that he is directing a war movie after all, though he loathed to take on such projects.

The lead performances are luminous in every case of the show, and Sarandon and Lange seem to fit into their classic star counterparts with increasing ease. The moments when Joan and Bette socialize highlight their wish for need for friends. By the end of the episode, they’ve gone to neutral corners.

Aldrich is surprised and astounded that his great actresses both were filling with energy and youth in all their final scenes, they were so enjoying the creative opportunities.

Still to come is the Oscar fight and the attempt to make another movie together that will end in utter failure. Every scene has been filled with pathos and hilarity, but surely may only resonate with those knowing Hollywood history.

Round Two, Joan & Bette Feud

DATELINE:  Other Vain Women

titans 2

Bette and Joan may not have realized, at first, that their bitter enemy was not the other woman, but was simple vanity.

Though they have every intention of working together amicably, as Jack Warner states, it is more like an agreement between Stalin and Hitler in part two of the series Feud. Warner comes across as a two-bit Mussolini.

As Bette and Joan, Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange become more convincing in their roles, again playing the actresses years earlier in movie clip flashbacks. They are remarkable impersonators, but the characters are grand enough in gesture and attitude to allow for ample performances.

Picked apart by studios who want to see venom on the screen, the two stars are also victims of their media friends, Louella and Hedda, the gossip columnists who most profit from an open warfare on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

In this realm, Robert Aldrich seems to suffer moral nausea at the idea that he must pit the actresses against each other to keep his own job.

An uneasy peace between the stars descends rapidly, setting the stage for a bumpy behind-the-scenes Hollywood story to fill up five times the amount of time of the original movie.

Every detail seems guaranteed to elicit glee and guffaws at the foibles and vanities of the two women. At the backstory of the series is the pathos and desperation that goes into their careers. Sarandon and Lange acquit themselves admirably.

If there are amusing high points, one includes Bette Davis meeting her co-star Victor Buono (Dominic Burgess) over coffee and donuts. She thinks he is the caterer, but the zaftig Buono tells her he is her romantic leading man—a fat homosexual.

We cannot know what Bette’s face looked like upon hearing this, but Sarandon provides a fairly good approximation.

Ripe details and dropped names permeate the script—which may be lost on young viewers, but those with a knowledge of Hollywood history will be in stitches.

Bette & Joan Resurrected: Start Up

 DATELINE:  Great Stars in Nova-caine Mutiny

ClayBuchholz

Can the feud of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during their only film together, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, sustain itself for a docudrama miniseries??

Our first thought was—maybe this will hold up for a two-hour movie, but ten episodes?

We have not anticipated a TV series quite as much since Twin Peaks. In fact, we now anticipate the return of Twin Peaks on HBO later this year.

As for Bette and Joan, the notion of two great women stars (Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon) harkening back to the rich publicity years of Old Hollywood is simply delicious. Even if it turns into a miniseries Titanic, the worst films live in their own stewed juices.

We are booking first-class passage for each episode, icebergs be damned.

Director and writer Ryan Murphy gives us a garish Technicolor version of a bleak Hollywood tale. Its horror was psychological torture in the way Sunset Boulevard raked the studio system over the comeback coals.

Bette and Joan ultimately had to swallow pride to meet the prejudice of Hollywood. And, they suffered it.

Nothing proves to be an aphrodisiac like making former glamourous stars turn into harridan versions. Every scene is a hoot, and overripe. It goes for the jugular and the juices flow.

And we have only come to the first day of principal photography in episode one.

Yes, Feud is an event for those who long for the Golden Age of Hollywood, even when it was collapsing under its own self-hatred. Sarandon and Lange are letter perfect—and Molina as Aldrich is no slouch.

Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy miniseries.