Joan Crawford as Faye Dunaway as Mommie Dearest

 DATELINE: More Like Twin Peaks?

 

Is it Joan or is it Memorex?

 

Where does one begin? Where does one end up? You could put this movie on the end of Joan’s long career—or did that happen when Feud hit the miniseries on TV forty years later? Mommie Dearest is now streaming on Amazon Prime.

Mommie Dearest is child abuse taken to levels not seen until Jeffrey Epstein chose to play the role in a Manhattan playhouse.

The twisted tale of Christina Crawford and her adoptive mother is one for the cautionary ages.

You may half expect the dead Joan Crawford to jump out of her coffin and continue to terrify the world. Was she a monster?

Bring us the axe but leave the wire hangers. We want to be objective.

Suffering the strains and stresses of aging would destroy any movie queen but being fired by Metro and re-inventing herself as a tough, savvy career woman, Joan Crawfish seems to deserve all rotten tomatoes that are tossed at her.

Our dear friend Jim Kirkwood, actor and writer of novels like Good Times/Bad Timesand There Must be a Pony, took a role in the movie as the MC who gives Crawford an award: he later had nightmares that his movie star parents would come back to haunt him for participating in this hallucinogenic version of Sunset Boulevard.

The film cannot be viewed on any normal level today, nor could it back then! It had transmuted and altered itself into a zombie of movie history.

Norma Desmond and Joan Crawford were the same height. It was the movies that got small.

Coke & Pepsi: 100 Years of Marketing War

DATELINE: Bottoms Up!

cola

Well, it’s not exactly the War of the Roses. You might be surprised at the back and forth of the fates and fights of the two soda pop giants. A documentary entitled Coke and Pepsi: the Marketing Battle of the Century offers to eliminate your six-pack with caloric intake.

It seems like much ado, full of sound and fury but signifies billions of dollars and millions of lives over the empty bottles, cans, and soda fountain glasses.

Many factoids emerge from their origins in the time after the United States Civil War. Coca-Cola arose in the 1880s out of battle scarred Georgia, and a few years later in South Carolina, you had the birth of the purer Pepsi. Coke was originally laced with cocaine, long-since discontinued. Both were overly laced with sugar.

Both started small:  like six ounces in a bottle, not like today’s mega-drinks that are three times the size and deadly to the human diet and nearly a diabetic shock in one swallow.

In the 1930s, Pepsi made great strides by selling itself at half the price of Coke. It became the drink of poor people and disadvantaged Americans and reinvented itself as the drink of the elite.

The Colas are as political as you might expect. They created marketing: red and blue ribbons of their banners. Santa Claus drank Coke. And, Coke was the patriotic American thirst-quencher. It was a staple of World War II and had to be discontinued in the Third Reich (where Coca-Cola became Fanta for the duration).

TV appeals and musical ditties permeated the 1950s: you are who you chose to drink with. When Joan Crawford became Pepsi’s spokesperson, Bette Davis drank Coke.

Nixon drank Pepsi and tried to force it down the Russian throats. But Coke went for the Red Chinese market.

When health fanatics became their enemy in the 21st century, the colas teamed up against the political forces of the health industry and the diet Puritans.

Which tasted better? Which one shot itself in the foot and became a classic? Which one is more akin to rot your gut? This documentary may be for you if you want to learn the answers.

 

 

Murphy Trumps Olivia DeHavilland

DATELINE: Lady in a Caged Lawsuit

 Miss De havilland to you

DeHavilland as vindictive Heiress (1949)

Perhaps the 101-year-old legendary star actress has outlived her own values.

According to a California court, Miss Olivia De Havilland has no right to stop an unflattering portrayal of herself in Ryan Murphy’s ripe black comedy called Feud. It’s the nasty tale of how Bette Davis and Joan Crawford spoiling for a fight over their careers and in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

Miss DeHavilland’s character called her own sister, actress Joan Fontaine, a “bitch” on screen, to which De Havilland objected. She called her many things, but never bitch.

She would have preferred “dragon lady,” but the producers of Feud and the courts felt that it was too archaic and not colorful enough to suit the story. Olivia De Havilland was kicked harder than Joan Crawford in Baby Jane, all in the name of artistic expression.

If the law is to be understood nowadays, you don’t have a right to stop the First Amendment, however disabused you may suffer at the hands of hack writers.

In all likelihood, Ryan Murphy, smug as ever, never realized Olivia DeHavilland, a two-time Oscar winner for 1940 and 1949, was still alive. He continued to call her “Olivia” this year, as if they were on a first-name basis, throughout the legal case.

So, Miss De Havilland stayed in seclusion in Paris while Hollywood glamour types and writers now have open season on living beings. A screenwriter can put whatever words he wants into your mouth, all in the name of artistic freedom, and therein rests the script.

Hollywood’s new bread-and-butter is the documentary bio-film with re-enactors and colorful revisions to history. Miss De Havilland did not stand a chance, and we wouldn’t blame her for calling Ryan Murphy “a son of a bitch.”

DeHavilland Renews Legal Fight

DATELINE:  ‘Feud’ Subject & Creator Continues in Court

Real Feud Feud

Just when producer/director/writer Ryan Murphy thought he had beaten the clock on the lawsuit filed by Olivia DeHavilland, the 101 year-old movie star legend, she has risen up again.

It’s back on, set for a March trial.

She, as you may recall, took umbrage with her portrayal and use of name in the infamously entertaining series Feud, about the relationship of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

Miss DeHavilland insists that no one asked her permission to use her image and give words to her actress voice.

That’s probably because Ryan Murphy figured she was already deader than a doornail, like the rest of the characters in his hilarious series about Hollywood’s most rotten segment of the Golden Age.

Instead, Olivia rose up like Marley’s Ghost, warning Ryan Murphy. Now she is demanding the trial be held at a university where students may attend to see the shenanigans play out. Talk about a sense of drama.

Whether Miss DeHavilland will make the flight from her home in Paris is unknown, as she is elderly and frail. However, her spirit is not about to be buried by the likes of Hollywood upstarts like Ryan Murphy.

Murphy’s lawyers insist that if DeHavilland has her way, it will have a chilling effect on making docudramas where old historical figures come in and out of scenes uttering misquotes.

His money is on Miss Olivia DeHavilland croaking before the case, and his inevitable loss to a living legend, occurs. Our money is on Gone with the Wind‘s Melanie Wilkes, the survivor of The Snake Pit, the vindictive Heiress, and the Lady in a Cage.

Feud: Ryan Murphy & Olivia DeHavilland

DATELINE: Creepy Producer

 

coda

The spry legend, Miss Olivia DeHavilland whose Oscars outnumber anything Ryan Murphy will ever compile, has fired another volley at miniseries Feud: Joan & Bette, created by Mr. Murphy.

Right before the series is about to reap Emmy glory for its hilarious and entertaining depiction of two movie stars in a death throe struggle like scorpions, more turns of the screw emerge.

Miss DeHavilland’s character, ‘herself’ it appears, is a mere supporting figure. Yet, she does not like how she is portrayed. In a deposition through her lawyers, she tells the world she never called her sister, actress Joan Fontaine, ‘a bitch’ to any director or producer.

That may mean she used to term privately among friends, or even to hapless Joan Fontaine’s face, but her point is the script and series misrepresented her behavior. She said: “The false statements and unauthorized use of my name, identity and image by the creators of Feud have caused me discomfort, anxiety, embarrassment, and distress.”

Yes, being violated is like that, no matter what your age.

Murphy’s glad-hand attitude demeans Miss DeHavilland by calling her “Olivia,” despite her age, her position, and the fact that he never has met her, let alone sought her permission to use her as a figure in a docudrama.

In blatant admission, Murphy’s mouthpieces claim: “The fact that the words attributed to her and the purported endorsement are false does not transform the character into anything other than an exact depiction of de Havilland.”  Hunh?

That’s quite an admission: they know they have misused her by having her say words she never uttered, but it’s all for the profit of Ryan Murphy—and to give us viewers a few guffaws.

We wish to point out that Miss DeHavilland is a real human being, not an emblematic symbol like the White Whale, appearing in a work of fiction.

Murphy is betting that the 101-year old Oscar winner may pop off at any time—thus giving him the last word, which he will have anyhow as time will likely bestow on him the honor to be standing at the end of all this mess.

In all likelihood, the arrogant TV producer probably thought DeHavilland was already dead—and it didn’t matter how he used her identity.

What the old legend is showing here is that identity theft can occur in many ways:  when you profit from stealing someone’s personality, you’re a thief, Mr. Murphy. But, as Hollywood producers go, that is no crime at all.

 

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.

 

 

Round 6: Hush, Hush, Sweet Bette & Joan

domestic life with Joan Jackie Hoffman as Mamasita

DATELINE:   Feud Revs Its Engine

With Oscar behind them, and no decent roles ahead, Joan and Bette must come to terms with the marketing of their careers in another episode of the miniseries Feud.

Hitting its stride from the opening, this episode features a trailer for Strait-Jacket with Joan as an axe murderess. Jessica Lange plays in the preview for one god-awful movie.

What’s worse, Joan Crawford agreed to do the cheesy marketing campaign for William Castle’s Grade-D movie. In an homage to true bad taste, director John Waters makes a delightful cameo as Castle.

Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci) returns to the series for a swan song: he labels the genre “hagsploitation” and calls in Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina) to produce and direct another. Warner nixes Ann Sheridan as Bette’s costar: the public wants Joan and Bette to resume their hate affair.

Bob Alrich is ready to lash back at Warner for his final revenge against the movie mogul, even as his personal life is falling apart.

Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis) on her last legs comes in to blackmail Joan for a porno film she made in the 1920s. It seems Crawford’s world is collapsing in on her—and she must relent and make another film with Bette for the money.

Small slights mount as Joan tries to gather her strength to do another movie with her archrival Davis. In the process she nearly alienates her loyal assistant, the hatchet-faced Mamasita (scene-stealer Jackie Hoffman).

With Bette taking creative control on the new motion picture, Joan may be facing a doomsday scenario.

 

Round Five: Bette, Joan, & Oscar in The Eternal Triangle

DATELINE:  Feud Progresses

oscar night

As the Oscar race for 1963 heats up, Joan Crawford and Hedda Hopper begin a campaign to deny Davis her third winning Academy Award. Feud takes another turn for the dark side.

In the meantime, Bette calls on old pal Olivia de Havilland for comfort. Played by Catherine Zeta-Jones as the saccharine Melanie Wilkes, they commiserate at which one has the worst Joan in their lives (Joan Fontaine being Olivia’s sister).

Bette wants Olivia there at the Oscars as her escort to show not all actresses of their generation hate the bombastic thespian who is more like Margo Channing than she herself realizes.

Once again the series drops names like they were F-bombs. Cary, Doris, Loretta, receive calls from Joan as she touts anyone but Bette to win the Oscar. She needs to influence about 100 Academy voters to deny Bette the winning statuette.

Wearing a variety of ugly hats (her hallmark), Hedda Hopper hisses into every scene, played by Judy Davis in fine fettle as the confidante of Joan and detractor of Bette in the contemporary gossip columns of the era.

This episode has far more pathos and fewer guffaws. Surprising moments include the deep friendship exhibited by DeHavilland for her friend Bette, and the kindness shown to Joan by Anne Bancroft.

Again, the series production flashes with a rich tapestry of colors, especially in Crawford’s wardrobe, but also in the sets. Like poisonous flowers, the most beautiful and attractive hues will be the deadliest. This TV show features gorgeous set design

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.

Baby Jane Revisited: The Real Bette & Joan

DATELINE: Hammer & Tong with Crawford & Davis

The original 1962 movie starring the two titans when they clashed on screen probably deserves another look today.

First, one must realize that there is no garish color here, as in the TV series, Feud. This movie was dreary black and white, but not quite film noir as it takes place mostly in Los Angeles sunshine. Yet, it is not the “horror” genre as described in the series.

This picture falls mostly into the surreal realm of Sunset Boulevard. It has more laughs in common with Psycho than other films in the genre: indeed, the interior of the house where the Hudson sisters live looks surprisingly like the Bates mansion. In fact, Baby Jane’s next door neighbor is Mrs. Bates!

All jokes aside, once Bette puts on her Jane make-up, she chews up the scenery. We almost expect her to gnaw on Joan’s leg. Singing the perverse, “I wrote a letter to Daddy,” we are as chilled as Blanche Hudson as she listens in her wheelchair in horror to Bette’s warped ditty.

Neither actress is provided with any escape to their former glamour. In the less flashy role, Crawford must stoically endure snide comments from Davis about being a “rotten stinking actress.” We are treated to heyday film clips of Bette and Joan in their prime in a flashback. Yet, the actresses clearly gave up their dignity for art.

Baby Jane goes over the edge and into weirdness upon discovering that Blanche plans to commit her to an asylum and sell their home. There is not a bloodbath here, though Baby Jane is frightening when it comes to parakeets, rats, and the housekeeper.

Even next to Psycho, this is a far more muted depiction of madness and torment. It lives up to its reputation because it is a joy to see the great stars in one final star turn. Davis received an Oscar nomination, and Crawford did not. It doesn’t matter. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? remains cinema gold.

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.

Want to be Alone? Then Call This Movie Overrated

DATELINE: MOVIE MASHUP

 nose to nose star profiles

With Grand Budapest Hotel around the corner, we decided to go back to the hoary Grand Hotel of 1933.

In case you forgot, this old chestnut starred Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, and Wallace Beery. We had not since this one in decades, and we were prepared for classic profiles at every other camera setup.

The great profiles go head-to-head in nearly every scene they play together. It is heady stuff indeed. Hollywood history has its noggin in the right place.

What we did not recall was that Garbo’s acting is from Mars and Barrymore’s is from Venus. She is a Russian diva ballet star, right out of Diaghilev’s disbanded troupe. Whether it is her Russian demeanor or her reliance on working alone, she is seldom in the same movie as everyone else.

Barrymore is supposed to be a dissipated young German baron, but he seems more appropriate to play the washed out maitr’d at Studio 54. Indeed, the German bar scene looks like Hoboken on a bad night. There are so many American accents among the Teutonic that you begin to wonder if the Nazis are staging a putsch over on the next movie set.

Only Wallace Beery actually tries a German accent. Everyone else seems to be reading the menu at the Brown Derby—from Lionel Barrymore’s take on Alec Guinness in Last Holiday to Lewis Stone in his Phantom of the Opera face.

Joan Crawford is actually playing a steno with a heart of gold here, and we have to give her acting the best marks.

Garbo professed she wants to be alone in this film, which became her calling card. If you want to experience moments, not a movie, then Grand Hotel should be seen one room at a time.

You may want to be alone during viewing (only to fast forward through the dull parts).