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Bette and Joan: No Collision Course for Hollywood Stars


by Hedda Hopper

Originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times, September 16, 1962


Stars of the night sky tend to keep to fixed orbits and never interfere with one another. Things sometimes operate that way in Hollywood, too. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, stars of equal magnitude who ruled in motion pictures during the fabulous 30s, never got to know each other. They met briefly on one occasion but no friendship developed, social or otherwise. Now, in the Indian summer of their careers they're co-starred in a chilling thriller, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

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Before shooting started I had them to my home for an interview dinner and came to the conclusion they'd missed a lot by not getting to know each other sooner. Everyone expected a power play from these two who are accustomed to dominating the scene. Rumors of bad feelings and tart exchanges between them were already circulating. I told them we haven't had much excitement around here lately and they should start fighting and bring this place to life.

Bette said: “Will it be disappointing if we get along well? Of course there's not a prayer they'll admit everything is friendly — the other situation makes a better story. If I'm concentrating on what I'm doing, I can look as if I don't know anybody else is around.”

"I'm aware of that," Joan cut in. "You didn't say good morning to anybody for a full 5 minutes today." Bette explained: “I get absent-minded about things and this can be mistaken for something else."

Then came the topper from Joan: ''Very few story properties for stars like this come along. Of course everyone expects us to clash but I'll be a so-and-so if I'm going to fight."

"Will both share in the profits, and who gets first billing?" I asked. Joan took over "Yes, we do. Bette wanted one thing. I wanted another. Bette gets first billing of course — she plays the title role. There was no problem about it."

I was interested in finding out who first had the story and how they eventually got together. Each of them had been sent the book at different times. "A friend of mine, Bill Frye, gave me the story to read two years when it was first published," Bette explained. “He tried to buy it but nothing came of it. Then a year ago I sent it to Alfred Hitchcock — I thought he should direct it whether or not I was in it. But he had other pictures lined up.”

Two for One

Joan says she's wanted to do a picture with Bette since 1944. "When I first went to Warners in 1943 I learned they owned 'Ethan Frome’: they'd bought it for Bette. But in the meantime Bette had gone off to have a baby. A year later I left Warners and the property was sold to Jerry Wald. Now Columbia owns it. But Bette and I never discussed this; she never knew I was after it. Then when I came across 'What Ever Happened to Baby Jane,’ I sent it to Bob Aldrich and told him it was for Bette and me."

The Henry Farrell novel is about two middle-aged sisters, retired from show business. Baby Jane (Bette) was a child dancer in vaudeville and Blanche (Joan) a former stage star is crippled from a mysterious accident and confined to a wheelchair. Their careers over, they live together in a house of hate in Los Angeles on the invalid’s scanty savings. Baby Jane cares for the helpless woman but her attitude is that of someone paying back for some real, or imagined, abuse in the past.

Joan described the roles: "I'm the crippled sister in a wheelchair. There are scenes that will tear you to pieces. When we rehearsed this morning Bette practically tore the set up. She whirled my wheelchair around and lifted it 6 inches from the floor. This is wonderful for me; I usually play the bitches. Now I can sit and watch Bette do it."

These two are completely different at a casual glance, but many similarities come out eventually:

Both were born under the sign of Aries. Each has had four husbands: Bette (Harmon Nelson, Arthur Farnsworth, William Grant Sherry, Gary Merrill); Joan (Doug Fairbanks Jr., Franchot Tone, Philip Terry, Al Steele). Each lost a husband by death: Bette, Arthur Farnsworth; Joan, Al Steele. Each has an adopted family; although Bette gave birth to B.D., her oldest, she adopted Margo and Michael. Joan's four are all adopted — Christina, Cynthia, Catherine and Christopher. Each star has made between 65 and 70 major pictures.

Bette came from the legitimate theater, returned to Broadway successfully more than once, most recently in Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana." Joan, purely a star of movies, maintains the old-time glamour bit to the hilt. When Bette took Scotch on the rocks before dinner, Joan produced her own flask of 100-proof vodka: "I say if you're going to have a drink, have what you want."

[Thanks to Norman for this article.]


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