Despite not starring in another film together, both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were type cast in a string of psychological thrillers, as a result of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Crawford would go on to star in Strait-Jacket, I Saw What You Did, Berserk, and Trog. Davis would appear in such thrillers as Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte, The Nanny, The Anniversary, Burnt Offerings and The Watcher in the Woods.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was such a smash success, studio executives suddenly were eager to cast the two in a second film. Director Robert Aldrich cast the two in his next film, Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Unfortunately after only a short while of filming, Joan Crawford became ill and could not complete the film. In need of a new leading lady fast the studio contacted both Katharine Hepburn and Vivien Leigh. Hepburn did not respond to the studio, while, Leigh reportedly responded, “No, thank you. I can just about stand looking at Joan Crawford’s face at six o’clock in the morning, but not Bette Davis." The role ultimately went to Davis’ friend, Olivia de Havilland.
When the awards season came around, Bette Davis was nominated for the Best Actress of 1962, and Joan Crawford was not. This infuriated Crawford, and she soon called up the other nominees to see who could and could not attend. If they could not attend, she offered to accept the award on their behalf. Davis would later insist that Crawford lobbied against her, to ensure that she would not receive the award (which would have given her the record for most Best Actress wins at the time). The night of the Academy Awards, Anne Bancroft was awarded the Oscar for her performance in The Miracle Worker. Crawford was accepting for Bancroft (who was performing in New York) and she swept out onstage past Davis to pick up the trophy. Davis later commented, “It would have meant a million more dollars to our film if I had won. Joan was thrilled I hadn’t.” The act really showed Crawford’s anger, as she and Davis both had a stake in the films profits, and had Davis won, Crawford would have received more money.
The iconic cracked doll head that appears in nearly all the advertising for the film, doesn’t even slightly resemble the Baby Jane doll of the film. This is most likely due to the fact that the film took only a short time to be filmed and released, and the promotional team had to create advertisements while the film was still in production.
In later years, Bette Davis would recall that while they were shooting the beach scene, Crawford insisted on wearing falsies, so that her breasts would be perky, and not fall to the sides when she laid down. When Davis had to fall on top of Crawford, she joked that the fake breasts nearly knocked the wind out of her.
According to some rumors, whenever Jane was supposed to hit Blanche, Crawford would insist on using a body double for fear that Davis might actually hit her. On one instance however, Joan was required to do the scene, and Davis slapped her very hard. Later on, as payback when Davis had to drag the actress through the house, Crawford wore a lead belt to make herself heavy and hurt Davis’ back. Apparently Davis later remarked, “I almost broke my fucking back!”
Bette Davis loved roles where she could make herself up. She insisted on having control of her own make-up to ensure it looked right. For the role of Jane, she thought that the character was someone who would never wash her face, just apply another layer of make-up. Upon seeing her mother in make-up for the first time, Davis’ daughter B.D. said, “Oh, mother, this time you’ve gone too far!”
At the time of filming, Joan was married to Alfred Steele, CEO of Pepsi-Cola. Joan was very proud of Pepsi, and tried to incorporate the product in all her films. During the beach scene you can see a young man trying to collect deposit on some Pepsi bottles at the refreshment stand. Bette Davis wanted to spite Crawford, and so she had a Coca-Cola vending machine installed in her dressing room. Coca-Cola of course, was/is Pepsi’s main competitor.
The reported feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford has swirled around for many years, from even before Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was filmed. In reality, there was no battle on set between the two stars, and both Davis and Crawford praised the other.
The rumor has it’s roots in the 1940s when Joan Crawford was signed on to Davis’ home studio, Warner Bros. For years Davis had been the only star actress on the lot, and when Joan moved in, Davis had competition. However, Davis was still Queen of the lot, and got first choice of scripts. When she was offered the role in Mildred Pierce, Davis turned it down, and so the role went to Crawford who ultimately won the Academy Award for her performance. This decision seemed to mark the beginning of the downfall of Davis’ career.
In reality, the alleged feud began in 1935 during the making of Davis’ film Dangerous. She fell in love with her co-star, Franchot Tone. Davis recalled, ‘I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately. Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners.’ Frachot, however was in love with Joan Crawford. They would meet everyday for lunch, and when Dangerous wrapped, the two announced their engagement. Davis was obviously jealous of Crawford.
When it was announced that Davis and Crawford would work together in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the rumor hit new heights. After the film, Crawford would tend to shy away from talking of the feud, Davis would always speak freely and often made it into a joke when giving interviews.
At the time of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were really no longer big stars. Davis recalled in an interview to promote the film that when she and Crawford had been suggested for the film, Warner chief (and former boss of both actresses) Jack Warner said, “I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for either one of those two old broads”. After telling the anecdote, Davis laughed. The next day she apparently received a telegram from Crawford stating, “In future, please do not refer to me as an old broad!”
Upon the films initial release, it was a bomb at the box office. Meat Loaf (who played Eddie in the film) recalled that he and director, Jim Sharman, went to an opening week showing and they were the only two in the theatre. The following year on April 2nd, 1976, The Rocky Horror Picture Show had it’s first midnight showing at the Waverly Theater in New York. Since this first midnight screening, it has become a cultural phenomena. The audiences come dressed up, and use props to participate with the film (like flashlights during “There’s a Light Over at the Frankenstein Place”, noisemakers when the Transylvanians applaud Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s creation, etc.) Due to these popular screenings, the film holds the record for the longest theatrically released film.