Bette Davis on Joan Crawford: Her eyebrows are like “African caterpillars,” and her best performance was “Crawford being Crawford.”
Joan Crawford on Bette Davis: “She’s phony, but I guess the public really likes that.”
One of Hollywood’s most famous rivalries was between the stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Much has been written about and told by both. As the truth has morphed into legend, and it becomes more confusing to discern fact from fiction, it certainly does make for a fun romp into the duo’s “mutual admiration society,” nevertheless.
The origin of the Davis-Crawford dispute was over a man – actor Franchot Tone. While Bette Davis was filming “Dangerous” (1935) opposite Tone, she fell in love with him, unaware that he was involved with Joan Crawford at the time. When she found out, animosity sparked. Davis was later quoted as saying about Crawford, “...She’s slept with every male star in MGM except Lassie.” Crawford did not offer a rebuttal; rather she attempted to become friends with Davis. Unfortunately, the damage was done.
In 1943, Joan Crawford joined Warner Bros – Bette Davis’s territory, and the public questioned who would reign supreme on the silver screen. “Mildred Pierce” (1945) would answer it. Ironically, the Mildred Pierce film role was originally offered to Bette Davis, but she turned it down. Crawford signed on and won an Academy Award for her performance. Her rocketing popularity shooed Davis into the background.
For years the studio tried to pair them together in a film, but the projects always fell through either due to financial support or disagreements over the roles the actresses would play.
One property involved an adaptation of the novel Ethan Frome, but neither could be civil about who would play the young love interest.
It was not until both were older and lost their star power that the studios invested in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962) – reluctantly. Working so closely together on a project gave both actresses the chance to wreak havoc on one another for years of animosity. Each taunted the other in a plethora of ingenuous ways. For instance, since Joan Crawford was the recent widow of the CEO to Pepsi Cola, Bette Davis had a Coca-Cola machine installed. It has been reported that much of the physical abuse between their characters was not merely “acting.” In one scene, Davis apparently kicked Crawford so hard that Joan ended up in the hospital with bruises and a concussion. Retaliatory Crawford loaded her pockets. When Davis was required to drag Crawford across the floor, Davis strained her back. When asked about working with Joan Crawford on the film, Bette Davis has commented: “The best time I ever had with Joan was when I pushed her down the stairs.”
At Oscar time, Bette Davis was nominated for an Academy Award; Joan Crawford was not. The perceivably jealous Crawford offered to pick up the award for any of Davis’s competitors if they were not available to do it themselves. Davis lost to Anne Bancroft for “The Miracle Worker” (1962). Then Crawford walked by her to accept the award for Bancroft.
“Hush, Hush...Sweet Charlotte” (1964) was supposed to be their second film together but Crawford was forced to drop it due to illness. Olivia De Havilland was cast in her place.
When Joan Crawford died in 1977, Bette Davis had the last word – “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”
Despite all the sources one may find based on their feud, whether or not it was real, one can't deny they had fun doing it.