Ah, the 1963 Oscars. Any fan of Bette Davis or Joan Crawford knows the story of this debacle of an awards ceremony. And thanks to Ryan Murphy and the whole Feud team, we’ve seen how the Oscars showdown may have actually unfolded.
A good bulk of this episode was dedicated to following Crawford and Davis as they gear up for the show. Feud paints Davis as nervous and desperately in need of the accolade to boost her self-confidence. Meanwhile, Crawford is shown as angry and bitter, even teaming up with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper to campaign against Bette Davis.
We see Crawford and Hopper go to insanely desperate measures to ensure Davis doesn’t win that Best Actress Oscar: they contact every member of the Academy they know and Joan calls on other Best Actress nominees to see if she might have the opportunity to accept the award on their behalf. But what exactly is the point of all this?
According to Feud, Crawford’s efforts to undermine Davis are more about getting back into the spotlight than about anything else. Although Feud does make reference to Crawford’s anger about how the Hollywood community has treated her despite her dedication to it, the show never follows up on what that all means to Crawford. Instead, the show reduces her machinations to pure ego and that, in my opinion, doesn’t fit the Crawford that I and many others are familiar with.
Yes, it’s true that Crawford was in dire need of a boost at this stage of her career. What is not entirely true is the idea that Crawford would have spearheaded a campaign against Davis for the mere point of once again commanding the spotlight.
I’d more readily believe that this episode in Hollywood history was the result of years of rejection, years of being told that she wasn’t good enough, years of being compared to Bette Davis. That much we know was true. Considering that fact, is it any wonder that Joan was bitter, angry, and even a little hurt that she didn’t get a nomination?
The show frames these events in such a way that one feels more sympathy (or maybe a different kind of sympathy) for Davis than for Crawford. But isn’t the point of this series to question what we know about both of these women? To understand them through the lens of humanity?
If so, then why is Feud reducing these incredibly resilient women to a pile of nerves (Davis) and a vindictive egotist (Crawford) who are intent on destroying each other? It might have better served the overarching narrative of Feud to present this situation in a more human and faithful way, as it has tried to do in prior episodes.
In truth, the real Bette Davis and Joan Crawford remained professional and gracious in the public eye, rarely uttering a negative word about each other. For all their faults, both women were masters at taking the high road, and this scenario was no different. It’s a shame that Feud has drawn them up to be some garish reflection of the Hollywood system, especially Crawford who spent so many of her later years trying to get out from under it.
Tara Martinez is a New York-based writer with a passion for pop culture and a penchant for analysis. She frequently covers film, television, and representations of women in the media.