Last week’s premiere of Feud made one thing perfectly clear: that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis hate each other’s guts. What wasn’t so clear was why. Luckily for us, the second installment of Feud helped us understand the pain, frustration, and desperation that ultimately kept these two legends from coming together.
Not only is there a sense of jealousy and competition at play during the production of Baby Jane, but the men around Crawford and Davis are puppeteering their onscreen demise. Director Bob Aldrich and studio exec Jack Warner are deadset on making Baby Jane a commercial success, and in order to do that, they need their stars constantly at each other’s throats.
While Crawford and Davis initially tag team their efforts to get Aldrich to bend to their will, they ultimately fall victim to the machinations of the very industry they hold so dear.
Weak and hungry for success, Aldrich takes advice from Jack Warner and provides gossip columnist Hedda Hopper with a completely fabricated story about his stars. The story? That Davis believes Crawford wears false breasts. This charge sends Crawford into a rage and she rebuts the story by telling competing columnist Louella Parsons that Davis looks old enough to be her mother.
Silly as these claims may seem to a modern viewer, Feud examines them in light of who these women used to be: glamour girls of great beauty and undeniable talent. And in the era of Baby Jane, when both Crawford and Davis are about ready to sing their swan songs, all they want is another go-round in the spotlight. We see this clear as day in the way both actresses manipulate the people around them to sway in their favor. Each one wants more screen time, more input from the director, more adoration.
Both women are essentially in the same predicament and at the same time. And yet, they can’t see clearly enough through raging competition and jealousy to team up and simply get the job done.
While all of this is happening, this episode of Feud focuses more closely on Davis who is unexpectedly needy and afraid. She, like Crawford, needs validation. She needs to be told that she’s doing a good job and that all will be okay. So, when her beautiful daughter B.D. lays into her about how old and desperate she is, Davis turns to the only person who can give her the validation she needs: Bob Aldrich. And in a strange turn of events, Davis does the exact thing she accuses Crawford of doing — sleeping with the director.
Crawford’s story follows many of the same patterns. She’s just as needy and afraid as Davis, but perhaps more openly so. Her attempts to reel Aldrich into her web are weak and transparent, and she loses grip when she recognizes that she simply can’t get her way.
In both Crawford and Davis, we see the dawning realization that they simply aren’t the powerhouses they used to be. The Hollywood system no longer respects or even wants them. In an industry that sees gaggles of people come and go every day, Crawford and Davis find that they’re now the ones expected to take their last bow.
But they won’t do it without a fight…
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.