Today’s stars have nothing on Bette Davis and Joan Crawford for feuding.
Joan Crawford was already a star of both silent movies and talkies when Bette Davis arrived in Hollywood, but it wasn’t long before Bette was also a star. Bette had a gift for playing unlikable characters and excelled at playing a bitch, while Joan was known for playing the determined working girl who had a rough start but eventually found love, respect, and success. These two strong Hollywood women became enemies, though, when Bette fell in love with a co-star and Joan “stole” him from her.
During the filming of Dangerous, then-married Bette fell in love with her co-star, Franchot Tone, but he wasn’t interested. Newly-divorced Joan invited Franchot to dinner and reportedly greeted him in her solarium . . . naked. What man could resist? Tone became Joan’s second husband. It didn’t matter that the marriage lasted less than four years, the enmity between the two stars was set in stone.
Although they kept a friendly face on things in public, if asked in an interview or in private about the other, their words were often catty. Joan on Bette: “She has a cult, and what the hell is a cult except a gang of rebels without a cause. I have fans. There’s a big difference.” Bette on Joan: “She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie.”
By 1962 both Bette and Joan were aging and desperate for work. When asked to star together in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette only agreed when she was assured director Robert Aldrich wasn’t sleeping with her nemesis. True to form, they undermined each other at every opportunity. At one point, when the script called for Bette’s character to beat Joan, Joan claimed Bette struck her for real. Bette had a bad back and in a scene where Bette had to drag Joan, Joan not only went as limp as possible, she supposedly wore a weighted belt to make it more difficult for Bette.
When Bette got an Oscar nomination for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Joan didn’t, Joan started a telephone campaign among the other nominees offering to accept the Oscar on their behalf should they win. Imagine Bette’s fury when she found Joan standing backstage with her (Joan did accept an Oscar on behalf of the absent Anne Bancroft) and being told that Joan was there to accept an Oscar.
Nobody really knows for sure that all the animosity between these two powerful women was really just about a man. There were claims by some that it actually started when bi-sexual Joan propositioned Bette and was rejected. Nevertheless, Bette never forgave Joan for stealing the man she loved. When Joan died in 1977, Bette’s comment was, “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good . . . Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”