Suzanne Tenner / FX

Feud: Bette And Joan Finds The Timeless Horror In Hollywood Sexism

Baby Jane is a big success...but you wouldn't know it from the dearth of offers coming Bette and Joan's way. Eric Lillian ranks the episode's players!

After the breakneck pace of the first three episodes, "More, Or Less" slows things down a bit to take a look at how the release and reception of What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? affected its two leads. And the answer is: things got better and things got worse.

Both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had to face up to the ugly fact that even a wildly lucrative and crowd-pleasing hit like Baby Jane couldn't rustle up film offers for roles that weren't there. It's a depressingly familiar tale of a Hollywood where every female success is deemed a fluke. So we instead get Joan Crawford firing her entire team of agents at William Morris and retreating into the bottom of liquor bottle to obsess about Bette getting better reviews. And while Bette has a much easier time enjoying her film's success, she's still lowered to the point of taking out classified ads for work and demeaning herself on the Andy Williams show. And if you think that performance was too tragic to be true, I direct you to its real-life antecedent:

Shame on you, America. A good country doesn't do this to its artists. Let's count down the episode's players from worst to first!

  1. Frank Sinatra
    It was so great to see the wonderful Toby Huss (Halt And Catch Fire; Carnivale) show up to play Frank Sinatra. And play him as a bratty holy terror, kicking up a foul-mouthed storm on the set of 4 for Texas, a rather ill-advised western for all involved. He shouts at Aldrich, at the script girl, and -- in the final straw -- poor Victor Buono, who was only making acting choices! Which is more than anyone can say for Frank.
  2. Jack Warner
    It's a wonder Jack Warner was never assassinated -- at least the version of Warner played by Stanley Tucci. Warner's barely in this episode, but he manages to be horrendously mean and blunt to Aldrich's face about his worth as a director (Warner: "Don't worry, I have a soft spot for losers"), and then even more cruel to Joan Crawford ("Davis can act rings around you, but your ass is nice and your tits aren't sagging"). It's like watching a character on a soap piss off every character before being killed in order to kick off a whodunit storyline.
  3. Joan Blondell and Olivia DeHavilland
    Who do I honestly have to kill to get Kathy Bates and Catherine Zeta-Jones -- two Oscar winners -- something to do? Context and table-setting? Is this what you're paying them for? Because I know they weren’t cheap.
  4. Hedda Hopper
    Hedda clocks in for some brief Joan-whispering duty, assuring her that Bette may be a pet of the critics, but Joan has the fan support. And besides, they're both bound to get Oscar nominations. After all, Bette may be playing crazy, but Joan's playing a cripple. Hedda would be a great Oscar blogger today.
  5. Bette Davis's Agent
    As far as child agents of talented women in Hollywood go, Bette's agent isn't as good Liz Lemon's agent, Simon. And the fact that he didn't get his face slapped clean off after he floated dinner theater as a legitimate option makes him very lucky. But hey, he pitches Bette Perry Mason, and by gum, she takes it.
  6. Joan Crawford
    Rough week for Joan, and that even factors in that she was in the audience at the first Baby Jane preview where they ate it up. But Joan is such a sad creature, whether she's throwing herself at Jack Warner so he'll campaign her for Oscar or boring the maître d' with her complaints about Bette. As this episode makes all too clear, Joan can't enjoy any of her success, instead finding some way to feel slighted or inadequate. In this case, it's the raves for her hated Bette, plus her worry (founded, as it turns out) that she'll get snubbed for an Oscar nomination.
  7. Bob Aldrich
    Tough week for Bob. (What weeks aren't tough for Bob.) He can't enjoy the Baby Jane success fully, because it's not the 1970s yet and directors ain't shit. Warner won't back his making an artistic leap and promises he'll be back making schlock. Meanwhile, Bette's giving him 'tude about her dearth of good scripts, and Pauline wants his backing as she sets out to direct. As ever with Bob, the spirit is strong, but his flesh is weak.
  8. Pauline Jameson
    Credit to Pauline for leaning in and trying to strike while the iron is hot re: her directorial career. And I would watch every episode of a show where Pauline and Mamasita strike out on their own in a feminist fantasyland of 1960s Hollywood. Here in the land of what actually happened, it's hard watching her get rejected by the likes of Crawford and Aldrich, but it's harder watching her rationalize why giving up on directing is a good idea. In an episode that digs into the corners of Hollywood's sexism problem, we see the roots of one particular problem -- why aren't there more female movie directors? -- laid bare and vile.
  9. Bette Davis
    Bette gets a leg up on Joan because she's at least capitalizing on the Baby Jane success, even if she is still working on the surface, reduced to television and Andy Williams. She also gets a significant boost because the episode ends with her receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
  10. Mamasita
    HUGE breakout week for Joan's housekeeper. She's the only person to believe in Pauline, really, and she even treats her to lunch to show it. And when that doesn't pan out, she re-dedicates herself to her job, promptly taking all the phones off the receivers in the morning, so Ms. Crawford won't hear the bad news about Bette's Oscar nomination. Maybe SHE should be directing Sinatra.
Almost all readers liked this episode
What did you think?