Feud: Bette And Joan Proves A United Front Can't Last Long In Old Hollywood

All along, they coulda been friends...if the Hollywood system hadn't conspired to make them hate each other.

With the stage set for an epic battle of wills, egos, and star power between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on the set of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Episode 2 -- "The Other Woman" -- gives us a bit of a twist: Joan and Bette getting along like peas and carrots. Or PepsiCola and bourbon. Once Joan convinces Bette to be as paranoid as she is about the perky, blonde would-be starlet playing the neighbor girl, the two stars present a united front to director Bob Aldrich, and it seems for the moment like these sisters might be doing it for themselves.

Not to be.

No, "The Other Woman" is all about how the entire Hollywood establishment is built to keep these two titanic women at odds -- from Jack Warner actively trying to pit the two women against each other to goose publicity, to the gossip machine that craves rancor, to even the art itself, as we see that Bette and Joan's performances might just get even better the more they hate each other.

This episode is an ultra-cynical, broad-strokes vision of the way Old Hollywood worked: movie stars demanding script revisions and casting approval, directors dropping blind items. And according to our enthusiastic narrator Joan Blondell, 'twas ever thus.

Feud-ish Element Present?
Joan Crawford is easily and often threatened. From the very beginning, Joan is insulted by the pretty blonde co-star asking her for an autograph ("You've always been my grandma's favorite!") and immediately makes demands to have her fired. And while Joan and Bette are momentarily on the same page, it only takes the faintest whisper of gossip to get Joan's back up again in an episode where Joan is constantly made to feel inferior to Bette. And Joan is all too willing to do so.
Bette Davis don't give a fu--. Almost. Sarandon's Bette continues to be a bit less Margo Channing than maybe we'd hoped. She definitely has her moments: telling a reporter to fuck off; threatening to steal the picture out from under Joan if Joan doesn't quit fighting her in the press. But this episode shows an insecure Bette, leaning on Aldrich for help in a crucial scene (and later falling into bed with him) and getting hollered at by her own daughter. It's perhaps a bit too bumpy a night for her.
There's feminism to be had! The whole idea that Hollywood cannot bear two successful actresses in the same picture without a consequent catfight is some vile sexism. As is the ammunition used in the gossip war: Aldrich plants a story about Joan's falsies; Joan retaliates by leaking a quote to Louella Parsons about Bette's face showing her age.
Jack Warner is a vulgar SOB. Stanley Tucci is so good at playing wonderful, kind, decent people that you forget he's also great at playing total creeps. And Jack Warner is a piece of damn work. Nothing quite so hair-raising as calling Bette Davis the c-word last week, though he does refer to Louis B. Mayer as a "fat fuck." He also (in flashbacks) screws Crawford before employing her as a cudgel against Davis, who'd been getting too powerful for his comfort. Every word out of his mouth is dripping with sexist contempt for women, and since we know from history that Crawford and Davis don't end up hog-tying him to his chair 9 to 5-style, this won't even have a happy ending.
Hedda Hopper loves trouble. Hedda is a busy bee this week, and not just because she needs to coordinate all those elaborate hats. She's bored to tears by the prospect of Crawford and Davis making nice, so she's all too happy to run Aldrich and Warner's mean gossip about her old pal Joan. But when Joan fights back by going to Hedda's longtime nemesis Louella Parsons, Hedda is hopping mad. Joan manages to successfully manipulate Hedda into getting on her side of the war with Bette -- it doesn't take much convincing; Hopper seems to resent Bette's superiority as much as Joan does -- and suddenly Hedda has a crusade.
Bob Aldrich is no match for these women. Aldrich seems like a nice enough guy, but he's absolutely no match for anyone present. Not Bette or Joan, who steamroll him enough when they're divided, not to mention when they're united. Not Jack Warner, who acts as the persuasive little devil on Aldrich's shoulder. Not his wife, who manages to make him feel -- rightly -- like garbage for all his cheating on her. Aldrich is no sneering villain here, but he's the tyranny of the weak personified.
A moment for Mamasita. This was all set to be a "no" until Hedda stormed into Joan's mansion, with Mamasita trailing behind. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Crawford," she explains. "She's small but she's quick." Jackie Hoffman is a treasure.
Someone says "Daddy" or drinks PepsiCola. "Daddy" is so creepy in any context, and we get it plenty in this episode. Crawford calls Warner "Daddy" when he signs her to WB. And Davis sings it a bunch of times as she practices Baby Jane's song, with Aldrich creepily helping her pose.
Gay dog whistles get whistled, gaily. Well, Victor Buono showing up as Davis's big, gay on-screen love interest isn't so much a dog-whistle as a train whistle. But gays of a certain Old Hollywood persuasion would have been busy picking up name-dropped actresses like Claudette Colbert, Norma Shearer, Greta Garbo, Jane Fonda, and Dyan Cannon.
Kathy Bates and Catherine Zeta-Jones are used to their fullest potential. You've got two Oscar winners here! You're going to use them for exposition?
9 / 11
Final Score
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
She Was Crushed Under The Wheel Of The Patriarchy
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