Feud: Bette And Joan Puts The Band Back Together For Cousin Charlotte
With Hollywood denying Bette and Joan anything but the trashiest roles, they decide to re-team with Bob Aldrich for a Southern gothic Baby Jane retread. What could go wrong?
With this eight-episode season of Feud structured the way it is -- Baby Jane having been completed, released, and feted by the end of Episode 5 -- we've got three hours' worth of what feels a bit like epilogue to deal with. Sure, the chapter surrounding the production of Whatever Happened To Cousin Charlotte? (which will become Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte) is a juicy one. If you've ever seen the film, you know Joan Crawford's participation in it isn't going to last. (And you should see the film, if only for Agnes Moorehead's Oscar-nominated bonkers-as-fuck performance.)
But if the timeline is starting to feel a bit wonky -- in real life, Joan Crawford's brother Hal LeSueur died in 1963, Strait-Jacket got released at the beginning of '64, Sweet Charlottle was released at the end of '64, and My Fair Lady didn't start winning awards for George Cukor until 1965; Feud just kind of squishes them all together -- the themes of the show are becoming more apparent. This week, that means the creeping shadow of mortality that's darkening our characters' doorways.
Everyone from Hedda Hopper to Jack Warner to Bob Aldrich to (of course) Bette and Joan themselves are feeling it: they're talking about legacies and last chances. "If you think it's twilight for us," says Warner, with his characteristic sneer, "it is midnight for them." "Them" is Bette and Joan, who both sign on to Whatever Happened To Cousin Charlotte? out of a sense of desperation that they won't get anything better. The episode is titled "Hagsploitation" not only because this was the trend Baby Jane kicked off, but also because the hag movies were what Bette and Joan (particularly Joan) had to cling to. At least What Ever Happened To Cousin Charlotte? had the chance to be good. So here we are, with two episodes to go: these women despise each other more than ever -- and Bette, for one, thinks the script is trash -- but it's what they've got to work with. For now.
- Hal LeSueur
Everybody please welcome Joan Crawford's blackmailing scumbag of a brother to the show. Don't worry, he won't be staying long. Hal's poor character is pretty easy to suss out, considering he's being played by Raymond J. Barry, best known as Raylan's dad from Justified. So it's no surprise to learn he's been peddling Joan's secrets to Louella Parsons, and will continue...unless Joan can make it worth his while. He also calls Joan "Billie," which was their stepfather's nickname for her when she was young -- the same stepfather who raped her when she was a child, so, yeah, Hal seems like a peach. Pity about that burst appendix.
- Jack Warner
"I'm the last goddamn dinosaur," Warner tells Aldrich, before demanding that he get to work on the next bit of "hagsploitation" they can use to make a quick buck. (It's funny how appalled Ryan Murphy seems to be at Warner for his cruel stoking of the fires of hagsploitation, considering that term seems to apply to pretty much every season of American Horror Story.) While it would be nice to see Warner brought low by either Bette or Joan, we can take small comfort in the fact that Aldrich screwed him over by shopping Charlotte over to Darryl Zanuck at Fox. Though it's tough not to appreciate Warner's choice line after Aldrich delivers a good bit of puffery about his talent and worth: "If the speeches in Charlotte are all as shitty as that one, Zanuck can have it."
- Hedda Hopper
In real life, Hedda Hopper died in 1966. Which would give her a solid two more years in the universe of the show. She'll probably spend all of it being Joan's best frenemy, praising her one minute and the next threatening to expose the supposed "stag film" Joan appeared in when she was younger.
- Joan Crawford
Much as with the success of Baby Jane, Joan can't seem to find a silver lining in her career renaissance in William Castle's horror/slasher pics. She certainly doesn't appreciate having to shlep across the country and back doing Castle's road show, where she would emerge in the aisles wielding an axe like her Strait-Jacket character. We'd feel worse about her getting power-played by Bette on that Charlotte set, but after Joan's weak-ass apology for the Oscar thing, she probably deserves it.
Good for Mamasita, standing up for herself against a drunken outburst from Joan. "The next time you throw something at my head, I leave you" may sound like the rationale of a battered spouse, but is there any doubt that Mamasita is the one guiding that ship? Taking exception to one of Bette's jibes even made us fear for Bette's safety.
- Bob Aldrich
The bad news for Bob is that his marriage is over, his wife having grown tired of coming in a distant second to his career. The good news is that he manages to sell Joan and Bette on Charlotte AND hand Warner a good solid fuck-you after bringing the picture over to Zanuck. Taking up with Bette on the Baton Rouge Charlotte shoot is probably not going to end up being the greatest of ideas, though.
- William Castle
Holy glorious morning, Murphy went and cast JOHN freaking WATERS to play William Castle. In a lifetime of genius stuntcasting, this one takes the cake. The king of '60s horror schlock played by the king of tasteless indie trash. It's so perfect.
- Bette Davis
"I'm through getting pushed around," Bette tells Aldrich as she makes her demands for creative control on Charlotte. And though she once again presses Joan for a united front, neither actress can help herself. Bette can't resist making snide sideswipes at Joan's bad taste; Joan can't resist overreacting to every slight with a plan to go nuclear. Bette manages to get a few choice zingers in -- "You must have plans after this to accept another award, maybe the Nobel Prize on behalf of Dr. King" -- but at the end of the episode, when Joan catches her, over the phone, in Aldrich's hot tub, her moral authority pretty quickly drains away.