They were two of the most talented beauties Hollywood ever produced: the elegant Joan Crawford, a former chorus girl who shot through the ranks at MGM, and the brash, tempestuous Bette Davis, a Broadway star notorious for refusing to bow to the studio bosses. Their work together in the hit film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? sowed the seeds for a mutual hatred that would consume their lives. As each fading star tried to outshine the other, lives were upended and reputations were destroyed. Glamorous, merciless, and cruel, their feud became the stuff of legends. Based on interviews the author conducted with both actresses and more than a decade of research, Bette & Joan shows the hard-drinking, hard-fighting duo at their best and worst. The epic story of these dueling divas is hilarious, monstrous, and tragic. This updated edition includes two new chapters. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are portrayed by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange in the Ryan Murphy TV series Feud.
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This is easily the best book I’ve ever read about the golden age of Hollywood; the glitz, the glamour, the double-deals and, of course, the feuding. And nowhere was there a greater, more enduring feud than that between the two undisputed queens of Tinsel Town, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
Davis, the ‘serious’ actress, with credits and accolades on stage and screen going back decades. Feisty and uncompromising, intense and demanding, arriving on set alone, eating alone, leaving alone; and Crawford, the ‘Movie Star’; glamourous and aloof, pampered and indulged, and always accompanied by her entourage of assistants, stylists, make-up experts and assorted hangers-on. Both of these women were every bit as serious about their status as Queens of Hollywood, and both every bit as prepared to defend that title, whatever it took.
The book follows their individual paths to fame and glory; Davis, slogging it out in small theatre productions in suburban America; Crawford, with the dazzling beauty and dancing skills, working as a chorus girl, all the time looking for the next step up. On the way they both began to develop the hard shell they would need to break the big time. For Davis this became her acid wit and abrasiveness; for Crawford, her beauty and permissiveness became a weapon she would use to get what or who she wanted. And all the time, they kept an ever-watchful eye out for potential competition, which had to be wiped out at the first opportunity. For both of them, being a movie queen wasn’t a job, it was a 24hr, 7 days a week vocation, one which they both played to the hilt.
And then came ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”
By the time they finally got to work together both women were established A-listers in the Hollywood scene, and by this time had substantial reputations that went before them. The movie world held its breath at what could happen when these two immovable forces met.
Determined not to give the salivating media what it wanted, both artists individually decided to try and outdo each other by being as nice and supportive as possible. Whilst this approach definitely threw the press off-guard, the pressure of keeping this ‘nicey-nice’ act up, day after long day, started to wear the stars down, and tiny cracks started to appear.
The narration, by January LaVoy (Great name btw), is first-class and keeps the listener engaged throughout. Miss LaVoy also has a wonderful way of suggesting the speech patterns of the two stars (Davis very clipped and staccato, Crawford measured and purring) without descending into a full-on impression, which would’ve been distracting.
There are many, many wonderful insights into the golden era of Hollywood, but one of my favourites, which demonstrates how the stars of the day were constantly on their guard against criticism, and ready with a well-aimed putdown, happened when young Crawford is shooting a scene with an older, established actress, whose husband happens to be directing. The older actress is threatened by Crawford’s outfit, and tells Crawford, “If you’re wearing that to impress my husband, don’t bother. He doesn’t like women who dress like circus clowns.”
“No need to worry, Darling,” purrs Crawford, “I’ve never had a problem taking my clothes off for your husband.”
A classic at last available on audio. Faultlessly gossipy text with one of the best narrators. Had stuff to do but this just captivated me. Read it when it first came out and it has improved with age. Viva divas!