Life is all about winners and losers, because no one has ever gotten a participation trophy. That’s why we can’t merely sit back and enjoy Feud, Ryan Murphy’s barely fictionalized recreation of the infamous animosity between screen legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis while filming the 1962 classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?—we need to also decide who won the whole damn war. (Here’s the delicious, decades-long backstory of their feud.) Each episode, we’ll be scoring the tit-for-tat beef between Joan v. Bette, two heavyweights onscreen and in the ring.
The premiere starts off with both women at career nadirs. Joan, played with admirable—though a little disappointing—restraint by Jessica Lange, hasn’t worked in three years, and is being blackmailed into giving sour quotes about Marilyn Monroe to notorious Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis, actually the campiest broad in the bunch). She’s running out of money and can’t even pay her gardeners, who don’t think that trimming Joan Crawford’s bush is quite the honor that her overly-loyal maid Mamacita (the delightful Jackie Hoffman) thinks it is, though she probably does the same.
As for Bette, a somber Susan Sarandon, she’s starring in Tennessee Williams’s new play on Broadway, which seems like it would be a big deal, but she hardly even has any lines. And to make it worse, she has to wear pedal pushers onstage and drive a bar cart. (Quelle horror!)
Things are a little worse for Joan at this point, however, since her agent Marty won’t even send her anything but grandmother roles, and she really needs a paycheck so she can buy new plastic covers for her Billy Haines furniture. We have to give her credit, though. When she can’t find a part for herself, she goes out and makes her own, picking Baby Jane, the novel, out of a pile of pulp fiction and turning it into the project that would revitalize her career.
Joan’s has to try so hard, though. She positions herself seductively in a turban and a pair of divine sunglasses by the pool while waiting for director Robert Aldrich (a game Alfred Molina) to come by and offer to direct the picture. Sure, that’s a bit better than raking her own leaves off the front lawn, but if she couldn’t look any less conspicuous if she tried.
Though Joan made the movie happen, she still has to go to New York and drink bottomless crow mimosas to get Bette to sign on, because she knows it’s the only way the picture will get made. “With us together, they can’t say no,” she coos in Bette’s dressing room, looking regal in her outdated fur and diamonds while Bette has her hair held together by an Ace bandage. “We need each other, Bette.” Though she’s groveling, Joan is still the one with the power.
But Bette is playing her hand quite well. She puts Joan on the back foot by only calling her by her Christian name: Lucille. She knows that the film’s success hinges on her participation, and waits until Aldrich praises her as an artist—she’s always perceived herself as the superior actor of the two—before committing. Still, it’s almost not enough to even get the picture made at their old home, Warner Bros. Turns out both divas were way too diva-y for Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci, looking a little too swole for Old Hollywood) to want to ever work with them again.
So far, it seems like Joan is the one in the driver’s seat, at least when it comes to the picture, but what about all the other trappings of movie stardom? While Joan lives in a divine home, she keeps it all under Saran wrap, as if her couch is Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes. Though, she does have a freezer in her bathroom for her vodka and ice.
Meanwhile, Bette is holed up in a sad little country house, but at least she has a baller cigarette case that looks like a Lucky Strikes package to keep her company. She also gets to wear smart white shirts that are monogrammed. Also, points for having the superior haircut.
Speaking of which, Joan has a turkey neck that even her live-in facialist can’t seem to resolve. She’ll try anything to look young, from rubbing lemons all over her elbows to waking up and plunging her face into a cauldron of witch hazel and ice (thank god for that freezer). Bette’s morning beauty regime, on the other hand, consists of smoking cigarettes alone in bed, which is probably awful for your health, but so much more glamorous. Joan’s not alone—she has a hot piece keeping her warm at night—but she totally alienates him by going on and on about her nemesis.
Bette and Joan’s first big showdown, then, comes at the contract signing, as each actress vies for the chair on the left so that she’ll be the first name listed in the photo credits. While Bette gets the chair, Joan trumps her by standing to her left and leaning over her shoulder. However, Joan then sees that her costar is making more money than she is. Let’s call this one a draw.
Once filming starts, Bette gives Joan the respect that she’s always been craving, which means she loses a little bit of her power in this dynamic. Joan arrived on set with gifts to hand out to the whole crew so that they’ll give her better lighting and props. Bette only shows up with her dour daughter BD (Kiernan Shipka, growing up nicely) in tow. That’s not going to win anyone any favoritism.
Joan has a good first day on the set, but Bette steals the spotlight by coming up with Baby Jane’s iconic white face makeup and disheveled costume, mostly thanks to one of Joan’s old wigs—she’s turned Joan’s old tumbleweave against her and given it a whole new life. She even gets a round of applause from the director and the crew when she comes and takes a bow.
Still, things aren’t that different for old Bette and Joan. Hedda Hopper makes them both eat fish aspic, which sounds about as appealing as eating anything in aspic. When they go to watch the dailies of their first performances, neither actress can stand to look at herself: Joan probably thinks that she’s an awful actress next to her old foe, and Bette can’t stand to look at how the backs of her hands have aged. She might wipe away a tear when she sees them, but at least she can sit through it without having to leave the room. No matter what you say about her, that Bette Davis sure is strong.
The Scorecard, Episode 1:
Joan: Blackmailed into talk about Marilyn: -5 points Gardeners refuse to trim her bush: -1 Plastic furniture covers: -2 Finds Baby Jane: +10 Has to grovel to get Bette to sign on: -5 Successfully gets her to sign: +10 Bathroom freezer: +100 (okay, only +2) Gets on the left at the contract signing: +3 Makes less money than Bette: -4 Gets Bette’s respect: +10
Bette: Has to wear pedal pushers: -3 Calls Joan “Lucille”: +2 Is courted for Baby Jane: +5 Fierce cigarette case: +1 Is on the right at the contract signing: -3 Makes more money than Joan: +4 Gives Joan her due: -5 Creates Baby Jane’s look with old Joan wig: +15 Can sit through her own dailies: +1
Round One Winner: Joan Crawford.
Hollywood’s Juiciest On-Set Feuds, from Dustin Hoffman vs. Meryl Streep to Sarah Jessica Parker vs. Kim Cattrall
Dustin Hoffman reportedly took up method acting just in time for Kramer vs. Kramer, Robert Benton’s 1979 film that saw Hoffman star opposite Meryl Streep. That meant, when it came time for the pair to fight, he actually punched Streep while filming—and took it upon himself to get her appropriately riled up for her performance by teasing her about her boyfriend’s lung cancer diagnosis and later death.
The Icelandic enigma that is Björk made it more than clear than she could act by stealing the show—even from Catherine Deneuve—with her performance as a struggling factory worker saving up for her son’s eye operation in Lars Von Trier’s 2000, Palme d’Or-winning film, Dancer in the Dark. Still, even though she took home the Best Actress award from the Cannes Film Festival, Björk hasn’t acted since: her experience on-set with von Trier was so fraught that she vowed to never make another movie—even though it was actually Björk, according to the director, who missed their first meeting because she had to jet off to a Greek island and took up greeting him by spitting on the ground.
Though Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, and Lucy Liu all seemed to get along just fine on the set of 2000’s Charlie’s Angels, Bill Murray took it upon himself to liven things up mid-scene by reportedly turning to Liu and telling the actress she couldn’t act. Liu, for her part, stayed in character by throwing Murray a punch—and came out on top by landing a role in the sequel, which Murray definitely did not.
Not many would characterize Bruce Willis as an “emo b—h,” but that’s exactly how the director Kevin Smith described Willis after working with the actor on his 2010 buddy cop film Cop Out, which also starred Tracy Morgan. The experience, according to Smith, was both “soul-crushing” and “terrifying,” thanks to Willis’s intimidating demeanor and diva-like preference for the real movie-star treatment.
Decades before Faye Dunaway added a heavy dose of drama to this year’s Academy Awards, the actress starred in Chinatown and reportedly got so heated with Roman Polanski, who allegedly pulled a hair out of her head that was getting in the way of his shot, that she threw a cup of urine at him when he wouldn’t let her pause to pee.
George Clooney and David O. Russell apparently got so heated shooting Russell’s 1999 film Three Kings that the pair got into a physical fight. Russell, apparently, was not taking well to a cutback in the film’s budget, and in the final days of shooting, threw an extra—and, later, Clooney—to the ground in a supposed demonstration. Four years later, in 2003, Russell was still holding a grudge: for a comment on the actor for a Vanity Fair profile, the director offered up, “George Clooney can suck my dick.”
Jake Gyllenhaal’s role as a political cartoonist plagued by letters from a serial killer in David Fincher’s 2007 film Zodiac required quite a bit of vetting: Fincher initially met up with Gyllenhaal, whom he’d taken a liking to from Donnie Darko, and recorded his mannerisms before offering the actor the part. Once cast, though, filming was still hardly a breeze for Gyllenhaal: he’d repeatedly act out scenes for Fincher, only to hear the director call for the last 10 takes to be deleted immediately and everything to start again—an offense Gyllenhaal unabashedly recounted to the New York Times.
In 1991, Julia Roberts reportedly landed herself the nickname “Tinkerhell” thanks to her role as Tinkerbell in Steven Spielberg’s Hook, a live-action version of Peter Pan. “It was an unfortunate time for us to work together,” Spielberg later said of the experience on 60 Minutes. (Roberts had just broken off her engagement with Kiefer Sutherland a few days before.)
“Once and for all, what’s my opinion on Jamie Foxx?/He pussy/Pussy ain’t funny as Chris Rock,” a line in LL Cool J’s 2000 song “U Can’t F–k With Me,” is just as explicit of a call-out as it sounds. The pair took their fight scene in Oliver Stone’s 1999 football film Any Given Sunday a little too literally, getting so physical that the crew eventually called the police.
George Clooney is hardly the only actor with whom David O. Russell’s lost his cool. Before the director made Amy Adams cry on the set of American Hustle, but three years after his 2004 film I Heart Huckabees already came out, footage emerged of Russell calling Lily Tomlin, one of its stars, a “b—h” and a “c–t” and sending things flying behind the scenes. Tomlin later acknowledged the director was under pressure, while Russell made sure to tell the New York Times that the pair “love each other” in 2013.
Though they were the best of friends on Golden Girls, Betty White and Bea Arthur didn’t exactly vibe off-screen. Arthur reportedly called White a “c–t” when she was receiving a lifetime achievement award, and wasn’t too pleased that White was the first of the show’s four actresses to win an Emmy (an award they’d all eventually end up with).
It took a dozen years, but Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall’s reported difficulties with each other when filming Sex and the City hit a peak when the pair was filming the series’s film sequels, which only magnified their dispute over unequal salaries. Not that they’ve brought any of it out into the open: Parker, for one, has made public peace offerings in the way of well-wishing Instagrams.
Infamous Hollywood Feuds: