Fact-Checking Feud: Bette and Joan's Premiere: Get the Lowdown on What Really Happened

We separate fact vs. fiction in FX's new anthology series about the legendary feud between screen icons Bette Davis and Joan Crawford

By Tierney Bricker Mar 06, 2017 10:00 PMTags
Watch: Ryan Murphy Gives Scoop on "Feud" & "American Horror Story"

A feud of biblical proportions.

That's what Feud: Bette and Joan, Ryan Murphy's latest anthology series for FX, introduced viewers to on Sunday night, as the battle between movie legends Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) on the set of their one film together, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, is the real star of the show. While it may seem like Feud would be all about side-eyes, cat-fights and costume porn, it actually explores sexism and ageism in Hollywood.

"I think people at first blush might think, ‘Oh, this show is glorifying women tearing each other apart," Murphy told E! News. "Actually, this show is condemning it, and trying to show women, that's not the way to go. And you could be much more powerful united than opposed. That is more important now than we would have ever thought."

So just how accurate was Feud's premiere about the origins of Bette vs. Joan, Hollywood in the '60s and the making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? We fact-checked the entire premiere, digging up some great Old Hollywood gossip along the way...

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FICTION: While Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kathy Bates play fellow actresses Olivia de Havilland (a two-time Oscar winner) and Joan Blondell (a contract actress at Warner Bros. in the '30s), dishing on their friends' feud as part of a documentary on Crawford, there's no record of this ever actually happening.

FACT: Crawford really did comment on Marilyn Monroe's cleavage, but it was after the Photoplay awards dinner (not the Golden Globes) and not to gossip monger Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis), but reporter Bob Thomas. "It was the most shocking display of bad taste I have ever seen. Look, there's nothing wrong with my tits, but I don't go around throwing them in people's faces," she said. 

FACT: Mamacita was a real person, named Anne Marie Brinke, was was first hired by Joan in the early '60s, before allegedly quitting in 1974. In a note written to Mama's children by Crawford in 1974, she acknowledged a falling out. "I do hope we hear from Mama soon. I am very sorry we have had so many problems." 

FACT: Crawford really did cover her furniture with plastic, explaining in an interview, "I've always been a nut when it comes to cleanliness. When I was a kid I'd scrub the hell out of the rooming houses and crummy apartments my mother and her husbands lived in."

UNKNOWN: There are a few reports on just how Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? came to be, with director Robert Aldrich saying he read the book on his own and bought the rights, envisioning Crawford and Davis for the lead roles. Crawford, however, said she wanted to reunite with Aldrich again after working on Autumn Leaves together, and was one the one to suggest Davis for the part, as she had always wanted to work with her. 


Davis, as well, originally said she came across the book independent of Aldrich and Crawford, and had tired to get Alfred Hitchcock to make it. However, she eventually admitted Aldrich and Crawford's version of events was more accurate, with Crawford actually paying her a visit after one of her performances on Broadway in The Night of the Iguana. 

FACT: Crawford wanted to work with Davis for years, with Roy Newquist revealing in his 1980 book Conversations With Joan Crawford, that the actress said, "Kate Hepburn and Bette Davis top my list of those I admire, because they're so vastly talented and strong-willed and indestructible. Bette can be such a b--ch, but she's so dedicated and honest."

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FACT: Davis did ask Aldrich if he ever had a "meaningful relationship" with Crawford, per her memoir.

FICTION: In the show, Davis' husband served her divorce papers in their home, but in real-life, she was the one to serve him papers while they were performing together on The World of Carl Sanburg tour, which he was soon let go from, replaced by Barry Sullivan

FACT: Davis sued Warner Bros. to get out of her contract in 1937, feeling she wasn't getting roles worthy of her time and talent. While she did lose the suit, she paved the way for other stars to fight back against the contract-system, namely Olivia De Havilland, who won her own suit in 1994, leading to the De Havilland Law. 

"I was fighting for good directors and good scripts. Literally, that's all I cared about because money always followed," Davis said of the lawsuit on The Dick Cavett Show in 1971. 

FACT: Despite the combined star power, Aldrich had a hard time getting financing for the film, as depicted in Feud. "Four major companies declined to even read the script or scan the budget," Aldrich told the New York Times. "Three distributors read the script and looked at the budget and turned the project down. Two of these said they might be interested if I would agree to cast younger players."

FACT: Warner Bros. studio head Jack Warner (played by Stanley Tucci) really did suck that much, despite eventually agreeing to distribute the film. "I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for either one of those two old broads," he originally said (according to Davis) of Baby Jane, though both stars had worked at Warner Bros. for years. (He went on to earn his money back nine days after its release, BTW.)



FACT: Crawford really did soak her face in witch hazel, per Murphy, who told Entertainment Weekly, "The witch hazel was my shout-out to Mommie Dearest," said Murphy. "Jessica Lange has never seen Mommie Dearest. She's like, 'What the f— am I doing?' And I'm like, 'I'm telling you, Joan Crawford did this!'"

FACT: Crawford was known to hand out gifts and notes to crew members on the sets of her film. "Advice to the young actress: Make the cameraman adore you," she said, according to Newquist.

FICTION: While Crawford may have had a Pepsi-Cola machine installed on the set of the film (she was a spokesperson for the brand after marrying  executive Alfred Steele and remained on the board after his death) in the show, it was Davis who actually had a soda machine installed, albeit for Coca-Cola. 

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FACT: When it comes to Baby Jane's iconic look, Davis did do her own make-up for the character, explaining in her 1987 tell-all, "What I had in mind no professional makeup man would have dared to put on me. One told me he was afraid that if he did what I wanted, he might never work again."

Also accurate? Crawford's hesitance for a make-under to play Blanche. "It was a constant battle to get her not to look gorgeous," Davis wrote.  "She wanted her hair well dressed, her gowns beautiful and her fingernails with red nail polish. For the part of an invalid who had been cooped up in a room for twenty years, she wanted to look attractive. She was wrong."

FICTION: The wig Davis wore really was one of Crawford's wigs from one of her previous movies, though she didn't know it at the time when it was selected.

FACT: That final sitdown interview with Hedda Hopper in her home did happen, and the final lines of the episode really are pulled straight from Hopper's write-up

And Crawford did carry around her own vodka, with Hopper noting the enlightening detail in her interview. "When Bette took Scotch on the rocks before dinner, Joan produced her own flask of 100-proof vodka: ‘I say if you're going to have a drink, have what you want.'"

Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.