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Following the unexpected box-office hit What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), director Robert Aldrich wanted to re-team stars Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. He thought he had the perfect property in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), based on the short story Hush Now...Sweet Charlotte by Henry Farrell who had also written What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The working title was What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?, which was changed because Bette Davis thought the public would think it was a sequel. Davis herself said, "They had already composed a song for the film, and I liked it. It was sort of a lullaby that started off with 'Hush, hush, sweet Charlotte,' and I suggested that might be a better title.
Since Davis and Crawford did not get along despite their very public denials, it is not surprising that Joan quit the film, claiming she was ill. She had accepted the role only on the condition that her name come first in billing. Davis agreed, but only if she were paid more and she ended up making the same as Aldrich who directed and produced it.
Alain Silver and James Ursini wrote in their book Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, "Reputedly, Crawford was still incensed by Davis' attitude on Baby Jane and did not want to be upstaged again, as Davis' nomination for Best Actress convinced her she had been. Crawford worked only four days in all of July. Because she had told others that she was feigning illness to get out of the movie entirely, Aldrich was in an even worse position"...Desperate to resolve the situation, "Aldrich hired a private detective to record her [Crawford's] movements." When shooting was suspended indefinitely on August 4, the production insurance company insisted that either Crawford be replaced or the production cancelled. Aldrich approached Katharine Hepburn, who didn't return the studio's calls, and Vivien Leigh, who demurred, saying, "No, thank you. I can just about stand looking at Joan Crawford's face at six o'clock in the morning, but not Bette Davis'." Barbara Stanwyck and Loretta Young also said no thanks. Bette Davis immediately suggested her good friend Olivia de Havilland. "Having ruled out or been turned down by Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck, Aldrich flew to a remote resort in Switzerland and somehow cajoled Olivia de Havilland, the last acceptable actress, into taking over the part. 'I spent four terribly difficult days with all the persuasion I could command...I don't believe half of the things I said myself; but I knew there was no other place to go. If I came back without de Havilland, we wouldn't have a picture, because we had gone through all the other people that [20th Century] Fox would live with.'"
Olivia de Havilland later remembered, "I always thought it would be fun if [Bette and I] could work together. Then, I was offered the chance to work with her on the film that became Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte when Joan Crawford withdrew. I knew Bette wanted badly to work, and Jane had been such a success that Bette was quite anxious. They had to find the replacement, and Bette wanted me. The problem was I wasn't as anxious to work as she was. I didn't need to. I wasn't thrilled with the script, and I definitely didn't like my part. I was reverse-typecast, being asked to be an unsympathetic villain. It wasn't what people expected of me. It wasn't really what I wanted to do. Bette wanted it so much, so I did it. I can't say I regretted it, because working with her was special, but I can't say it was a picture I am proud to put on my rsum. Given the choice, I wouldn't have deprived Joan Crawford of the honor."
She did have positive things to say about the experience: "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte was full of traps, it was a delicate tight-rope walking assignment. I found that very interesting. Aldrich gave it a very special style, a kind of dark glittering style which fascinated me. It's always the charming ones of evil intent who are the dangerous ones; the others you can see coming. But you can't see Miriam [de Havilland's character] coming, and she's really dangerous." Joseph Cotten who also starred in the film, was also happy with the replacement, as he wrote in his autobiography, "[After Crawford's departure] The story, the project, everything about Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte was too good to scrap. Bob Aldrich put on persuading armor, packed handcuffs and a fountain pen, flew to Switzerland, and brought back Olivia...Olivia and I played lovers in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte . She was a fine replacement. She and Bette worked beautifully together; [Olivia] and I had never worked together before."
Crawford may have been gone, but she was not forgotten. According to Hal Erickson "On the first day of shooting, Davis and de Havilland pulled a "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead" routine by toasting one another with Coca-Cola - a catty observation of the fact that Joan Crawford's husband was an executive of the Pepsi-Cola company!"
The cast also included Mary Astor, another friend and former co-worker of Bette Davis' during her time at Warner Brothers. Astor wrote, "My agent called: 'There's this cameo in a movie with Bette Davis. It's a hell of a part; it could put you right up there again.' I read the script. The opening shot described a severed head rolling down the stairs, and each page contained more blood and gore and hysterics and cracked mirrors and everybody being awful to everybody else. I skipped to my few pages - a little old lady sitting on her veranda waiting to die. There was a small kicker to it inasmuch as it was she who was the murderess in her youth and had started all the trouble. And then in the story, she died. Good! Now, I'd really be dead! And it was with Bette - which seemed sentimentally fitting...[T]he locale was the deep South and we went on location to Baton Rouge and it was hellish hot. We worked at one of the magnificent decaying old pillared mansions [the Houmas House Plantation in Burnside, Louisiana] with an avenue of moss-hung trees leading down to the levee. It was an hour's drive from the hotel and we had to get up at the crack of dawn-naturally! The first day of shooting I was, as always, full of anxiety tremors. Every actor worth his salt has them, and you never get over it. I had lots of dialogue in a southern accent, and I had never worked with the director, Bob Aldrich. Bette was not in the scene and so naturally had the day off. But she had the sensitivity and courtesy to take the long drive out to the location and be a friendly, familiar face on the sidelines. 'Hi, Astor!' said she, 'You look great!' And I knew that she didn't mean the usual Hollywood flattery. She took a quick look at my costume, listened to my accent, watched a rehearsal, and said to Aldrich, 'Turn her loose, Robert, you might learn something!'".Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte ended up earning several Oscar® nominations, including a Best Supporting Actress for Agnes Moorehead, as well as Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Film Editing; Best Music, Original Song; and Best Original Music Score.
Producer: Robert Aldrich, Walter Blake
Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Henry Farrell, Lukas Heller
Cinematography: Joseph F. Biroc
Film Editing: Michael Luciano
Art Direction: William Glasgow
Music: Frank De Vol
Cast: Bette Davis (Charlotte Hollis), Olivia de Havilland (Miriam Deering), Joseph Cotten (Dr. Drew Bayliss), Agnes Moorehead (Velma Cruther), Cecil Kellaway (Harry Willis), Victor Buono (Samuel Eugene).
by Lorraine LoBianco
The Internet Movie Database
The All-Movie Guide
A Life in Film by Mary Astor
Joseph Cotten: An Autobiography: Vanity Will Get You Somewhere
Bette Davis: Her Films and Career by Ilene Riggold
The Films of Olivia de Havilland by Tony Thomas