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After a suspicious car accident in which actress Blanche Hudson is crippled for life, the popular star becomes a recluse, cared for by her sister, former child star Jane Hudson. In the ensuing years, the two sisters live an isolated existence in a sprawling house on the outskirts of Hollywood. Blanche becomes a virtual prisoner in the house, completely dependent on her bitter alcoholic sister who takes sadistic pleasure in tormenting her on a daily basis. When Jane finds out that Blanche plans to sell the house out from under her, her behavior becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous. Jane subsequently devises a plan to resurrect her ancient childhood vaudeville act with the help of opportunistic mama's boy Edwin Flagg while Blanche slowly wastes away in the upstairs bedroom. With both sisters increasingly desperate and Jane slipping rapidly into full-blown madness, events take a macabre turn for the murderous.
Director: Robert Aldrich
Writer: Lukas Heller
Based on the Novel By: Henry Farrell
Producers: Kenneth Hyman, Robert Aldrich
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Art Direction: William Glasgow
Editing: Michael Luciano
Music Composer: Frank DeVol
Costumes: Norma Koch
Sound: Jack Solomon
Special Effects: Donald Steward
Choreographer: Alex Romero
Make Up: Jack Obringer, Monty Westmore
Cast: Bette Davis (Jane Hudson), Joan Crawford (Blanche Hudson), Victor Buono (Edwin Flagg), Anna Lee (Mrs. Bates), Maidie Norman (Elvira), Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Flagg), Dave Willock (Ray Hudson), Anne Barton (Cora Hudson), B. D. Merrill (Liza Bates), Julie Allred (Young Jane), Gina Gillespie (Young Blanche).
Why WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is Essential
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a smash hit when it was released in 1962. It earned five Academy Award nominations and was responsible for revitalizing the careers of two of Hollywood's most famous and accomplished actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Both Academy Award winners, the movie work for Davis and Crawford had dried up since they had reached a certain age. The success of the film led each to a busy second phase of their careers in mostly B movies which kept them working and in the public eye until their deaths.
With her go-for-broke and completely vanity free performance as the grotesque, unstable Jane, Bette Davis created one of the most famous and iconic characterizations of her career. She earned her eleventh Academy Award nomination as Best Actress for it, and embraced the character throughout the remainder of her life, often referring to Jane as one of her all-time favorite roles.
Part macabre psychological thriller, part black comedy and part camp, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? quickly entered into the American pop cultural lexicon. It became an instant classic that has been imitated and parodied ad infinitum over the years.
The pairing of legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford captured the public's imagination before the film was even released. Rumor had it that they had always been bitter competitive rivals, much like the Hudson sisters in the story, and everyone wanted to see how much fur would fly in the completed film. Davis and Crawford had both been top actresses of their day in the 1930s and 40s and had even shared adjoining dressing rooms in former days on the Warner Brothers lot. However, the two barely knew each other and had never appeared in the same film together.
From the beginning, everyone wanted to believe that there was a terrible feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. While they weren't friends, the perceived rivalry became so exaggerated that it has gone down in the annals of legendary Hollywood lore. Most of the outrageous tall tales are unsubstantiated, but they have nevertheless become part of Baby Jane's cachet, which makes for a better story that most people would rather believe. Even though this was the only film that Davis and Crawford ever made together, the two actresses were forever linked in the public's mind, and each was asked about the other until their dying days.
The success of the film inspired a new sub-genre of horror some have referred to as the grand dame horror film. Titles that followed in the footsteps of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, include Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), Lady in a Cage (1964), Strait-Jacket (1964), Die! Die! My Darling! (1965), and What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)
by Andrea Passafiume
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Bette Davis and vocalist Debbie Burton recorded and released a novelty song called "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" in 1962 with "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" (sung by Burton alone) on the B side. Both tunes were written by Frank De Vol. Davis performed the song on The Andy Williams Show on December 20, 1962.
Bette Davis included her own recording of the song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" on her 1976 music album Miss Bette Davis Sings!.
In 1996 MTV ran a short parody of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in which an elderly Madonna in a wheelchair is at the mercy of a deranged Courtney Love (both singers were played by actors).
The British comedy team of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders did a parody of Baby Jane for their television show French and Saunders in 1990.
A television movie remake of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? aired in 1991 starring real-life sisters Lynn and Vanessa Redgrave.
Female impersonator Craig Russell did a parody of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in the 1977 film Outrageous! portraying both Davis and Crawford in one of the movie's more famous scenes.
In the 1979 film The Rose starring Bette Midler, a drag performer appears in a scene dressed as Bette Davis in Baby Jane and sings "I've Written a Letter to Daddy."
In the Seinfeld episode titled The Airport, George (Jason Alexander) makes a reference to one of Bette Davis' famous lines in Baby Jane. In the episode George picks up the last Time magazine in an airport newsstand before an escorted criminal in shackles can get it. When the criminal gets upset and says he could have had the magazine if only he weren't in the shackles, George replies, "But you are, Blanche! You are in the shackles!"
In 1991 the band Shakespears Sister released a video for their song "Goodbye Cruel World" which parodied Baby Jane along with another famous dark tale of Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard (1950).
A 2007 re-mix of the Baby Jane song "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" became a popular club favorite.
by Andrea Passafiume
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
The house in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? where the fictional Hudson sisters lived is located in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles at 172 South McCadden Place.
For Jane's old movie clips in Baby Jane, Robert Aldrich used scenes from two of Bette Davis' actual films: Parachute Jumper and Ex-Lady (both 1933). For Blanche's old movie clips in the film, Aldrich used scenes from Joan Crawford's 1934 film Sadie McKee.
Actor Peter Lawford reportedly turned down the role of Edwin Flagg saying, "It's a spot I wouldn't have given to my dry cleaner."
Just before Baby Jane was released, on September 21, 1962 Bette Davis famously took out the following ad in the Hollywood Reporter: "Mother of three--10, 11, and 15. Divorcee. American. Thirty years experience as an actress in motion pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood (has had Broadway). BETTE DAVIS, c/o Martin Baum, GAC. References upon request." The ad shocked the Hollywood community, though Davis claimed it was done tongue-in-cheek. "There was great objection by one and all to my ad," said Davis later. "Those who were part of my professional life felt this a very foolish thing to do. It was also misunderstood. If I had not been employed at the time, I never would have done this. I did it to poke fun at the bankers and their list of who was not bankable. If we were not allowed to make films, how would they know whether or not we were bankable?"
In 1963 Robert Aldrich and Bette Davis traveled to the Cannes Film Festival to screen What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in competition. It was there that Davis saw the finished film for the very first time.
Bette Davis took her teenage daughter B.D., who had a small role in Baby Jane as the next door neighbor's daughter, to the Cannes Film Festival. Davis later called the decision to take B.D. with her "one of the greatest mistakes in my life." Her regret was because it was there that B.D. met Jeremy Hyman, the nephew of Seven Arts head Eliot Hyman, who later became her husband. "I believe it was this union that, years later," said Davis, "produced B.D.'s book about me." The book was called My Mother's Keeper, published in 1985, and it painted a sometimes very unflattering portrait of Davis. The book was compared to the notorious book Joan Crawford's daughter Christina has written about her, Mommie Dearest just a few years earlier. Davis, who unlike Crawford, was very much alive when the book was published, was heartbroken and never forgave B.D., who was promptly disinherited.
According to Bette Davis, Joan Crawford came to her during the pre-production phase of Baby Jane and said that she hoped her "color scheme" wouldn't clash with Davis'. To that Davis replied, "Color scheme??? Joan, I haven't a speck of color in any dress I wear. Wear any color you want. Besides, it's a black-and-white film."
In her 1987 memoir This 'N That Bette Davis credits Baby Jane as the film that made her permanently give up driving a car. One day while Bette Davis was driving herself and daughter B.D. on the Pacific Coast Highway to get to the beach for a location scene, she was violently rear-ended by a woman driving another car. "She was not hurt, nor were B.D. and I," said Davis, "but we were badly frightened. I loved driving a car. After that experience, I should have started driving again immediately, but I didn't. Now with the madness of the freeways you could not pay me to drive again."
While promoting What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? on Jack Paar's Tonight Show on television, Bette Davis said, "I must say we are gloating. When Aldrich tried to interest the studios in Joan Crawford and myself, the moguls said, 'We wouldn't give you a dime for those two old broads.'" The audience loved it, but Davis soon received a letter from Crawford asking her to please never refer to her as an "old broad" again.
When Academy Award time arrived, Davis' nomination was very special to her. It was her eleventh time being up for the Best Actress award, and it was her first nomination in a decade. She desperately wanted to win. If she was victorious, she would be the first actress to ever have won the Oscar® three times.
As the Academy Awards ceremony drew closer, Davis became convinced that Joan Crawford, who had been overlooked by the Academy, was conspiring against her. "Joan did everything she could possibly think of to keep me from winning," said Davis. "She campaigned openly in New York, contacting all the Oscar® nominees who were in plays in New York that year. She offered to accept their Oscars® if they won and were unable to attend the ceremony. She also contacted all the members of the Academy who lived in New York, requesting that they vote for one of the nominees then on Broadway. Leaving aside the fact that I felt I deserved to win, the rule of thumb was that an Oscar® winner usually added at least a million dollars to the box office receipts of a film. Since Joan and I each had a percentage of the movie, how Medean, how foolish she was to work against my winning."
On Academy Awards night, Bette Davis seemed a lock for the Best Actress category. Everyone--including herself--expected her to win. When her category was announced, however, the winner was...Anne Bancroft in The Miracle Worker. Later Davis admitted to the Los Angeles Times, "I almost dropped dead when I didn't win." In her memoir Davis said, "That year, each nominee sat in a separate dressing room backstage, equipped with a TV monitor...When Anne Bancroft's name was announced, I am sure I turned white. Moments later, Crawford floated down the hall, past my door. I will never forget the look she gave me. It was triumphant. The look clearly said, you didn't win and I am elated!. Joan traveled around the world, carrying the Bancroft Oscar® with her. When she came back to New York, she threw a lavish party on the stage of Mother Courage, the play Anne Bancroft was in, and presented her with the Oscar®." If Crawford actually had intentions of working against Davis, she didn't betray her feelings publicly. "Months before the awards," said Crawford, "I predicted that Bette would be nominated and would win. She was nominated, but she didn't win, and that I'm truly sorry for."
The incredible success of Baby Jane boosted the flagging careers of both women for years to come. They each embarked on a fresh second phase of already illustrious careers, finding steady work in B movies. Bette Davis believed Baby Jane was a "breakthrough" in women's films. "Not in ten years had there been a successful woman's film," she explained. "Actresses had owned the industry for the previous twenty years and the men were entitled to their turn in the fifties and sixties. By then the world's problems were wars, drugs, crime, political corruption--all the ills that involve men much more than women. And writers write about what is going on in the world. Given that trend, Baby Jane was truly a break for both Joan and me."
Robert Aldrich soon tried to reunite Davis and Crawford in another women-focused film thriller. It was based on another story by Baby Jane author Henry Farrell called What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? Davis was interested, but told Aldrich that she refused to work with Crawford again. Not only was she still angry about Crawford's behavior regarding the Academy Awards, but she also believed Crawford was wrong for the part of Miriam. Davis also strongly objected to the title, feeling it was far too close to Baby Jane.
Aldrich believed that keeping the title What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? would ensure the success of the film since fans would flock to it hoping for another Baby Jane. He tried to convince Davis to accept the title as well as Crawford as her co-star. Finally, Davis made a deal with Aldrich. "Robert," she told him, "I will accept Crawford, if you change the title to Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte." Aldrich agreed to her terms.
Production began on Baby Jane's unofficial sequel, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) with Davis, Crawford and Aldrich all together again on location in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. However, just a few days into shooting, Crawford became ill and checked into a hospital. Weeks later, she asked to be released from the film and was replaced by Bette Davis' good friend Olivia de Havilland. Davis and Crawford never worked together again. Even so, as Davis later acknowledged, "Twenty years after we had worked together, and half a dozen years after her death [in 1977], we are still a team in the public's mind."
Memorable Quotes from WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
"Blanche, you're not going to sell this house. Daddy bought this house, and he bought it for me. You don't think I remember that, do you?"
"You're wrong, Jane. You've just forgotten. I bought this house for the two of us when I signed my first contract."
"You don't think I remember anything, do you? There are a whole lot of things I remember. And you never paid for this house. Baby Jane Hudson made the money that paid for this house, that's who."
"You don't know what you're saying."
"Blanche, you aren't ever going to sell this house. And you aren't ever going to leave it, either."
-- Jane (Bette Davis) and Blanche (Joan Crawford)
"You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair."
"But you are, Blanche! You are in that chair!"
--Blanche and Jane
"We're right back where we started. When I was on the stage, you had to depend on me for everything. Even the food you ate came from me. Now you have to depend on me for your food again. So you see, we're right back where we started."
"Why are you doing this to me? Why?"
"Making me afraid to eat. Trying to make me starve myself."
"Don't be silly. If you starve, you die. I don't know what you're talking about. You really must be sick."
-- Jane and Blanche
"Blanche, you know we've got rats in the cellar?"
"I didn't bring your breakfast because you didn't eat your din-din!"
--Jane, to Blanche
"I'll bring you some tea. You like tea?"
"Oh, Yes. I'm quite fond of tea. You must have guessed that I'm English."
"Oh, really? How nice for you."
--Jane and Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono)
"I got a friend down there. Someone who's come to see me. He doesn't even know you exist, and you don't like that, do you?"
"You're wrong, Jane. I've always wanted you to have friends. That's what I've always wanted. Really."
"Then how come I never had any?"
"Well, maybe you weren't...I mean, maybe you were just too independent."
"No, that's not why. You always stopped me from having friends, that's why."
"Not anymore, Jane. Not anymore. I'm pleased that you have a friend. That's what you need."
"I was just hoping maybe I could meet him and we could have a nice talk, just the three of us."
"Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Then you could tell him a whole lot of lies about me. Scare him off...Or maybe have him for yourself."
-- Jane and Blanche
"You mean, all this time we could have been friends?"
--Jane, to Blanche
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
In 1956 actress Joan Crawford had appeared in the film Autumn Leaves directed by Robert Aldrich. Ever since then, according to Aldrich, Crawford had regularly expressed interest in working together again. She felt he was innovative, had good instincts and knew how to handle a challenge.
Crawford had also always wanted to work with Bette Davis. She and Davis had been major stars in their heyday during the 1930s and 40s, and they were both Best Actress Academy Award winners. Davis was someone that Crawford had always deeply admired, finding her "a fascinating actress." In a later interview Crawford explained, "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 bitch, but she's so dedicated and honest."
According to Davis, she and Crawford were never more than passing acquaintances despite their close proximity at Warner Brothers. "We did not compete for parts," said Davis in her 1987 memoir This 'N That, "since we were opposing types of actresses."
Joan Crawford kept after Robert Aldrich to find a project in which she could co-star with Bette Davis. Several years later, a secretary sent him a suspenseful 1960 novel by Henry Farrell titled What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The rights to the book about two aging sisters who hate each other were for sale. Aldrich read it and immediately sent it to Joan Crawford, thinking it might be just the right story to fulfill her wish to work with Bette Davis.
Joan Crawford's response to the book, according to Aldrich, was "prompt and enthusiastic." Aldrich immediately worked on securing the movie rights to the book--the final price being $61,000. Writer Lukas Heller was then hired to adapt the book into a screenplay.
With the screen rights secured to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Joan Crawford attached to co-star, the next order of business was for Aldrich to get Bette Davis. "From the time Henry Farrell's novel...was published," said Davis in her memoir, "I kept hearing about it. Friends insisted I should play the title role." One night in 1961 when Davis was appearing on Broadway in The Night of the Iguana, Crawford came to see her backstage. She told Davis about Aldrich's plans to make Baby Jane and how he wanted the two of them to star.
"Weeks later, Aldrich flew into New York," said Davis. "We met after the theater at my townhouse on Seventy-Eighth Street. The first question I asked was which part I would be playing. He said, 'Jane, of course.' I said, 'Good. I just wanted to be sure.'" There was never really any question as to which actress would play Jane. According to all accounts even Joan Crawford knew that Bette Davis would be perfect for it and had no problem letting her play the meatier role.
In her initial meeting with Aldrich, Davis asked him a personal question. "Miss Crawford was famous for developing a 'meaningful relationship' with either her male star or her director," recalled Davis. "She felt these relationships gave her a certain power, and there is no doubt in my mind that they did. I do not know, or care, if she was the sexual athlete others have described. My guess is that she was a very skilled sexual politician." She asked Aldrich if he had had a "meaningful relationship" with Crawford. "In the silence that followed," said Davis, "I hastened to add, 'You may think this sounds silly, but if you ever had, then you couldn't be fair to both of us while filming Jane.'" To that Aldrich replied with a laugh, "The answer is no...not that I didn't have the opportunity." With that reassurance, Davis had no trouble agreeing to do the film. "As the producer-director, one of the challenges of his job was to show no partiality of any kind to either of his female stars," said Davis. "And he didn't."
With both Crawford and Davis on board, Aldrich's next obstacle was to secure financing for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. It was a problem that Bette Davis described as "nearly overwhelming." Crawford and Davis had both agreed to work for salaries that were well below their usual rates with the added bonus of a percentage of the film's profits--should it make any money. "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." Even Davis' and Crawford's old studio Warner Brothers turned the project down. The two aging actresses, Aldrich was told again and again, simply weren't bankable any more.
Just as he was beginning to lose hope, a life preserver was tossed to Aldrich by Eliot Hyman, head of the small Seven Arts production company. Hyman believed in the project from the beginning, though he knew it was also high risk. To Aldrich's delight, he was adamant that Baby Jane should star Crawford and Davis and was willing to put his money where his mouth was. The budget he offered would be bare bones, but the film would get made.
There was a great deal of publicity when Crawford and Davis officially signed on to make What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The public was thrilled with the pairing of such Hollywood legends, and they loved the idea of there being a feud between the two. It was an angle too delicious for the press to pass up, and stories began to circulate about the presumed rivalry between Davis and Crawford. The publicity was good for the film, but both actresses insisted that there would be no fighting. Crawford even agreed to let Davis have top billing. "Of course Bette gets top billing;" said Crawford, "she plays the title role."
On July 19, 1962 Jack Warner, who had agreed to distribute the film through Warner Brothers, hosted a luncheon at the studio to honor Davis and Crawford, his two former stars. "Since Warner Bros. was one of the major studios that had turned us down, and since they were my studio for many years," said Davis in the second edition of her 1962 memoir The Lonely Life, "I guess the luncheon was an apology of sorts. It was the first time I had been on the Warner lot in fourteen years. It was a most nostalgic experience."
For the key supporting role of conniving mama's boy Edwin Flagg, Aldrich chose Victor Buono, an unknown actor who had appeared in mostly television parts. "I feel like an altar boy invited to the Ecumenical Council in Rome," said Buono. "I can't believe it's me emoting with two such stars."
Bette Davis' 16-year-old daughter, B.D. Merrill, was also given a small part as Liza, the teenage daughter of Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee), the Hudson sisters' next door neighbor. "[B.D.] had made her screen 'debut' at the age of three in a film called Payment on Demand ," explained Davis. "I thought it would be fun for her to see in later years...There was no thought of a career. B.D. never wanted to be an actress and I was delighted."
To prepare for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Davis and Crawford had lengthy discussions about their characters and how best to play the relationship dynamic between them. Davis experimented with makeup and clothes for Jane, while Crawford learned how to use a wheelchair and move her body like a real paraplegic. Soon, the two legendary stars would be ready for their close-ups.
by Andrea Passafiume
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
When production began on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were excited about the project. The budget was shoestring and the schedule was tight, but they were thrilled to go to work every day and trusted that Robert Aldrich would make a wonderful movie. The film would be shot in black and white, thanks to Davis' insistence. "Seven Arts wanted to film it in color," said Davis. "It was a black-and-white story. Color would have made it too pretty. Tragedy should never look pretty."
Early on, Bette Davis made the decision to create her own makeup for her character Jane. "What I had in mind no professional makeup man would have dared to put on me," said Davis. "One told me he was afraid that if he did what I wanted, he might never work again. Jane looked like many women one sees on Hollywood Boulevard. In fact author Henry Farrell patterned the character of Jane after these women. One would presume by the way they looked that they once were actresses, and were now unemployed. I felt Jane never washed her face, just added another layer of makeup each day." Davis' garish makeup made her look something akin to a grotesque version of an aging Mary Pickford gone to seed, and she loved it. She took pride when original Baby Jane author Henry Farrell visited the set one day and exclaimed, "My God, you look just exactly as I pictured Baby Jane." The outrageousness of Davis' appearance caused some concern for Aldrich and the producers who feared it might be too over-the-top. However, as time went on, they came to see that Davis' instincts for the character were right.
While Davis took delight in looking dreadful for the film, the opposite was true of Joan Crawford. Even though Crawford's character Blanche had once been a beautiful young actress, Blanche was now is her 50s, confined to a wheelchair, emaciated and wasting away. It was difficult for Crawford to appear unattractive, since she had always been considered one of Hollywood's most glamorous stars. "It was a constant battle to get her not to look gorgeous," said Davis. "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."
Little by little, according to Davis, Robert Aldrich convinced Crawford to let go of some of her glamorous embellishments. "It took him one entire morning to talk her into removing her nail polish for a scene in which she came downstairs with her hand on the railing," said Davis.
Crawford also refused to dispose of her falsies. "As part of her wardrobe, Miss Crawford owned three sizes of bosoms," said Davis. "In the famous scene in which she lay on the beach, Joan wore the largest ones. Let's face it, when a woman lies on her back, I don't care how well endowed she is, her bosoms do not stand straight up. And Blanche had supposedly wasted away for twenty years. The scene called for me to fall on top of her. I had the breath almost knocked out of me. It was like falling on two footballs!"
"Miss Crawford was just not my kind of actress," said Davis. She didn't like the way Crawford shied away from physical fight scenes and accused Crawford of regularly spiking her own Pepsi with vodka on the set (Crawford was a board member and spokeswoman of Pepsi-Cola). "The final scene in Baby Jane was supposed to be filmed on the beach in Santa Monica," recalled Davis, "but Joan could not stand the heat of the sun at the beach. Alcohol in the body exposed to heat makes one perspire freely. So a set had to be built at the studio and tons of sand brought in. It was in Joan's contract that the stage had to be kept at a certain temperature. Members of the crew wore lumberman's jackets. In southern California. In August. On a soundstage."
Despite her criticisms, Davis did have some praise for Crawford every now and then. She called Crawford a "pro" who was always on time and always knew her lines perfectly. She also saw some similarities between herself and Crawford. "...I suppose we have the same drive," she told writer Whitney Stine. "She's a survivor and so am I. And, I suppose I do infuriate people the same way she does." On Baby Jane, Davis felt that Crawford's behavior was reasonably under control--"because I suppose, she wanted to be as professional as I was," said Davis.
The budget was so limited that the production wasn't able to use the usual process screen shots for Jane's driving scenes. Bette Davis did her own driving around Hollywood with cameraman Ernie Haller perched either in the backseat of the car or over the front fender in order to get the shots he needed. "To this day," said Davis in 1987, "I smile when I remember the first time 'Jane' drove down Beverly Boulevard in an old Hudson. The expressions on the faces of people in other cars when they saw me were hysterical. Lots of mouths dropped."
Bette Davis found doing the scene in which the adult Jane sings her maudlin childhood signature song, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy," particularly memorable. "The old Jane gazing in the mirror from about twelve feet away looks pretty good," described Davis. "Then she walks forward. Ernie [the cameraman] had a high light, straight down, which is always bad for a woman. Especially me. When Jane finally gets up to the mirror, she sees herself as this decrepit, old hag, when in her mind, she's still young. I covered my face with my hands. [Aldrich] had wanted a loud scream, but what came out was a hoarse cry -- I'd been having laryngitis. It was right and we both knew it. [Aldrich] had tears in his eyes. 'You just won yourself an Oscar®,' he whispered. I went home that night singing, 'And the Angels Sing.'"
The principal shooting was completed on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in roughly a month. "[Aldrich] really cut the picture in the camera," said Bette Davis. "He had to, because we didn't have time for many setups, and he wanted to show the picture for a week in the Los Angeles area to qualify for Academy consideration." Aldrich told the New York Times, "We finished shooting on schedule on September 12. Exactly one month later, we held our first sneak preview, at the State Theatre in Long Beach, California. That we were able to get the picture in shape in this incredibly short time is due to a group of dedicated craftsmen who performed above and beyond the call of duty--and almost beyond physical endurance--who worked virtually around the clock to meet our schedule."
From the moment What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was released, it was a box office smash. People lined up around the block to see two of Hollywood's finest go head-to-head on the big screen and make mincemeat out of their former screen images. Davis and Crawford worked hard to promote the film, both knowing that their profit percentage points would pay off in spades with the film's success. Davis traveled to seventeen New York State theaters in three days for personal appearances and helped give away promotional "Baby Jane" dolls to patrons with a "lucky envelope" under his or her seat.
by Andrea Passafiume
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
A Hollywood gothic along the lines of other abrasive studies of the movie industry like Sunset Boulevard (1950), A Star is Born (1937) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), Robert Aldrich's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) teamed two of the industry's most bitter rivals, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, as a pair of disturbed (or is it disturbing?) sisters.
Two screen divas known for their outsized egos, mercurial temperaments and larger-than-life personalities, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were icons of their day.What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? exploited those notorious personalities and the equally infamous tension between the two screen legends.
The pairing of Bette and Joan was, by most accounts suggested by Crawford, who had worked with Aldrich on Autumn Leaves (1956) and claimed she had always wanted to work with Davis. Aldrich saw the perfect vehicle for the two stars in Henry Farrell's novel. Farrell's bizarre tale was a chance to resuscitate both actresses' flagging careers with a novel, publicity-generating concept.
Aldrich's 1962 chiller stars Davis and Crawford as two aging sisters forced to finish out their days in claustrophobic intimacy living in a gloomy, decaying Hollywood mansion. Jane (Davis) is a former child star who built her reputation on her cloying, sugary songs for the vaudeville stage and Blanche (Crawford) is movie star royalty whose own cinematic stardom exceeded BabyJane's, driving a wedge of jealousy and resentment between the two sisters. Years earlier in a suspicious "accident" Blanche was run over by Jane's car, and is now confined to a wheelchair, completely reliant on her sister for care. When Jane finds out Blanche intends to sell their home and commit her to a sanitarium, her already fragile mental state further erodes. She begins to badger and torture her sister, as her drinking increases, as well as entertain a perverse dream of reviving her Baby Jane act, complete with blonde curls, saccharine songs, and a childish on-stage demeanor.
Each actress played some version of her star persona in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?: Joan, the suffering stiff-upper-lipped martyr familiar from roles like Mildred Pierce (1945) and Bette, the willful, brash, brazen straight-shooter from Beyond the Forest (1949). And the tension between Blanche and Jane onscreen was by most accounts equaled by the rivalry between the two fading movie divas. Though in her autobiography The Lonely Life Davis claimed "Joan Crawford and I got along famously much to the huge disappointment of the Hollywood press," most eyewitness accounts tell a different story. Even before filming was underway, the stars reportedly bickered over salaries and who would receive top billing. A great deal of friction was apparently also generated mid-production by Joan and Bette's very different acting styles -- Davis played Baby Jane to the excessive, hysterical hilt, while Crawford tended to cower and remain passive and understated. But Davis's scenery chewing apparently paid off, as she, and not Crawford was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress (though the honor that year went to Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker). The film received a total of 5 Academy Award nominations, and a Best Costume Oscar for designer Norma Koch's imaginative garments which underscored the personalities of the players from the slatternly, frumpy get-ups Jane wears around the house, to the creepy little girl dresses she later wears when she pathetically attempts to revive her career as a child star.
Despite mixed reviews in the press, (The New York Times' Bosley Crowther called the stars "a couple of formidable freaks") What Ever Happened to Baby Jane was a box office hit, grossing $9 million and undoubtedly attracting audiences who relished the campy, extreme spectacle of two former screen giants, Davis and Crawford, chewing the scenery in thisunforgettably bizarre, gothic horror production. And yes, that is Bette Davis' daughter, Barbara Davis (nicknamed "B.D."), in a small role as the teenage girl next door.
Producer/Director: Robert Aldrich
Screenplay: Lukas Heller
Set Design: George Sawley
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Costume Design: Norma Koch
Film Editing: Michael Luciano
Original Music: Frank De Vol
Cast: Bette Davis (Jane Hudson); Joan Crawford (Blanche Hudson); Victor Buono (Edwin Flagg); Marjorie Bennett (Mrs. Dehlia Flagg); Anna Lee (Mrs. Bates)
by Felicia Feaster
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
AWARDS AND HONORS
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Costume Design (Black and White), Best Cinematography (Black and White), Best Sound, Best Supporting Actor (Victor Buono) and Best Actress (Bette Davis). It won in one category: Best Costume Design.
Both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were nominated as "Best Foreign Actress" at the BAFTA Film Awards.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was nominated for the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1963.
Robert Aldrich was nominated for a Directors Guild of America (DGA) Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures.
Bette Davis and Victor Buono received Golden Globe nominations in the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor categories.
In 2003 the American Film Institute ranked the character of Jane Hudson number forty-four on its list of the greatest villains in movie history, "100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains."
The American Film Institute ranked Baby Jane number sixty-three on its list of the Top 100 Heart-Pounding American Movies.
THE CRITIC'S CORNER - WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?
"Joan Crawford and Bette Davis make a couple of formidable freaks in the new Robert Aldrich melodrama, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. But we're afraid this unique conjunction of the two one-time top-ranking stars in a story about two aging sisters who were once theatrical celebrities themselves does not afford either opportunity to do more than wear grotesque costumes, make up to look like witches and chew the scenery to shreds." -- The New York Times
"Teaming Bette Davis and Joan Crawford now seems like a veritable prerequisite to putting Henry Farrell's slight tale of terror on the screen. Although the results heavily favor Davis (and she earns the credit), it should be recognized that the plot, of necessity, allows her to run unfettered through all the stages of on coming insanity...Crawford gives a quiet, remarkably fine interpretation of the crippled Blanche, held in emotionally by the nature and temperament of the role. Physically confined to a wheelchair and bed through the picture, she has to act from the inside and has her best scenes (because she wisely underplays with Davis) with a maid and those she plays alone." -- Variety
"A little bird told me that What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a chiller on the order of Psycho , and therefore not to be missed. So much for the critical acuity of little birds. The picture is far from being a Hitchcock--it goes on and on, in a light much dimmer than necessary, and the climax, when it belatedly arrives, is a bungled, languid mingling of pursuers and pursued which put me in mind of Last Year at Marienbad . Still, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford do get a chance to carry on like mad things, which at least one of them is supposed to be." -- The New Yorker
"In playing their rather implausible roles the two old-pro actresses have a field day under the direction of Robert Aldrich...[Miss Davis] acts throughout...with all her well-remembered bite and venom intact, while Miss Crawford plays it beautifully and nobly, as of yore." -- The Motion Picture Herald
"A superb showcase for the time-ripened talents of two of Hollywood's most accomplished actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Scenes that in lesser hands would verge on the ludicrous simply crackle with tension." -- The Saturday Review
"The screen hasn't had such acting and face-making since D.W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein dominated the directorial field. This film is a field day for Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, and director Robert Aldrich, who saw in Henry Farrell's novel of the same title the outlines of a modern Greek tragedy. Yet it is great fun, too, because this is pure cinema drama set in a real house of horrors." -- The Chicago Daily News
"Far-fetched, thoroughly engaging black comedy...Bette has a field day in her macabre characterization, with Buono a perfect match." -- Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Compiled by Andrea Passafiume