LIFE

11 Surprising Facts Behind The Infamous Bette Davis And Joan Crawford Feud

by Jess Catcher
Jess grew up in Oklahoma before moving to New York to become a writer. She has a cat named Agnes.

Details about the notorious feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford have filled countless newspaper columns, books, and now a new TV show highlighting the tension between the two.

However, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction with all the drama involved in stories surrounding the legendary actresses. Friends in the industry have come to the defense of both women in their time, but the fire from their animosity toward each other remained fueled for decades as they bruised each other’s egos — and even traded a few physical blows.

I knew how icy things were between Bette and Joan while they filmed What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but I have to admit I had no clue what actually sparked the rift between them decades before they set foot on the same set.

Take a look to see all the bumps in the road for these infamous frenemies.

Let us know if we missed any important moments from the ladies’ tumultuous relationship, and don’t forget to SHARE all the fascinating details with your friends!

1. Joan's Divorce Overshadowed Bette's Breakthrough

bette davis in ex-lady

On the very same day Bette was set to promote her first film with her name above the title (Ex-Lady in 1933), Joan announced her infamous divorce from Douglas Fairbanks Jr., a fellow actor and the son of Hollywood legend Douglas Fairbanks.

The news rocked headlines, and newspapers dedicated several pages to the domestic drama. This caused them to knock reviews of Bette’s big break down to a short paragraph, which ultimately caused the film to flop.

2. Joan "Stole" Her Second Husband From Bette

bette davis and franchot tone

Two years after getting in the way of her career’s success, Bette was heartbroken when Joan intruded on her love life as well.

While filming her Oscar-winning role in 1935’s Dangerous, Bette fell head over heels for her co-star, Franchot Tone. Unfortunately, he was already dating Joan, who wasn’t a fan of her beau’s kind words for his leading lady. Joan eagerly pushed Franchot toward marriage and announced their engagement while the movie was still in production.

Bette was furious, reportedly telling journalist Michael Thornton back in 1987 that she still held a grudge over the matter. “[Joan] did it coldly, deliberately and with complete ruthlessness,” she said. “I have never forgiven her for that and never will.”

3. Joan Taunted Bette's Oscar Fashion

bette davis in dangerous

Still reeling from the news of Franchot and Joan’s marriage, Bette was also fighting with studio head Jack Warner over attending the Academy Award ceremonies to protest the formation of the Screen Actors Guild.

Though she relented to showing up and ultimately took home her first golden statue, she also made sure to have a little protest of her own by wearing a simple navy dress rather than an elaborate gown.

When Franchot hugged Bette as she made her way to retrieve the award, Joan physically refused to acknowledge her and kept her back turned. Later during the celebration, at Franchot’s insistence that she play nice, Joan reportedly gave Bette a “compliment” dripping with sarcasm: “Dear Bette, what a lovely frock.”

4. Joan Tried To Call A Truce

joan crawford in above suspicion

In 1943, Joan made the transition from MGM Studios to Warner Bros., the same studio where Bette had worked for a decade. However, whether it was genuine or not, Joan did try to make amends for their former tension by requesting a dressing room adjacent to Bette. She even sent her gifts and flowers as an olive branch.

Bette was set in her ways, though, and promptly returned every item right back to the sender.

5. Joan Wouldn't Have Won An Oscar Without Bette

joan crawford in mildred pierce

Joan wasn’t above taking the leading role in 1945’s Mildred Pierce, even though it had originally been offered and turned down by her nemesis, Bette. In fact, she threw herself into the role so fully that the Academy Awards honored her with a Best Actress Oscar.

Of course, by that time, Bette already had two of the same statues under her belt after winning in 1936 and 1939.

6. Bette Parodied Joan On Film

bette davis in the star

Though many producers had tried to get the warring women to co-star in a film, Bette was particularly against it. Because of this, she turned down a role in the 1950 film noir Caged, which was intended specifically for the pair of actresses.

However, Bette was all too happy to jump at the chance to portray the character of a washed-up celebrity clinging to her fame, a role that was not-so-loosely based on Joan, in The Star. The deeply unflattering role was penned by Joan’s former friend Katherine Albert, who clearly had some pent-up frustrations that Bette had no problem helping her air out.

7. The What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? Set Was Filled With Tension

7. The <i>What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?</i> Set Was Filled With Tension

Unsurprisingly, the pair weren’t keen on sticking a pin in their quarreling even after Joan convinced Bette to take the title role in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? in 1962.

Things eventually got physical when Bette reportedly struck Joan roughly during a fight scene, with some claims saying the latter required stitches after the kick to the head. Joan was able to get her revenge when another scene called for Bette to drag her across the floor — knowing her co-star had a bad back, Joan is rumored to have weighed herself down with a heavy belt (and perhaps a few rocks in her pocket, too).

8. Bette Stole Joan's Thunder, But Joan Took It Back

joan crawford 1963 oscars

After the shocking success of Baby Jane, Joan was not subtle about her bitterness toward Bette getting all the attention and accolades from critics and audiences alike.

She was so upset, in fact, that she actively campaigned against Bette’s Oscar nomination for the role. Joan called both Anne Bancroft and Geraldine Page, Bette’s competition for Best Actress, and offered to accept their awards should they be unable to attend the ceremony.

When the award eventually went to Anne for her role in The Miracle Worker, Joan reportedly gave a triumphant look at Bette as she waltzed past her backstage to accept the award on Anne’s behalf.

9. Joan Backed Out Of Their Second Film

joan crawford in what ever happened to baby jane

The pair was slated to co-star again in Bette’s next film, 1954’s Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, but Joan pulled out after a week of production claiming health issues. The cast and crew on set believed she was still nursing her ego’s wounds from the attention Bette received from Baby Jane and feared history would repeat itself.

10. Bette Never Minced Words About Joan

bette davis in all about eve

In one of her most famous jabs at her rival while they were both at the height of their careers, Bette quipped, “Miss Crawford is a movie star, and I am an actress.”

Another, much less eloquent statement made by Bette after Joan dropped out of their second film, paints a particularly clear image of her feelings: “I wouldn’t piss on Joan Crawford if she were on fire.”

11. They Had At Least One Unfortunate Thing In Common

mommie dearest

Both of the actresses had tense relationships with their daughters, something that brought out the surprisingly sympathetic side of Bette.

Despite their lifelong disputes, Bette came to Joan’s defense after her daughter Christina published her scandalous account of growing up with the actress, Mommie Dearest, in 1978 shortly after Joan’s death. A few years after that, in 1981, Faye Dunaway starred as Joan in the film adaptation (as shown above).

Several of Joan’s old friends rushed to support the late actress in light of the details spilled in the memoir, but no one expected to hear Bette chime in, saying, “I was not Miss Crawford’s biggest fan, but, wisecracks to the contrary, I did and still do respect her talent. What she did not deserve was that detestable book written by her daughter.”

Shortly before her own death in 1989, Bette’s own daughter B.D. Hyman published a similar memoir titled My Mother’s Keeper. Bette received sympathetic feedback from fans and friends alike, and addressed her confusion at the accusations through her own book, This N’That: “If my memory serves me right, I’ve been your keeper all these many years. I am continuing to do so, as my name has made your book about me a success.”

Did we miss any facts about this legendary Hollywood feud? Let us know in the comments, and be sure to SHARE all the juicy tidbits with your friends!