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111. WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, 1962

A gruesomely fun masterpiece starring two battling Hollywood icons

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford behind bars in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

With its over-the-top sensibility and camp, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” should have been nothing more than a forgettable low-budget schlock horror film. But its nail-biting direction, beautifully bleak cinematography, black humor, and unnerving performances turn this nightmarish tale into an unforgettable and, dare I say, moving classic. And the notorious offscreen rivalry between Hollywood legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, who star as the antagonistic and forsaken “Hudson” sisters, helped catapult the film to cult status.


Julie Allred and life sized Baby Jane Hudson doll in the classic Grande Guignol horror movie thriller film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

This surprise box-office blockbuster is so well made it earned five Academy Award nominations (winning one), and had such an impact that it launched a new sub-genre of horror/thriller films known as Grande Guignol. The American Film Institute (AFI) named it the 63rd Most Thrilling American Film of All-Time and picked the character of "Baby Jane Hudson” as the 44th Greatest Movie Villain in History. Unlike the “Hudson” sisters, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” never gets old and is a film you are sure to remember.


Julie Allred dances as Baby Jane Hudson in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (from here on referred to as “Baby Jane”) opens with two preambles before the credits. The first takes place in 1917 at the Baby Jane Hudson Theater where “Baby Jane” sings and dances before an enthusiastic audience. A giant vaudeville star, “Jane” is spoiled by her father and mistreats her slightly older sister “Blanche”. The browbeaten “Blanche” watches “Jane” from the sidelines as her mother tells her, “You’re the lucky one ‘Blanche’, really you are. Someday it’s going to be you that’s getting all the attention. And when that happens…I want you to try to be kinder to ‘Jane’ and your father than they are to you now”. To which “Blanche” vengefully responds, "I won't forget. You bet I won't forget!”.


Julie Allred, Gina Gillespie, Dave Willock, Anne Barton are the Hudson family in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

We then jump to 1935, as two movie executives watch footage from a movie starring the now older “Jane”, as one of them exclaims “She stinks, doesn't she?”. Talentless, always drunk and sometimes violent, “Jane” has a film career solely because the studio is obligated contractually to make one film with her for every film they make starring “Blanche”, who has become the biggest star in the movies. At the end of this quick preamble we witness a car accident involving the two sisters. After that, our film truly begins….


Bette Davis with Baby Jane Hudson doll in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

It forwards to “Yesterday” (over twenty years later), when the Hudson sisters are well past their prime and live together in a creepy old mansion. “Blanche” is confined to a wheelchair, and the now forgotten, alcoholic, and mentally unstable ”Jane” cooks and takes care of her. They also have a housekeeper “Elvira”, and a nosy next-door neighbor, “Mrs. Bates”. It happens to be “Blanche Hudson” week on TV, where they are showcasing her films, which helps prod “Jane’s” jealousy and need for the spotlight, so she decides to revive her own vaudeville career and hires a pianist named “Edwin” to accompany her. When “Jane” learns that “Blanche” is going to sell the house and put her in an institution, her sadistic side blossoms, and the slow torture of “Blanche” begins.


Joan Crawford hands tied up in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

“Baby Jane” has just the right amount of tension, mental anguish, violence, humor, and sisterly resentments to keep one anxiously eager to see what happens next. As marvelously over-the-top as this film can get at times (don’t overthink some of the plot details), it always feels as if these are real people in a real place and time, making for one absolutely delectable gothic psychological thriller.


Joan Crawford in wheelchair holding book in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
“What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”

This film came about because of its star, Joan Crawford, and its producer/director, Robert Aldrich. The two had worked together in 1955's "Autumn Leaves", after which Crawford kept urging Aldrich to find another film for them, and a project in which she could star opposite Bette Davis. Aldrich thought the pairing of these two larger than life actresses ridiculous until Crawford sent him Henry Farrell's 1960 novel, "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". He immediately bought the film rights, hired Lukas Heller to write the screenplay, and approached Davis. After bargaining for more money, top billing, and making sure Crawford wouldn’t get preferential treatment from Aldrich, Davis agreed to do the film. Both actresses were offered low salaries with a percentage of the film’s profits, along with costume, makeup and cinematographer approvals.


Maidie Norman comforts Bette Davis in the kitchen in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Getting financing was a whole other story, as no studio would touch a film starring these two seemingly washed-up Hollywood divas. Aldrich finally secured financing from Seven Arts Productions, an independent production company that made films for release by other studios (such as "The Misfits" and “Lolita”), with Warner Brothers distributing this film.


Joan Crawford spins in her wheelchair from above in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Aldrich was an independent director and producer with a penchant for presenting slightly over-the-top characters, big emotions, and pushing the limits of violence. He also had a talent for making the most of a tiny budget, and all of his strengths were used to good fortune in “Baby Jane”. His shots are inventive, such as showing us “Blanche” spinning in her wheelchair like a caged animal from above, or having “Jane” look directly at the camera as if it were a mirror. He creates the ultimate in suspense through editing (such as when “Blanche” is trying to get to the phone while “Jane” is on her way home), and the inspired use of sound fleshes out this uneasy world with the clanking of ice cubes, the shuffling of slippers, or the exaggerated sound of “Blanche” eating a box of chocolates. Aldrich’s direction ties the film’s exemplary elements together in one fabulously thrilling knot.


Victor Buono and Bette Davis in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Film director Robert Aldrich portrait photo with glasses
Robert Aldrich

Rhode Island-born Robert Aldrich began his film career as a production clerk at RKO Pictures, working his way up to assistant director, where he worked alongside such directors as Jean Renoir, William Wellman, Max Ophüls, and Charlie Chaplin, among many others. He began directing television with a 1952 episode of the "Schlitz Playhouse". His film directorial debut was 1953’s "Big Leaguer", which was not a success. After briefly returning to TV, he raised money to produce and direct 1954's "World for Ransom", which caught the eye of Burt Lancaster and Harold Hecht, who hired him for two A-list films starring Lancaster, "Apache" and "Vera Cruz", both of which were big hits. Aldrich continued directing films, such as the cult classic "Kiss Me Deadly", "The Big Knife", "Autumn Leaves", and "Attack". After being fired from directing "The Garment Jungle" in 1957, Aldrich found it difficult to get work, so he went to Europe and directed a handful of films that didn't fare well at the box-office, starting with 1959's "Ten Seconds to Hell" and ending with 1962's "Sodom and Gomorrah". He needed a hit, and "Baby Jane" was it. A massive box-office success, it revitalized his career. His post "Baby Jane” films include "The Dirty Dozen", "The Killing of Sister George", "Ulzana's Raid", "The Longest Yard”, and his follow-up to “Baby Jane”, ”Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte”. His final film was 1981’s "...All the Marbles". He was married twice. Robert Aldrich died in 1983 at the age of 65.


Bette Davis makes a sand castle in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

The incredible performances and success of “Baby Jane” launched a new sub-genre of macabre horror/thriller films known as Grande Dame Guignol (also referred to as "Psycho-biddy" films). These films starred former A-list actresses as older, dangerous, and/or unbalanced women, often living in decaying mansions. Though there are a few stand out Grande Dame Guignols, “Baby Jane” is its shining star. Others from the genre include "What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?", "Lady in a Cage", "What's the Matter with Helen?”, and "The Night Walker”. "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte” was a Grande Guignol planned to be produced and directed by Aldrich re-teaming Davis and Crawford as a follow-up to “Baby Jane”, but shortly after filming began, Crawford entered a hospital (some thought she was feigning illness, and she later claimed she was being harassed by Davis). Because of production delays, Aldrich was forced to let Crawford go, and replaced her with Davis’ friend, actress Olivia de Havilland. Screen legends Mary Astor, Agnes Moorehead, and Joseph Cotten also appear in that classic.


Bette Davis applies lipstick as Baby Jane Hudson in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Bette Davis is a tour de force as “Baby Jane Hudson”, the former child star gone awry. I can’t think of an actor in the history of cinema who can match Davis at blending the theatrical with truth, and there is no greater example than her “Jane Hudson”. Davis’ performance has been described as “chewing the scenery” and “over the top”, which may be true, but it is all without one false note. Although "Jane" is evil, Davis infuses her with overwhelming sensitivity and vulnerability, rendering her utterly human. This performance goes beyond acting, as Davis inhabits "Jane's" walk, mannerisms, looks, and way of speaking. A spellbinding portrait of a woman losing her grip on reality. “Baby Jane” was once playing on my TV without sound and I inadvertently looked up while Davis was onscreen. The deep feelings on her face were so frighteningly real I couldn’t look away. This virtuoso performance earned Davis her eleventh (and final) Best Actress Academy Award nomination, setting a record at the time as the most Oscar nominated actor.


Bette Davis sings I've Written a Letter to Daddy in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

“Jane’s” hideous appearance came to Davis once she saw her wardrobe. Her intention was to “look outrageous, like Mary Pickford in decay”. Davis designed and applied her own makeup because, as she said in Ed Sikov’s book, “Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis”, “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. ‘Jane’ looked like many women one sees on Hollywood Boulevard… I felt ‘Jane’ never washed her face - just added another layer of makeup each day”. Just after filming began, Aldrich asked her to tone down her look, to which Davis responded “If you change my makeup, you’ll have to recast me, because if I play ‘Jane’ I will continue to wear this makeup”. She got her way. When Davis first saw the film at the Cannes Film Festival, according to Aldrich, she was in tears at how awful she looked. Unknown to Davis, the wig she wore was borrowed from MGM and formerly worn by Crawford in her early musical days.


Hollywood legend, actress, icon, movie star Bette Davis candid portrait photo
Bette Davis

Just before "Baby Jane", Davis' career was in a shambles. After rising as one of the top stars of the 1930s, a downturn in the late 1940s, a comeback with “All About Eve” in 1950, and then another major dive as the 1950s continued, she returned to her Broadway roots in 1960, and in 1961, appeared in the original production of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of the Iguana”. Crawford came backstage one night and presented Davis with "Baby Jane”. Davis left the play early to accept the role. “Baby Jane” served as Davis’ second comeback, bringing new energy to her career, and she worked continually from then on until her death in 1989 (including more Grande Guignols such as "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “Dead Ringer”, and “The Nanny”). You can read more about the life and career of Bette Davis in my previous posts on “All About Eve” and “Now, Voyager”. Just click on the film titles for more.


Joan Crawford calling doctor on the phone in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Joan Crawford turns in a stunning performance as former movie star and now crippled “Blanche Hudson”. Even while spending practically the entire film in a wheelchair, Crawford has the expert ability to suck you in and make you feel tremendous compassion. In a subdued performance (compared to the flamboyant “Jane”), Crawford makes “Blanche” completely sympathetic and is a large reason the film becomes an emotional joyride. Crawford’s performance is genuine, and I particularly love watching the many chords she strikes in the scene when she’s on the phone with "Dr. Shelby”. She's simply fabulous.


Joan Crawford with her parakeet in its cage in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

The character of “Blanche” strangely mirrors Crawford’s movie queen image. One can sense it from the very first time “Blanche” is seen, smiling with pride as she watches one of her old films on TV. Though it is supposed to be “Blanche” watching “Blanche”, we all know it is Crawford watching Crawford, creating an eerie confusion about reality and this film. “Baby Jane" is riddled with small details reflecting Crawford and her studio days, such as “Blanche’s” joy at getting fan mail, the portrait of Crawford from her glory days hanging over the bed, and the various shots of her looking quite glamorous, particularly for a woman who’s been bedridden for twenty years.


Joan Crawford watches Joan Crawford on TV in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Never really able to let go of being the alluring movie star, Crawford kept wanting to glamorize “Blanche”. According to Shaun Considine’s book “Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud”, the film’s costume designer Norma Koch (who won an Oscar for this film) said that Crawford “wanted to wear her own negligees and dressing gowns. The negligees were low-cut and revealing, nothing an invalid or recluse would wear. I managed to talk her out of that by saying they were too lovely and new, that her character should only wear clothes that looked dated”. Crawford also wanted to wear short dresses to show off her legs, and again Koch reminded her that “Blanche” was vain and would never expose her disfigured legs. Luckily Crawford agreed. Another fun tidbit: Crawford had the chocolates "Blanche" eats replaced with meatballs, opting for protein over sugar. Davis unknowingly ate one on the set and screamed in revulsion.


Hollywood icon, legend, actress movie star Joan Crawford 1940s 1950s portrait photo with fur coat
Joan Crawford

As the studio era began dying in the 1950s, so did Crawford’s career. She was after all a child of the Hollywood studio system, and her unparalleled twenty plus years playing melodramatic romantic leading ladies had come to a close. Before “Baby Jane”, she had been away from the big screen for three years (the longest gap in her entire working career), and was last seen in a star-billed supporting role in 1957’s “The Best of Everything”. Her age and giant star status now made it difficult to find work. After a few television appearances came “Baby Jane”, which would be her last great film. She spent the bulk of her remaining film career in Grande Guignol films (ranging from okay to awful), including 'Strait-Jacket", "Berserk!", "I Saw What You Did", and “Trog”. “Baby Jane’s” popularity made a whole new generation discover Crawford, cementing her status as Hollywood royalty. You can read more about Joan Crawford in two previous posts, “Mildred Pierce” and “The Women”.


Bette Davis and Joan Crawford fight in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

One major aspect of “Baby Jane” is how the off-screen rivalry between its two stars seeps into the film. There’s no single reason as to why Davis and Crawford loathed one another but rather a complicated history between two fiercely competitive, ambitious, and driven actresses. As similar as they were as workaholics vying to be number one, they couldn’t be more opposite in their approach or style. Davis rebelled against the star making game while Crawford reveled in it, religiously answering fan mail and posing for hundreds of glamour photos. Davis often made herself unattractive for a role, while Crawford always made sure to look her best. Davis was a no nonsense, tell it like it is, pistol of a woman, while Crawford emitted sweetness and pretense.


Bette Davis points the finger at Joan Crawford in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Davis famously said of Crawford, “To me, she is the personification of the Movie Star. I have always felt her greatest performance is Crawford being Crawford”. That sentiment never sat well with Crawford, and in Roy Newquist’s book “Conversations with Joan Crawford”, Crawford responded, “So I had no great beginnings in the legitimate theatre, but what the hell had she become if not a movie star? With all her little gestures, with the cigarette, the clipped speech, the big eyes, the deadpan? I was just as much an actress as she was… competing in the same medium, so weren’t be both actresses? Film stars? Former film stars, whatever. That kind of snobbery is beside the point”.


Bette Davis and Joan Crawford but you are in that wheelchair Blanche in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

They were also polar opposites onscreen. Davis specialized in playing bitchy women with an edge, and Crawford played the vulnerable victim to the hilt in many of her films, particularly during the high point of her career in the 1940s. Film critic Andrew Sarris summed it up nicely in his review of “Baby Jane”: “The casting is inspired, the screen’s eternal masochist (Crawford) confronting the screen’s eternal sadist (Davis)”. Further incorporating this haunting blend of reality and fiction, “Baby Jane” uses early film footage from both actresses’ careers to represent young “Jane” and “Blanche” (using scenes from Davis’ 1933 films “Parachute Jumper” and “Ex-Lady”, and Crawford’s 1934 film “Sadie McKee”). Knowing some of the real-life backstory jealousies and competitions between Davis and Crawford enhances any viewing of “Baby Jane”, taking the discord between the “Hudson” sisters to a whole new level. So I’ll briefly go into their history.


Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Considered to lack leading lady beauty, Davis’ film career had a difficult beginning, as studios didn't know exactly what to do with her. About to head back to the New York stage after appearing in a half dozen unsuccessful films, she landed a contract with Warner Brothers. Her big break came in a part she had to fight to play, as the vile and unattractive "Mildred" in 1934’s "Of Human Bondage”. Going against the Hollywood norm at the time, Davis uglified herself for the role, creating and applying her own makeup to portray the diseased and dying prostitute as authentically as possible. It earned Davis her first Best Actress Oscar nomination and made Hollywood take notice that here was a gifted actress. That film also set the tone for the remainder of Davis’ career, as it became clear to everyone that this was an actress who threw herself into a role, not caring about a glamorous movie star image. By the late 1930s, Davis had won two Best Actress Academy Awards and was hailed as one of the greatest actresses of the silver screen.


Joan Crawford behind window bars in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

By the time Davis made her 1931 film debut, Crawford was already a star and had appeared in over three dozen films. She had risen up the ranks at MGM Studios, reaching stardom in the 1928 silent film "Our Dancing Daughters”. With the help of MGM’s indomitable star-making system (which I talk about in my posts on “Bringing Up Baby” and “Stage Door”), Crawford became one of filmdom’s biggest stars, known for her beauty and relatable “working girl” image. Just as Life magazine crowned her "Queen of the Movies” in 1937, Crawford’s popularity quickly took a nose dive. She appeared in a handful of flops and found herself labelled box-office poison (alongside the likes of Greta Garbo, Katharine Hepburn, and Fred Astaire). Striving to be back on top and wanting nothing more than to be taken seriously as an actress, she sought more challenging roles, playing against type in such films as "The Women", and "Strange Cargo".


Bette Davis brings Joan Crawford din din dinner in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Crawford parted with MGM in 1943 and moved to Warner Brothers, where Davis reigned queen. As queen, Davis had first pick of roles at Warners, and she passed on a film called “Mildred Pierce”, which Crawford happily took, won a Best Actress Academy Award for it, and became one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Having to be number one, Davis ached to be the first person to win three acting Oscars, so turning down the part, and having Crawford of all people win for it must have stung.


Bette Davis and Joan Crawford behind bars in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Perhaps the first tiff between them was in 1933, when Davis was not quite a star. She had big hopes that her upcoming film, “Ex-Lady”, (the first film in which her name appeared above the title) would be her breakthrough. Warners planned a big publicity campaign for it, which was completely overshadowed in the press by Crawford’s divorce to her first husband, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr. "Ex-Lady" turned out to be a financial flop, which Davis felt was from its lack of publicity, blaming Crawford.


Bette Davis eats Joan Crawford's din din lamb chop in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Come 1935 and Davis was filming “Dangerous” opposite actor Franchot Tone. She fell head over heels in love with him, and the two reportedly had an affair. One day on the set he announced his engagement to Crawford. Davis was crushed and incredibly jealous. According to Charlotte Chandler's book "Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford: A Personal Biography", years later Crawford quipped, "Franchot said he thought Bette was a good actress, but he never thought of her as a woman”. If it was any consolation, Davis won her first Best Actress Academy Award for that film. There were also prevalent rumors that Crawford (who was known to be bisexual and very promiscuous) wanted to sleep with Davis, who would have no part of it. But because of strict studio mores and the accepted morals of the times, those types of things can almost never be confirmed, though that doesn’t mean they aren’t true.


Bette Davis and Joan Crawford with scripts on the set of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" classic Grand Dame Guignol film movie
Bette Davis (left) and Joan Crawford (right) during the making of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

“Baby Jane’s” publicity people played up the Davis/Crawford feud to help promote the film, but because both actresses were consummate professionals, no hostility was visible on the set. It was felt in the air though, and the two found mischievous ways to get at one another. In a scene when “Jane” kicks “Blanche”, there is one shot which required a close up of Davis’ foot and Crawford’s face, and on one take Davis reportedly did make contact with Crawford’s head, but to what degree is highly disputed. And in the scene when “Jane” carries “Blanche” from her bed out of the bedroom, Crawford strapped a special weightlifting belt underneath her dress to make her much heavier to handle. It was an effort for Davis to carry her, and to make it worse, Crawford, who was supposed to be unconscious, would cough or blink, so they’d have to do additional takes. After Aldrich yelled “cut”, Davis reportedly shrieked with back pain. Their feud didn’t end with the film. Nasty jabs kept flying in public, such as Crawford saying "Bette is a survivor. She survived herself”, or Bette saying “Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it’s because I’m not a bitch. Maybe that’s why [Crawford] always plays ladies”. It continued even after Crawford’s death, as Davis was asked for a comment and notoriously said, "You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good… Joan Crawford is dead. Good!”.


Bette Davis carries Joan Crawford in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

The topping on the cake came at Oscar time. Davis earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for "Baby Jane" while Crawford was overlooked. There was no favorite to win but Davis felt certain the Oscar was hers (and let us not forget her competitive thirst to become the first actress to win three Oscars). Crawford arranged things so she would be onstage at the ceremony presenting the Best Director Oscar. She also contacted the New York based Best Actress nominees, offering to accept the award on their behalf if they couldn't appear on the show. Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft said "yes” (both being in Broadway plays). Crawford arrived to the Oscars in a sparkling dress, looking her ravishing best. Davis sat backstage with her friend Olivia de Havilland, waiting nervously for her category to be announced. When Maximilian Schell announced "And the winner is Anne Bancroft" (for "The Miracle Worker", a film already on this blog), Davis was crushed. She later wrote in her autobiography “This ’N That”, "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”. Davis blamed Crawford for losing, claiming she campaigned against her and was bitter about it until the day she died. Davis and Crawford’s feud was turned into an eight-part TV miniseries titled "Feud", starring Susan Sarandon as Davis and Jessica Lange as Crawford. Katharine Hepburn became the first actress to win three Best Actress Oscars in 1968, then winning a fourth in 1981, still holding the record for the most competitive acting Oscar wins (as of this writing).


Victor Buono looks at scrapbook while Bette Davis watches in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Victor Buono plays “Jane’s” accompanist “Edwin Flagg“, a heavyset, baby-faced, giant mamma’s boy. He adds much of the film’s humor while painting a very believable portrait of yet another lost soul. The priceless expressions that wash over his face as he plays the piano while “Jane” sings “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” help make this ghastly tale an entertaining one. For his performance, Buono earned a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award (his only nomination).


Victor Buono as the pianist Edwin in the classic Grand Dame Guignol movie "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" film
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Character actor, heavyset fat man, Victor Buono portrait photo
Victor Buono

Though billed as “Introducing", California-born Victor Buono had already appeared extensively on television since 1959, and in an uncredited role in the 1960 film "The Story of Ruth". His career began on radio, TV, and in the theater (including Shakespeare, whose works interested him his entire lifetime). After "Baby Jane", Buono worked steadily as a character actor until his death, amassing over 100 film and TV credits. His other films include "The Stranger", "The Greatest Story Ever Told ", "Beneath the Planet of the Apes", "Robin and the 7 Hoods", "Young Dillinger", and Aldrich’s "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte". Television credits include playing "King Tut" on the 1960's classic TV series “Batman", "Count Manzeppi" on "The Wild Wild West”, and appearances on many, many classic TV shows such as "Perry Mason", "Get Smart", "The Untouchables", "The Odd Couple", "Hawaii Five-O", "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", and "Taxi". In the 1970s, he released several comedy records and a book of comedic poetry, mostly based around eating, his large size and weight. Gay and closeted, he never married and lived with boyfriends throughout his life. Victor Buono died of a heart attack in 1982 at the age of 43.


Anna Lee brings Bette Davis flowers as the noisy next door neighbor in the classic movie Grand Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Hollywood and British actress and movie star Anna Lee glamour portrait photo
Anna Lee

Watchers of the films on this blog might recognize Anna Lee, who plays “Mrs. Bates”, the “Hudson’s” nosy next-door neighbor. She is the first person we see in the film after the preambles, and is just hankering to get a peek at former movie star “Blanche Hudson”. An English actress who worked in Britain and Hollywood, Lee became known as one of John Ford's company of actors, and has appeared in two films previously written about on this blog, “How Green was My Valley” and "The Sound of Music”, and you can read more about her life and career in both of those posts.


Maidie Norman comforts Joan Crawford in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Another memorable performance is that of Maidie Norman, who plays the “Hudson’s” housekeeper “Elvira Stitt”. A woman who cares about “Blanche” and doesn’t trust or like “Jane”, she has no qualms saying what’s on her mind. It is another pivotal role, and Norman is perfect in the part.


Maidie Norman as Elvira the housekeeper in the classic horror movie Grand Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Black actress, Hollywood character actor, professor Maidei Norman portrait photo
Maidie Norman

Born on a Georgia plantation to the son of slave owners and the daughter of one of their slaves, raised in Ohio and educated in North Carolina, Maidie Norman, received a masters in theater arts from Columbia University. Her professional career began on radio with "The Jack Benny Program" and "Amos 'n' Andy”, her film debut was in 1947’s "Burning Cross”, and her stage debut in Los Angeles in "Deep Are the Roots” in 1949. Being Black, it was hard for her to find non-stereotyped roles and though she played maids, nurses, housekeepers and such, she would rewrite her lines to give her characters more dignity. That included “Baby Jane”, for she refused to speak in the “yessum” dialect as written. In a 1995 San Jose Mercury News interview, she said, "I'd say, 'You know, this is not the way we talk these days. This is old slavery-time talk’”. Norman accrued over 100 film and TV credits, and her other films include "Written on the Wind", "Executive Suite", "Susan Slept Here", "Halloween III", "Season of the Witch", "Airport '77", and with Crawford in 1953's "Torch Song". Because it was easier to find better roles on television, Norman worked extensively on TV, with roles on such shows as "Days of Our Lives", "The Twilight Zone”, "Good Times", "The Jeffersons", "Police Woman", "Roots: The Next Generations", and her final appearance on a 1988 episode of "Simon & Simon”. Her stage work included "A Raisin in the Sun" and title roles in such classics as "Medea", "Purlie Victorious", and “Andromache”. She toured colleges in the 1950s, lecturing on African-American literature and theater, and from 1970 through 1977, created and taught a course in African-American theater history at UCLA. In 1977, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. She was married twice. Maidie Norman died in 1998 at the age of 85.


D.B. Merrill, Bette Davis' actual daughter in the classic horror film Grand Dame Guignol movie "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

B.D. Merrill, daughter of Bette Davis portrait photo
B.D. Merrill

One last mention of B. D. (Barbara Davis) Merrill, who play “Liza Bates”, the daughter of the nosy next-door neighbor. Merrill is the real-life daughter of Bette Davis, and though she wasn’t originally cast, Davis suggested her to Aldrich and she got the part. To date, Merrill only appeared in one other film (also starring her mother, "Payment on Demand" in 1951 , when she was around three years old). Now a born-again Christian, Merrill (now Hyman) currently pastors the King’s Corner Fellowship church in Charlottesville, Virginia. She remains married to her one and only husband. As of the writing of this entry, B.D. Hyman is 75 years old.


Bette Davis and Joan Crawford "all this time we could have been friends" on the beach in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

In another strange ironic commonality between Davis and Crawford, when Crawford’s daughter Christina released her scathing bestselling 1978 book, “Mommie Dearest” about Crawford, Davis publicly denounced it, 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. I’ve forgotten her name. Horrible”. Then in 1985, as Davis was recovering from a serious stroke, B.D. published her own scandalous tell-all about Davis, "My Mother's Keeper", followed by a second, "Narrow Is the Way" in 1987. Flabbergasted and hurt, Davis never spoke to Merrill again, and disinherited Merrill and Merrill's children.


Bette Davis looks out window behind bars in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

In addition to Norma Koch's Academy Award win for Best Costume Design, Davis' Best Actress and Buono's Best Supporting Actor nominations, "Baby Jane" was also nominated for Best Cinematography (Ernest Haller), and Best Sound (Joseph D. Kelly).

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford with dinner in the classic horror movie Grande Dame Guignol film "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
"What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"

Considered frightening in its day, today this week’s deliciously fun classic reads as a sterling mix of horror, campy humor, tragedy, and some of the best work by two of Hollywood’s biggest legends. Have a great time watching the ultimate Grande Dame Guignol, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”. Enjoy!

This blog is a weekly series (currently biweekly) on all types of classic films from the silent era through the 1970s. It is designed to entertain and inform movie novices and lovers through watching one recommended classic film a week. The intent is that a love and deepened knowledge of cinema will evolve, along with a familiarity of important stars, directors, writers, the studio system, and a deeper understanding of cinema. I highly recommend visiting (or revisiting) the HOME page, which explains it all and provides a place where you can subscribe and get email notifications for every new post. Visit THE MOVIES page to see a list of all films currently on this site. Please leave comments, share this blog with family, friends, and on social media, and subscribe so you don’t miss a post. Thanks so much for reading!





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