Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were superstars in the 1940s and 50s. However, by the 1960s their box office appeal had faded. Roles were becoming hard to find, as Hollywood has never been kind to aging actresses.
So Bette was very happy to have the opportunity to play one of the leads in the thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Joan was recruited to play her sister Blanche. The two women certainly did not hit it off. Perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing, as the script required them to be anything but close siblings.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a movie you probably won’t forget. Bette Davis is over the top, but it’s hard not to be when playing such a character. Jane Hudson, the character portrayed by Davis, is one of the most demented characters I’ve seen in a film from that era. So if you want a couple of hours of pure campy entertainment and suspense, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is your movie.
A Brief Outline of the Story
Jane Hudson was a vaudevillian star as a child. She’s a bratty girl who got everything she wanted from her docile father. Meanwhile, her sister Blanche was completely neglected.
Once Jane became an adult, her stardom was over. However, fame was just beginning for Blanche. By this time she was a popular movie star. Jane could not handle this and she ended up an alcoholic. Then one day Blanche was paralyzed in a mysterious accident. Their parents had passed away, and Blanche was at the mercy of her unhinged sister.
Jane was insanely jealous of Blanche, even though the accident had ended her career. Jane tormented her sister every chance she got. She was quite grotesque, with excessive make up and clothing inappropriate for her age. There isn’t another character like her that I can think of.
Jane performs her childhood song “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” in a scene that only Bette Davis could do. She also deserves credit for playing this character so convincingly. Jane has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
This is a clip of that memorable scene. Classic Bette Davis.
Aftermath of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?
Many people were not expecting this movie to be a hit. After all, it featured two aging actresses in a story that was quite bizarre.
Nevertheless, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was a huge success when it was released in 1962. Bette Davis was nominated for an Oscar, but Joan Crawford was not. This only added to the animosity between the two women. Crawford allegedly called the other women who were nominated for best actress that year. She volunteered to accept the award on their behalf if they could not be at the ceremony.
As it turned out, Anne Bancroft had other commitments that night. She accepted Joan’s offer, who was happy to take the award for Anne when she was declared the winner. Of course, this caused even more hard feelings between Davis and Crawford. Some time later Bette said she couldn’t understand why Joan would work against their own movie, since they were both entitled to share the profits earned. Davis thought that if she had won, the movie would have earned them even more.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was so popular that Hollywood was anxious to pair the two women again on the screen. Joan Crawford refused to subject herself to this regardless of how profitable it might be. Bette went on to complete another successful suspense film called Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. There was considerably less drama off screen during the making of that film, as she and Olivia de Havilland, who was her costar in the movie, got along very well.
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a suspenseful, entertaining movie. Davis and Crawford carry the film, with only a handful of other actors appearing in any scenes.