A place to explore all things "retro" as presented by our American newspapers.
Friday, 5 June 2009
1962...Davis and Crawford Head to Head
Hello, Retro Friends!! There are some movies that you see when you are growing up that leave an impression on you forever. My parents both loved good movies and grew up during those golden movie palace years in Boston. My dad even worked in either the RKO Boston or Keith’s as an usher in the late 1940’s. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were real stars…I knew of them since birth I guess. And seeing, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? on TV when I was 5 or 6 was amazing. So gritty and so powerful. I was a very deep 6 year old:-) The film was not my mother’s favorite at all(Bette’s make-up job really bothered her) and my dad…well…he liked horror films and we enjoyed this masterpiece together. I had seen so many old movies with both these screen legends on TV…I had favorites that starred each…like Dark Victory with Davis and of course…Mildred Pierce with Crawford. I really loved these two legends and Baby Jane was the perfect cocktail to serve them up in. Crawford seemed so perfect for that fading star trapped in the wheelchair. Davis as the ever tough survivor with an axe to grind. Great stuff!! We all have our favorite lines from this classic:
Jane: Blanche, you know we got rats in the cellah?
And of course,
Jane: Don't you think I know everything that goes on in this house?
And this classic exchange,
Blanche: You wouldn't be able to do these awful things to me if I weren't still in this chair!
Jane: Butcha are, Blanche! Ya are in that chair!
My favorite scene has to be the one with an exhausted Crawford on the phone, seated on the floor(after pulling her way down the long staircase from her wheelchair at the top) in the downstairs hall trying to get the doctor to commit her dear sick sister to a nice “rest home” and Davis standing grimly listening in the rear by the swinging kitchen door…. Next Davis comes stalking towards the babbly, terrified Crawford who now realizes she has just been overheard by the sister from hell…well, my dear readers…that is a perfect cinema moment in my book!
Back in 1962…The press gossiped and drooled for the teaming of these two old style Hollywood queens…and the public waited and hoped for a screen explosion that these two long rivals would possibly create. The film opened on Halloween of that year and made history. The chemistry paid off and the public lapped it up. I wonder if Bette and Joan realized that this comeback film would become their trademark in so many ways. It was such a hit that another film was planned….but alas…the chemistry experiment backfired and Crawford pulled out near the start. The strain was just too much! So we are left with this one film, a blockbuster if ever. We are also left with the various press clippings, photo stills, famous rumors and the words of the stars themselves.
Here are a few nuggets to ponder…
Time Magazine Sinisister Act Friday, Nov. 23, 1962
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
The door opens slowly. Joan Crawford, her eyes bulging as only Joan can bulge them, huddles in her wheelchair helplessly and stares in horror at—good grief, what is it? Its body looks like an outsize Christmas stocking stuffed with oranges, flashlights and toy trucks. Its hair suggests bleached Brillo. Its eyes might be bloodshot golfballs. Its mouth, enlarged by lipstick, looks like a greasy old bow tie that somehow rode up over its chin.
Holy smoke, it's Bette Davis. "I've brawchoo yaw dinnah," she drawls as only Bette can drawl, then smiles like an unsanitary crocodile as she sets a tray on the table. Joan smiles weakly back at her, wheels across to the table, takes the lid off the main dish and—"EEEEEEEEEK!"
In the center of the dish lies a big fat juicy roast rat.
Turns, anyone? At this point, indeed, many customers will be tempted to take a powder. But those who can stomach Bette's cooking—on another occasion she serves a salad of unplucked parakeet—will be amply rewarded by the horror of her company. In what may well be the year's scariest, funniest and most sophisticated chiller, she gives a performance that cannot be called great acting but is certainly grand guignol. And Joan effectively plays the bitch to Bette's witch.
Adapted from a novel by Britain's Henry Farrell, Baby Jane tells the story of two little monsters and how they grew. The more precocious monster, Baby Jane, is a vaudeville kiddie who at the age of six is almost as famous as Mary Pickford. Spoiled rotten, she treats her parents like dirt and her little sister like a worm. But fame fades and the worm turns. When Jane (Bette) grows up, she becomes a drunk. When sister (Joan) grows up, she becomes a Hollywood star. One night in a fury Joan tries to run Bette down, but the car strikes a stone gate instead, and Joan loses the use of her legs for life. Too drunk to remember what happened, Bette thinks that she herself had been driving the car, and Joan lets her think so. Crushed by guilt, Bette feels bound in conscience to spend the rest of her life tending a cranky and exacting cripple.
After 25 years of servitude, Bette twigs her sister's game. The shock, the realization that she has wasted her life, knocks a screw loose. With the cunning of unreason she connives a hideous revenge. Day by day she tantalizes her sister with sumptuous meals, but after the rat and the parakeet the cripple is afraid to eat. Day by day the victim grows weaker. When she calls for help, Bette rips out the phone. When she crawls downstairs, Bette ties her up and tapes her mouth shut. When she warns the maid, Bette cracks the woman's skull.
Gorgeous gothic stuff, in short, and Director Robert Aldrich knows just when to shock for shock's sake, just when to play his gargoyles for giggles. Under his skillful management, two aging screen queens—both of them are going on 55—give a vigorous and talented answer to a question often asked: What Ever Happened to Joan Crawford and Bette Davis?
In an interview after "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane" was released, Bette referred to Joan and herself as "we two old broads." Joan sent Bette a note on her traditional blue stationery: "Dear Miss Davis. Please do not continue to refer to me as an old broad. Sincerely, Joan Crawford."
"Joan and I have never been warm friends. We are not simpatico. I admire her, and yet I feel uncomfortable with her. To me, she is the personification of the Movie Star. I have always felt her greatest performance is Crawford being Crawford." - Bette Davis
"So I had no great beginnings in legitimate theater, 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, even though I wasn't trained for the stage." - Joan Crawford
"I am aware of how Miss Davis felt about my makeup in Baby Jane, but my reasons for appearing somewhat glamorous were just as valid as hers, with all those layers of Rice powder she wore and that ghastly lipstick. But Miss Davis was always partial to covering up her face in motion pictures. She called it 'Art.' Others might call it camouflage- a cover-up for the absence of any real beauty. "- Joan Crawford
About the death of Joan Crawford:
"There is no need to hole up in an apartment and die alone. No. None. Poor Joan. I wish I could have liked her more." - Bette Davis
Boston born, Brookline raised Retro Boston Cultural Historian and very eager to get as many memories, photos and newspaper adverts of the once grand stores of the Downtown Boston we all knew and loved. Also I am very busy researching Boston area churches of the past that have since closed or merged into others. All who remember are welcome to contact me with their thoughts, memories and photos to add to any of my blogs.
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