The Truth About Joan Crawford And Bette Davis’ Iconic Feud

Hollywood feuds are as old as the industry itself, and the lifelong clash between actresses Joan Crawford and Bette Davis is one of the most iconic in silver screen history. 

The feud started in the early 1930s and lasted up until Crawford’s death in 1977, with neither woman relenting in their verbal abuse or petty attacks of each other. What triggered this decades-long hatred between two of the most memorable names in cinema history? The feud supposedly began when Crawford’s divorce announcement overshadowed Davis’ first feature film “Ex-Lady” back in 1933, per a detailed account from Harper’s Bazaar.

Davis and Crawford had already established themselves among the talented elite in the movie-making industry when this quarrel began. According to Harper’s Bazaar, Davis was looking forward to the premiere of “Ex-Lady” but her joy was quickly overshadowed when Crawford announced her scandalous divorce from Douglas Fairbanks Jr. the same day. Since divorce was taboo back then, Crawford’s announcement dominated the tabloids, and Davis’ film made such little money that it was promptly dropped by theaters after a week. Thus began one of the most ruthless squabbles in show biz.

Joan and Bette's iconic feud worsened over time

Bette Davis blamed Joan Crawford for the lack of success behind her comedy debut in “Ex-Lady” and this feeling of resentment worsened when Crawford stole actor Franchot Tone away from Davis. 

According to journalist Michael Thornton, Davis fell in love with Tone when the two worked together on “Dangerous” in 1935. Davis was quoted as saying, “I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately.” She added, “Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners,” (per The Daily Mail). Despite Davis’ outward profession of love, Tone ultimately gravitated toward Crawford, and the two announced their engagement while Tone was still filming “Dangerous” with Davis. Yikes!

In 1943, Crawford attempted to make amends with Davis, but her efforts were unsuccessful. Harper’s Bazaar reports that Crawford sent numerous gifts to Davis after joining her at Warner Bros., but Davis ultimately sent everything back to her rival. Davis’ disdain worsened in 1945 when Crawford won her first Oscar for her role in “Mildred Pierce” which was originally offered to Davis, who turned it down (per The Hollywood Reporter). 

The two were often in direct competition with one another for roles and were pitted against each other at award shows, all of which fueled the flames of their discontentment. Their rivalry reached a head when they were both casts in “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” in 1962.

Joan and Bette continued to battle one another on set

On the set of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis resorted to violence while filming scenes together. Rumor has it that Davis kicked Crawford in the head, and Crawford filled her pockets with stones to become heavier and thus harder to move during a scene where Davis’ was required to drag her around (per The Hollywood Reporter). The fact that Crawford and Davis made it out of the movie relatively unscathed is astounding!

The rift between the two actresses deepened between 1962 and 1964, with Crawford slighting Davis at the 1963 Academy Award ceremonies before the two attempted to work together again in 1964. They were cast in the film “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte” by Robert Aldrich, the same director of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane,” which was meant to serve as a sequel of sorts. 

Crawford and Davis refused to cooperate with one another on set, and Crawford made the decision to back out of the movie a week into filming (per Refinery29). The pair never worked together again, and they never resolved their differences. When Crawford died of a heart attack in 1977, Davis was quoted as saying, “You should never say bad things about the dead, only good … Joan Crawford is dead. Good,” (via Refinery29).

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