Bitterness, jealousy, lost chances, regret, and mutual loathing, no, not the come down after Pride weekend, but the origins of the Crawford/Davis feud, which of course, started with a man, or rather the absence of a man.
Joan, it seemed, was stealing Bette’s thunder from the outset. When Bette starred with Franchot Tone in Dangerous and fell in love with him, Joan did the only truly friendly thing – she waltzed in and married him. The scene was set for a lifetime of rampant rage.
The stories about Joan’s endless games of hide the salami are the stuff of legend. You could argue that she was always destined to be the Hollywood bike: her mother Anna LeSueur took in laundry for money – and, rumour has it, plenty of men.
Then there was the small matter of the alleged porn movies which Joan later tried to have destroyed, which was all fodder to Bette, naturally, who famously remarked that Joan had slept with every star on the MGM lot, except Lassie. Joan, to be fair, was honest about the open-door policy down at Chateau Crawford: “I like sex – and it likes me,” she said. When Bette announced that sex was a joke, Joan quipped “I think the joke is on her, dear.”
Like two bitter old queens, Bette and Joan both wanted what the other one had. Joan – a chorus girl (to put it politely) – envied Bette’s formidable acting prowess, while Bette – with her buggy eyes – longed for the glamour and beauty of the former Miss LeSueur. “She’s got eyebrows like caterpillars”, Bette said of Joan – but another comment, later in life, perhaps revealed Bitchy Bette’s real feelings: as Joanie’s face appeared on a huge screen in luminous close-up, La Davis apparently said “Damn! That dame had a face”. It’s not that dissimilar to us gay boys when we slag off the “Muscle Marys’ for having arses like dump trucks, is it? Jealousy makes you vicious – but very funny!
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in 'Whatever Happened to Baby Jane' 1962. Image: Wikipedia
Those gays we hate are often those we have quite a lot in common with – though we are loath to admit this, of course. The gays who have very public, longstanding feuds are usually those with egos the size of Mars.
The issue was that both Bette and Joan were knuckle-fighting broads who clawed their way up to top – and would do anything – and anyone – to stay there. The sad thing is that they were both grappling with the same demons: booze, ageing in Hollywood, troublesome children, but as we all know, there can only ever be one queen bee.
Attack – as any self-respecting scene queen knows – is the best defence mechanism – and how well Bette and Joan knew this. But it wasn’t just one another that they laid into – anyone who threatened to steal their limelight was fair game. “There’s nothing wrong with my tits, but I don’t go around throwing them in people’s faces,” said Joan of Marilyn Monroe.
At some point in the mists of time, Joan allegedly invited good old Mazzers over to her Brentwood mansion. Somehow – no doubt aided with plenty of liquor – La Crawford persuaded Marilyn to indulge in a spot of minge munching. Joan’s screaming orgasm terrified Marilyn – and when Joan subsequently invited her back for seconds, and Marilyn gracefully declined, the knives were out. Who hasn’t slung some well-aimed mud at the evidently blind queen who has had the audacity to refuse one’s advances? It’s simply outrageous!
Needing the work, Bette and Joan were eventually thrust together to make 1962’s Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Where – in a triumphant casting coup – they very aptly played two warring sisters. The stories of their onset antics and the long-awaited explosion of the simmering feud have delighted gays for over half a century, and are currently lighting up the silver screen in Feud, based on Shaun Considine’s best seller.
One can’t help but feel that Bette and Joan would be delighted that their outrageous shenanigans are now being discovered by a whole new generation of fans. Hurray for Hollywood!
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