We now know all the behind-the-scenes drama and great one liners thanks to Jessica & Susan on Feud: Bette & Joan. On the latest episode, director Ryan Murphy turned the volume up to 11 on his Joan Crawford-Bette Davis rivalry. The 1963 best-actress race —when Davis earned an Oscar nomination for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Crawford, her snubbed co-star, channeled her jealousy into an anti-Davis Oscar campaign. Not only did the real-life Crawford get the outcome she wanted —a win for anyone but Davis —but in the end, it was Joanie who took the stage to accept the best-actress award that night.
As the episode showed, it was on behalf of Anne Bancroft. To quote Joan’s co-conspirator, Hedda Hopper, in her Oscars column the next day:
“When it comes to giving or stealing a show, nobody can top Joan Crawford.”
According to Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine, Davis said later;
“That’s so much bull. When Miss Crawford wasn’t nominated, she immediately got herself booked on the Oscar show to present the best director award. Then she flew to New York and deliberately campaigned against me. She told people not to vote for me. She also called up the other nominees and told them she would accept their statue if they couldn’t show up at the ceremonies.”
Had the Academy had different rules, Crawford might have missed this opportunity. Bancroft initially wanted Patty Duke to accept for her but, Duke was nominated for an award herself and was not allowed to do the honor. Fellow nominee Geraldine Page (played by Sarah Paulson in Sunday’s episode) also confirmed that Crawford reached out to her in an interview about her bizarre interaction with the movie star, who was two decades her senior at the time. Geraldine Page said in an excerpt, from Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud,
“I received a lovely note of congratulations from Miss Crawford. And then she called me. I was tongue-tied, very intimidated in talking with her. To me she was the epitome of a movie star. I always loved her movies . . . All I could manage was,
‘Yes, Miss Crawford. No, Miss Crawford.’
When she mentioned about accepting the Oscar for me if I won, I said yes. Actually I was relieved. That meant I wouldn’t have to fly all the way to California, or spend a lot of time looking for a new dress to wear. I was happy and honored that Joan Crawford would be doing all of that for me.”
Crawford LOVED dressing for the occasion, wearing an Edith Head-designed silver gown, Van Cleef and Arpels diamonds, and silver powder dusted onto her curled hair. Davis, who was positive she would win, also wore Edith Head—and was accompanied to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium by her daughter B.D., son Michael, and friend Olivia de Havilland (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones). On the red carpet, Davis stated her intentions to columnist Army Archerd,
“Yes, I want that Oscar. I have to be the first to win three.”
As Feud showed, rather than watch from the audience, Crawford, Davis, and their entourages watched backstage. Davis sat in host Frank Sinatra’s dressing room, while Crawford commanded her own viewing soiree in the main dressing room. The consummate host, Crawford transformed the space into her own viewing party, according to Considine, who wrote that
“she had a wet bar set up, with Pepsi coolers filled with bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, champagne—‘plus four kinds of cheese and all the fixings,’ as well as a TV brought in so her guests could watch in real time.“
Both women did make their way to the stage wings when it was time for Swiss actor Maximilian Schell to announce the best-actress category. The show’s director Richard Dunlap considered putting a camera backstage to catch the big moment, but in the end he declined saying,
“I couldn’t. It would have been cruel.”
Davis later said,
“When Anne Bancroft’s name was announced, I am sure I turned white.“
Dunlap remembered how Crawford’s entire posture changed—instantly switching into movie-star mode —the second she heard her name.
Here are some shots of that Oscar night (unfortunelty, not backstage.) Have a look. Can’t you just FEEL the tension?
By the way, today is Bette’s birthday. She would have been 109. Check out Stephen Rutledge’s #BornThisDay.
(via Vanity Fair)