So, you've watched
Feud and are about to tumble down the black hole of Old Hollywood internet fact-checking. It's cool, I get it. How could you not get sucked into this web of deceit, sneaky snubs, and 1960s smoky glamour?
As with any historically based work, it's hard to tell what's real and what's not. Some characters, like say, Jackie Hoffman's Mamacita, seem too good to be true (believe it or not, she is based on a real person!), and some moments too contrived to really be possible. The beauty of
Feud: Bette and Joan is that the juiciest moments all actually happened. The two screen legends really were that petty. They actually did leak gossip about each other to the tabloids. And yes, Joan Crawford really accepted the Oscar for Best Actress when Ann Bancroft beat Bette Davis at the 1963 Academy Awards. (You can find the clip on YouTube, but I suggest waiting until the fifth episode to roll around before you Google. The payoff is worth it.)
But what's even more impressive is how well-cast everyone is. To prove it, I've lined up images of all the relevant players in this feud for the ages, and compared them with their real-life counterpart. And since you could fill novels — not to mention movies, and an entire TV show — about these women's lives, I've chosen some of the juiciest biographical tidbits for you to trot out over your next brunch. File under "How To Impress Your Friends With Your Extensive Arcane Old Hollywood Knowledge."
So let's all don our very best cat-eyed shades, and explore the very real world of Hollywood's most iconic feud. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
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Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange)
Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon do a stellar job of capturing what made these screen legends tick. But who were the classic stars before they hit up Bob Aldrich for a chance at a comeback?
Born Lucille LeSueur, Joan Crawford arrived in Hollywood in 1925, toward the end of the silent era. During the Depression, she became one of the biggest movie stars in the country — and one of the highest-paid women in the world. Over her long career, she starred in
over 83 films. In 1999, the American Film Institute voted her the 10th greatest female star in 100 years of classic American cinema. (Bette Davis was No. 2.) Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
Crawford rose to fame by playing the lead in women-centric films. Her roles bear fun descriptions like "socialite party girl," "kept woman," and my personal favorite, "jungle girl and oil heiress." In 1938, she
was labeled "box office poison" in an article by Harry Brandt published in the Independent Film Journal. The article claimed that several big name stars, including Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn, and Greta Garbo, were being paid huge salaries by the studios despite making no money at the box office. Bette Davis, on the other hand, was cited as an actress who "deserved" her high salary, adding further vitriol to the feud between the two actresses.
Fun fact: Crawford rebounded, and accepted her one and only Oscar, for Best Actress in
Mildred Pierce in 1945, from her bed. Like a boss.
But by the end of the 1950s, her career had stalled. After the death of her fourth husband, Pepsi Cola magnate Al Steele, in 1959, Crawford took over his seat on the company's board of directors. She had previously served as a brand ambassador, and continued to drink the cola in public. (So yes, all that Pepsi shown in each episode is actually accurate.) But movie-wise, work was sparse. And then
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? came along, ushering a short-lived, but significant, comeback. Photo: Universal/REX/Shutterstock More
Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon)
Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis came to Hollywood later than Crawford, who was already a big star by the time Davis joined the party. After moving to California in 1930, she signed with Warner Bros. in 1932, and quickly gained fame for her exceptional acting range. Unlike Crawford, Davis was known for playing sarcastic, ballsy female roles, labeled at the time as "unsympathetic." Because of course — the second a woman stops simpering, and actually says something, she's a bitch.
In 1936, she made history when she sued Warner Bros. Studios to get out of her contract, which would enable her to choose and shape her own parts, something that just wasn't possible under the Hollywood studio system. (For a more detailed explanation of how things worked back then,
click here.) In the Feud premiere, Jack Warner references the suit when he says that she gave him an "ulcer" and "hemorrhoids." Lovely.
Davis actually lost the suit, and was forced to honor her contract with the studio. But the damage was done, and the studio system crumbled soon after. In 1941 she became the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — that's the one that gives out the Oscars.
Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
During the 1940s, Davis became extremely active in the war effort, and helped open and promote the famous
Like Joan Crawford, her career suffered in the post-war years, despite two major successes:
Beyond the Forest (1949) — you may recognize her signature line, "What a dump," and if you don't, I highly recommend you adopt it as a catchphrase immediately — and All About Eve (1950).
By the early 1960s, Davis' career was waning — until
Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? The film was one of 1962's biggest box-office successes, and Davis, who had negotiated her contract shrewdly, received 10% of worldwide gross profits on top of her salary. Damn, girl. Photo: REX/Shutterstock. More Read More
Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina)
Confession: I had never heard of Robert Aldrich until I watched
Feud. I was actually surprised to find out that he directed such classics as The Dirty Dozen (1967) and The Longest Yard (1974), in addition to the reason we're all here: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).
That's because while his movies were usually very successful commercially at the time they were released, they haven't enjoyed the same legacy power as say, John Ford.
Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
In 2012, the 50th anniversary of
What Happened to Baby Jane?, John Patterson described Aldrich in : "He was an patrician leftie with a marked sense of injustice, a militant and effective president of the Directors' Guild and, after The Guardian The Dirty Dozen, the furiously independent owner of his own studio. He was a punchy, caustic, macho and pessimistic director (the end of Kiss Me Deadly is the end of the world), who depicted corruption and evil unflinchingly, and pushed limits on violence throughout his career. His aggressive and pugnacious film-making style, often crass and crude, but never less than utterly vital and alive, warrants — and will richly reward — your immediate attention."
(Fun fact: He was also a cousin to Nelson Rockefeller.)
Photo: PIERLUIGI PRATURLON/REX/Shutterstock. More
Jack Warner (Stanley Tucci)
Yes, that Jack Warner. As in, half of Warner Bros. As in,
Born in London, Ontario in Canada, Jack Warner came to Hollywood in 1917 along with brothers Sam, Laemmle and Harry. In 1918, they produced their first film, the success of which enabled them to found a studio. Thus, Warner Bros. was born (it would officially be named that in 1922). Jack would eventually take over the studio in the 1950s, after tricking his brothers into selling their shares. He would remain at the head of the studio until his retirement in 1969. I'm bad at math, but that's a
looong career. Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
As you can probably tell from the premiere episode of
Feud, Warner wasn't the most patient of men. My personal favorite quote of his goes: " I don't want it good. I want it Tuesday."
It was this ruthless instinct that made him one of the most successful Hollywood entrepreneurs in history. He had an eye for spotting talent, and was known for giving as much diva treatment as he got from his top stars. In other words, Stanley Tucci isn't exaggerating when he monologues at length about Bette Davis, eventually dropping the C-bomb.
Photo: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock. More
Hedda Hopper (Judy Davis)
Before there was The Shade Room, there was Hedda Hopper.
A former actress, Hopper became an A-list gossip columnist, enjoying a very real feud of her own with arch-nemesis and rival, fellow writer Louella Parsons. She got her start writing in 1938, when, with her movie career on the decline, she was offered the chance to write a column called "Hedda Hopper's Hollywood" for the
Los Angeles Times.
Over the years, she became known for her ruthless pen, and even published a blind item about Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, which earned her a literal kick in the ass from Tracy when he ran into her one night. Appropriately, she often referred to her Beverly Hills mansion as "the house that fear built."
Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
As you can see from this picture, Hopper was a hat aficionado. Exceptionally large
chapeau s became a trademark of sorts, or, to paraphrase Mean Girls, a place to hide secrets.
In the 1950s, Hopper, a staunch Republican, was an active supporter of the House Un-American Activities Committee, and used her column to out or denounce people she believed to have Communist leanings. (She HATED Charlie Chaplin.)
Photo: Associated Newspapers/REX/Shutterstock. More
Olivia de Havilland (Catherine Zeta-Jones)
First, can I just say, Olivia de Havilland is still alive. She is almost 101, and living in Paris, where she's resided since 1956.
The two-time Academy Award winner was born in Tokyo in 1916, to British parents, and moved to California three years later. She made her on-screen debut in 1935's
A Midsummer Night's Dream, and most famously played Melanie Wilkes in 1939's Gone With the Wind.
Romantically, she was linked to the likes of James Stewart, Howard Hughes, and John Huston. She was married twice, first to author Marcus Goodrich, and then to French
Paris Match editor Pierre Galante. Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
Olivia de Havilland
Lo and behold, de Havilland also had an epic Hollywood feud to contend with. While she was actually great friends with Bette Davis, she had a longstanding rivalry with a Joan of her own: her sister, Joan Fontaine.
You can find a detailed account of their spats and eventual estrangement
here, but we've got the CliffNotes: There's no clear beginning to this feud. Rumor has it the rift came about during a poolside spat. According to Olivia, Joan tried to pull her in by the ankle — only to hit her collarbone against the side when she resisted. According to Joan, Olivia deliberately broke her collarbone. The ages vary in each account, too. Olivia claims they were toddlers. Joan claimed they were already teenagers. In any case, the incident launched a lifetime of hatred, punctuated by Oscar nominations, movie rivalries, and standoffs in glitzy restaurants.
Interestingly enough, the sisters are the only siblings to both hold Oscars in a lead acting category. (Sorry, Ben Affleck!) In her 1978 memoir,
No Bed of Roses, Fontaine described the feeling of accepting her Oscar for Best Actress while her sister watched: "My paralysis was total. I felt Olivia would spring across the table and grab me by the hair. I felt age 4, being confronted by my older sister. Damn it, I'd incurred her wrath again!" She died in December, 2013. Olivia was "shocked and saddened." Photo: REX/Shutterstock. More
B.D. Merrill (Kiernan Shipka)
I know what you're thinking: Sally Draper moved to Hollywood! Close, but no.
Born Barbara Davis Shelley, "B.D." was Bette Davis' daughter with her third husband, artist William Grant Shelley. In 1950, Davis' fourth husband,
All About Eve co-star Gary Merrill, adopted B.D., who would take his name.
She made her on-screen debut in
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, as the clueless next-door neighbor. (She had previously made a cameo in one of her mother's movies, but as an infant, so that doesn't count, does it?) While this didn't lead to a career as an actress, it did lead to a wedding. B.D. met husband Jeremy Hyman at the Cannes Film Festival while promoting Baby Jane. She was 16, he was 29. They've been married for over 50 years. (Davis actually had to give her consent to the marriage, since her daughter was underage at the time.) Photo: Kurt Iswarienko/FX. More
Merrill may not have followed in her mother's footsteps, but she did pursue a creative path. She authored two books about her famous mother —
My Mother's Keeper (1985) and Narrow Is the Way (1987) — and... they're not nice. (Another thing Davis had in common with Crawford: both had daughters who wrote less than flattering accounts of their celebrity moms. Crawford's was called Mommie Dearest, penned by her adopted daughter Christina, and became a 1981 cult classic starring Faye Dunaway. And for more on that feud, make sure to tune in to the amazing about their fraught relationship.) You Must Remember This episode
In fact, Davis
wrote her a letter after publication, stating: "You constantly inform people that you wrote this book to help me understand you and your way of life better. Your goal was not reached. I am now utterly confused as to who you are or what your way of life is. The sum total of your having written this book is a glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life I feel you have been given."
(Off topic, but so amusing, is Davis' reference to Faye Dunaway: "She was a most exasperating co-star.")
Today, Merrill is the
pastor of her church in Charlottesville, VA. Davis left her nothing in her will. Photo: Frank Apthorp / Daily Mail /REX/Shutterstock. More
Mamacita (Jackie Hoffman)
Ah, Mamacita. You gem. Obviously, I saved the best for last.
Believe it or not, this spitfire was actually a real person. (
Here she is IRL.) Her name was Anna Marie Brinke, and weirdly enough, she was German, not Spanish. Confused? Allow Crawford to clarify for you. In My Way of Life, her 1971 memoir written just six years before her death, the actress explained how her housekeeper and confidante came by her nickname.
“I think it’s time to explain that Mamacita isn’t a Spanish girl. She’s a German lady who has raised nine children and has many grandchildren," Crawford wrote. While on vacation in Westhampton, she didn't want to be stuck with house duties, so she phoned a friend to see if they could recommend a maid. That friend then had Crawford speak to his maid who then recommended Mamacita — her own mother.
"The next morning I was on the phone when they arrived," Crawford continues in the memoir. "I turned for a moment and said, ‘Start in my bedroom and have her work her way through the other bedrooms and then down here,’ and then I went back to the phone. When I hung up I wanted to call her to come quickly to take the dogs out but I realized that I hadn’t asked her name. I had just returned from Rio de Janeiro, where all I had heard was mamacita, papacita, cousincita, everythingcita, so without thinking I called out, ‘Mamacita!' Back she cried, ‘Ya! Ich coming!’"
"The name has stuck ever since. In all the countries we have traveled to together, in all languages, everyone calls her Mamacita."
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