What exactly was behind the Joan Crawford/Bette Davis Oscar feud? As we are seeing in FX’s blockbuster limited series, Crawford (played by Jessica Lange) and Davis (portrayed by Susan Sarandon) did not get along before, during or after the shooting of their only film together, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” Crawford championed Davis for the title role in the film, but the sour experience of working with Davis reportedly drove Crawford crazy.
How crazy? Find out below as we dig up the answers to our Top 5 burning questions about Crawford, Davis and their juicy Oscar catfight.
Did Crawford really contact the other nominees?
When Davis was nominated for an Oscar and Crawford wasn’t, Crawford launched a vendetta against Davis and did her best to spread the word that academy members shouldn’t vote for her. She also reportedly contacted all the nominees who weren’t present at the awards and offered to accept their Oscar should they win. Some have speculated in recent years that Crawford suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as evidenced in her fixation on cleaning and keeping things tidy. Her obsession with depriving Davis of the Oscar probably is also an example of this.
Was Crawford foolish to do this?
Davis later stated in interviews that the film probably would have earned an extra million dollars at the box office had it earned a Best Actress Oscar since that was the pattern for winners in the day. Both Davis and Crawford had a percentage of the film’s profits so Davis felt Crawford’s spite also cost them both financially.
Who did Crawford accept for?
Of the nominees that year Geraldine Page (“Sweet Bird of Youth”) and Lee Remick (“The Days of Wine and Roses”) both attended the ceremony, while Katharine Hepburn (“Long Day’s Journey into Night”) and Anne Bancroft (“The Miracle Worker”) did not. Davis was the fifth nominee and was present at the ceremony. Crawford wanted to accept the award for the non-present nominees as a way of punishing Davis should she lose. Bancroft, who was appearing on Broadway in “Mother Courage,” agreed to let Crawford accept the award for her. It was sort of a bizarre revenge obsession of Crawford’s since she didn’t actually win anything herself yet she posed for pictures with all the other acting winners (Gregory Peck, Ed Begley, Patty Duke) backstage. Bancroft incidentally was later the first choice to play Crawford in the biopic “Mommie Dearest” which eventually starred Faye Dunaway.
Why wasn’t Crawford nominated?
Crawford had the more sedate and literally sedimentary role so she was easily overshadowed by the more flamboyant Davis. It was a particularly competitive year and all five of the Oscar nominees could have won in lesser years. What really must have hurt Crawford was the Golden Globes of that year. The Globes had 10 nominees per acting category and Crawford still didn’t make the cut. Davis was nominated but lost to Page of “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
Would she have gone supporting nowadays?
Probably. But back then supporting awards were considered a real step down for major Hollywood stars. In this same year, Shelley Winters was a contender for her role in “Lolita.” Winters insisted that she had to be campaigned in lead since she had already won a supporting award. After she failed to even get a nomination Winters changed her mind and gladly campaigned in the supporting category for subsequent performance, even becoming the first person to win two supporting actress awards. It would have been a great comedown for Crawford to publicly concede the film to Davis as the sole lead, so who knows if she would have agreed to the lesser award. Nowadays campaigning for the lower category — deemed “category fraud” — has become a common practice with clearly lead performances such as Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl” sneaking into the winner’s circle by going supporting.
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