While Crawford and Davis’ rivalry spanned four decades, Feud: Bette & Joan focuses on one moment: the process of filming the only movie they appear in together, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
So, what did ever happen to Baby Jane in the Oscar-winning film? The movie poses a question that we’re well-equipped to answer.
As a charming 9-year-old, “Baby” Jane Hudson sells out theater after theater with stellar vaudeville performances. Jane has crowds and her father, Rex, wrapped around her bratty fingers. One person not charmed by Baby Jane? Her 11-year-old sister, Blanche, who watches, neglected, from the sidelines.
By 1935, when the film’s main action kicks off, Blanche and Jane’s roles have completely reversed. Both movie stars, Blanche is now a glamorous fixture of Hollywood, whereas all of Jane’s films have flopped.
Cue the drama: Blanche, reigning queen of Hollywood, is grievously crippled in a suspicious car accident. Unable to fend for herself, Blanche moves in with Jane, who, by that point, has developed a bit of an alcohol problem.
Trapped by the whims of her bitter sister, Blanche lives as a recluse on the mansion's second floor. Jane seems to take pleasure in subjecting Blanche to her sadistic plans — think along the lines of denying Blanche food, and then cooking up her pet parakeet to serve for dinner.
The relationship deteriorates further after Jane discovers that Blanche has been devising to sell their house from under her. Jane reacts by pouring her energy into resurrecting her old vaudeville act and regaining some former glory. While Jane works with an opportunistic producer, Blanche wastes away in the upstairs bedroom.
At this juncture of ego, isolation, and desperation, both sisters hurtle toward madness. And as it goes in Old Hollywood, madness is only a knife’s edge away from murder.
Looking back, it’s clear that What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is one of those strangely meta moments in history, when life imitates art imitates life in a confounding circle.
In the year 1961, when the What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was filmed, Crawford and Davis resembled their characters more than they’d like to admit. Like Jane and Blanche, both Hollywood divas were considered “washed-up” by the outside world, but were determined to convince the public of their relevance. This film was a chance for Crawford and Davis to prove themselves — but they could only do so by leaning into their decaying reputations.