On last night's episode of Feud: Bette and Joan, — about the bitter rivalry between screen legends Bette Davis and Joan Crawford — viewers were treated to a sight all too rarely seen onscreen today: an older woman who feeling and acting on her sexual and romantic desires. That reflection of reality shouldn't be groundbreaking TV, but it is. 50-something Hollywood legend Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) get intimate with Robert Aldrich, the director of her film co-starring nemesis Joan Crawford, What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? While there's no evidence indicating this affair actually took place, the scene does truthfully depict a too-often shunned aspect of female characters over 40: yes, they too have sex.
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, series creator and writer of the episode, Ryan Murphy, goes into why he wanted to show Davis and Crawford in this light. "Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were in their 50s when they made Baby Jane and in our culture, after the age of 40 women are no longer sexualized — they no longer have desires, they no longer have needs. It was important to me and to Jessica and Susan to show that side of Bette and Joan," Murphy explained of his desire to realistically portray his stars' personal lives.
"They were sexual in that they did have romances, they did sleep with men in their 50s," he continued. "They weren’t just actresses and mothers, they had a completely other thing going on, as everybody does. But you don’t often get to see that in movies or TV shows in regards to women over 40, particularly women over 50. So we spent a lot of time talking about that, the romantic and sexual lives of Bette and Joan and making sure that we documented it."
Davis had a little-known relationship with a much younger actor in the early '60s, when the actress was in her 50s, Murphy explained. (Davis got divorced from her fourth husband, Gary Merrill, in 1960 after ten years together.) It took place just before Aldrich's follow-up film to Baby Jane, co-starring Olivia de Havilland. "Right before Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte Bette Davis was having an affair with an actor in his late 20s. Nobody ever thought of that of Bette Davis, but that’s who she was and how she acted." He added, "I love that she lived her life unapologetically as a man would and I wanted to show that." And we're grateful he did.