Bette and Joan Talking Pictures


Bette and Joan

Sylvia Syms looks through the BBC archives to tell the story of one of Hollywood's greatest ever feuds - the rivalry between legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.


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Transcript


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Bette Davis...

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Fasten your seat belts,

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it's going to be a bumpy night.

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..Joan Crawford...

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Get out before I kill you.

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..two movie icons.

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Powerful, uncompromising women

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who demanded levels of respect

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not usually granted to actresses of their era.

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Both Oscar winners,

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both box office favourites,

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whose successes helped bankroll their movie studios.

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And both married four times.

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They had so much in common.

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And yet, as we'll see in this programme,

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they famously hated each other.

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..Bette once said of Joan.

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..said Joan.

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But the loathing, although intense,

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wasn't quite as strong as the love each of them had for a juicy role.

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And so it was that the world got to see their mutual animosity

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blown up on the big screen,

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bringing an extra dimension

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to Robert Aldrich's 1962 classic...

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..playing roles that only cemented the idea of them being arch-rivals.

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BUZZER SOUNDS

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Oh, shut up!

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Dammit!

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What do you want this time?

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Who was on the telephone?

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None of your business. What were you ringing for?

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-I'm hungry, Jane.

-Well, of course you're hungry,

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you didn't eat your dinner. That's why you're hungry.

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But you forgot my breakfast.

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I didn't forget your breakfast.

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I didn't bring you breakfast

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because you didn't eat your din-din.

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I'm sure you must get very bored by the constant fiction

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that you and Bette Davis are positively daggers drawn.

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She'd kill you if she heard you say "Bet".

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She's a fascinating actress, Bette Davis.

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I've never had time to be friends with her

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because we only did the one picture.

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Ha! What do you think?

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You are disgusting.

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After all I've done for you, you spy on me,

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when all I'm trying to do is help.

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Who are you trying to help, Blanche?

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What are you planning to do with me when you sell the house?

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What did you have in mind, some nice little place

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where they could look after me?

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One other sequence I must ask you about,

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which is the dead rat sequence in Baby Jane, which I think...

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perhaps as much, if not more than Psycho,

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really frightened me half to death.

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How scared were you on that moment when you lifted up the tureen cover?

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More frightened than you, really, because I refused to work with

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anything but an empty plate and when I knew the cameras were ready,

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then I said you may bring it on and something went wrong

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technically with the camera, and I said, "Don't take the lid off.

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"Leave it. Just take it away."

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And I still kept the emotion...

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..ready for it, and when the technical things were fixed

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on the camera and the lights, then we went in, and I was still ready,

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and away we went - take one.

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You know we got rats in the cellar?

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I think if you rehearse too much with the actual...

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..rodent.

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I almost said animal, it looked so big.

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But it is a rodent, I believe, the rat.

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And of course the dead bird too.

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-Yes.

-It's just awful.

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Oh!

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It's wonderful to do those scenes.

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You want to bring the audience in with you, so close to you.

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You want to put them in your lap, in the palm of your hand.

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And it's very exciting when you go to the theatre and find that

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you've done it in a couple of scenes.

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I worked in the wheelchair on the sets and all weekends,

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because I had an inch on either side and with your hands there,

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on the wheelchair, if they were too far out,

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I had very sore knuckles the two or three days I rehearsed.

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As a matter of fact, I took the wheelchair home with me at nights,

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to learn how to get through doors.

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Although film-making might have been conveyor-belted,

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although there's some truth in the charge that

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artists were manufactured and you obviously...

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You manufacture toys, you don't manufacture stars.

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You can't turn them out.

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They were... Nowadays, you see them,

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they're all out of the same cookie-cutter, you know.

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I still think we should go back to romantic pictures.

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Mmm.

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The world is so angry.

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I'm no Cinderella, but by golly, the world is so angry,

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that if we could get romantic pictures back again,

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and no angry young men,

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and have the young men have their hair cut

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and the young ladies let it grow,

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I think we'd get back to a nice human relationship again.

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A nice human relationship is exactly the opposite

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of what Joan and Bette had.

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I was watching.

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Then you're an idiot.

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I won't have you speak to me like that.

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There are different versions of how the rivalry started.

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One has this man at the heart of it -

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the actor Franchot Tone.

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Bette Davis co-starred in the 1935 film Dangerous.

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It's said that Bette fell for him head over heels,

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but he was already seeing...

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Yes, you guessed it.

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..Joan Crawford,

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and would go on to become the second of Joan's four husbands.

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Another version says that Bette Davis was furious when

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a role she'd turned down became

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one of Crawford's greatest successes -

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the 1945 film Mildred Pierce.

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Bette had been the studio's first choice for the title role,

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but when she turned it down, Joan lobbied hard for the part,

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and her efforts paid off when it won her a Best Actress Oscar.

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Whichever version is correct,

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the animosity continued throughout the filming of Baby Jane...

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..and the stories around it are legend -

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or maybe myths.

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How Joan Crawford's marriage to the chairman of Pepsi led to

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Bette Davis getting a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set.

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How Joan demanded a body double for the scenes

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where Jane attacked Blanche, and claimed she needed stitches

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after Bette kicked her in the head.

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And how, after that fight, Joan put weights in her pockets...

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..to make it harder for Bette to drag her around.

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Bette Davis will always be considered

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one of Hollywood's great actresses.

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In her eyes, Joan Crawford was merely a movie star who'd got lucky,

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and slept her way to the top.

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Bette felt she had credibility,

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partly because producers never considered her as a sex symbol.

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And that's a subject she discusses here with Joan Bakewell in 1972.

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How dare those Hollywood moguls,

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at the time when you first went from New York to Hollywood,

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suggest that you couldn't be as sexy and glamorous as any other star.

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LAUGHTER

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Well, according to their standards, you see, I wasn't.

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Now, this was really in the very beginning of talking pictures.

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And all of us, us who came out from the theatre,

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were not actressy kind of people.

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You know, we sort of had our own colour hair and maybe

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a couple of teeth crooked. We looked, you know, totally different,

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and they were very, very puzzled, you know?

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And off-screen, we didn't go around all dressed up,

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say like a Harlow or somebody would, you know?

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So they just did not understand this at all.

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So we just were...

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You know, they called me The Little Brown Wren.

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But then, finally, you see, nobody helps you when you go,

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about make-up or about the camera.

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It's a wholly new profession, really. And finally,

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they find out, you know, the best way to wear your hair.

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They put a make-up on you that does the best for you.

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It's just a slow process of...

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..getting to look on the screen

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what you really thought you looked like in life.

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Because I thought I was fairly attractive until I got to Hollywood,

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but I didn't for very long!

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But you did have to fight off all their attempts

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-to glamorise you in THEIR terms.

-Oh, yes, yes.

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Hepburn, Margaret Sullivan and I were the three who really fought it.

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You know, fought the...

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Although, when I went to Warners, they made me,

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you know, really bleach my hair.

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And I knew it was going to limit me with parts,

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so I snuck down one day and had it, you know,

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put back the ash blonde hair I'd always had.

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And one year later, Mr Warner sent for me and said,

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"You've had your hair re-dyed." One year later!

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He'd never seen it. But if I had gone for permission,

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he wouldn't have allowed it, you see.

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And I didn't want to go through life with a very bleached head of hair.

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But it was the factory getting to work,

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because they even suggested changing your name, didn't they?

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Oh, yes, they wanted to call me Bettina Dawes.

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LAUGHTER

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And, to be a little vulgar in this illustrious group,

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I said I refuse to be called Between The Drawers all my life.

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APPLAUSE

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Which I would have. No question.

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It's very well you joking about it now,

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-but of course at the time, for a young...

-Heartbreak.

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-It must have been awful.

-It was absolutely a heartbreak.

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Yes, I remember sitting in the outer office and Mr Laemmle was talking to

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somebody, and he was talking about me, not knowing I was there.

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And he said,

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"Yeah, she's got as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville."

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LAUGHTER

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And you see, you're so right...

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Oh, I was defeated.

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And, for instance, they would say,

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"Who wants to get her at the end of the picture?"

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LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE

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And this does...

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True.

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And this really does catastrophic things to your ego.

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And I didn't have a lot of ego, and never have had lots anyway,

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which is a big misnomer about actors - we have very little ego.

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Not much ego?

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I'm not sure Bette was being totally straight with the audience there.

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But it's certainly true that in What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

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both stars had to embrace looking well past their prime,

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which, according to Bette,

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was something that Joan didn't find easy.

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Oh, yes, it was very difficult for her.

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After all, it's understandable, isn't it?

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That's what she was known for.

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And she couldn't look that way in this.

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She'd, after all, been in this room for 20 years, uncared for, etc,

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so that was her main prop, kind of thing.

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The biggest trouble we had, really, I don't even know if I mentioned it,

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she had her nails all lacquered,

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and Mr Aldrich had a shot of her hands on the staircase, coming down,

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and so we spent about half a day getting her...

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to take off the nail polish, which she finally did.

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I believe she said to Mr Aldrich,

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"You've taken everything else away from me,

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"You're not going to take away my nail polish."

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It certainly sounds like the sort of over-the-top declaration

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that Joan liked to make.

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More than most stars, her life seems to have been a performance,

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which comes across in the interviews she gave,

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like this one from 1956,

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promoting the film Esther Costello.

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The interviewer, Peter Haig, is dripping with deference,

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and Joan herself is oddly unnatural.

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It's a proud moment for Picture Parade

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because Joan Crawford has joined us tonight, to tell us

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a little about herself, to talk, too, about her new picture.

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And I think I should tell you

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it's her first appearance on television ever. Welcome, Joan.

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Hi, Peter, how are you?

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-You look quite nervous.

-Yes, I'm scared.

-Really?

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-Yes.

-Joan, there are thousands of things I want to ask you.

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I don't quite know where to start,

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but first of all, I think let's take glamour.

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Now, will you tell me what A - is your recipe for it?

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-Just live.

-Just live?

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-Yes.

-As simple as that?

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Live with a lovely family, raising children.

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I don't mean live gloriously and make every day the fourth of July,

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I mean just live.

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A perfectly ordinary life? Could we talk very quickly, Joan, about

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-Esther Costello?

-Yes.

-What is the story of this picture?

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This is the story of a woman who goes back to Ireland,

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she left it six years of age.

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She goes back because she's a lonely woman.

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And this is a story of many, many women in the world -

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it doesn't have to be England, America, Ireland, Scotland,

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it doesn't matter.

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And I find...

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You see, I'm not playing Esther Costello.

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I was going to ask you that, you're not playing it.

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-No.

-Who is playing the part?

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Today we chose the most lovely, beautiful child in the whole world.

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-Now, who is that?

-Except my own four children.

-Yes?

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-Who is she?

-Miss Heather Sears.

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Heather Sears, meet our viewers, and congratulations on all our behalfs,

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on getting this rather wonderful part.

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-Thank you very much.

-What do you have to do in the film?

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Well, I should say, first of all, I have to be a great pantomimist.

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What exactly is that now?

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You've got to use your fingers a lot to, er...

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Yes, I have to...

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I have to...

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-Sort of...

-Communicate...

-Yes.

-..with my hands.

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-And you aren't allowed to talk?

-And with your eyes.

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And with my eyes, but not my voice,

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because Esther Costello was a blind mute.

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My goodness me. So you've really got a lot of work to put in

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-between you both, haven't you?

-Yes, we do.

-Yes, we have.

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We'll work together well.

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-I hope so, I'm sure we will.

-How are you both getting on, before you go,

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how are you both getting on with, you know, the film so far?

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-You haven't actually started, have you?

-No.

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-But we will.

-In a few days' time then.

-Yes.

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Bless you both. Thank you so much.

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Before you go, I just want one little thing before you do leave.

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Thank you very much indeed.

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With our compliments, Joan Crawford,

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thank you very much indeed for joining us.

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And Heather, likewise.

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-Thank you very much indeed.

-Good luck to you both in the picture,

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-and thank you for joining us on Picture Parade tonight.

-Good luck.

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-Thank you.

-You know you're going to be great.

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Thank you.

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Joan's fawning over her co-star was not typical

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of the way she dealt with young people.

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She raised four adopted children, but her treatment of them

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became notorious after her daughter, Christina, published

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Mommie Dearest...

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..a book that claimed Crawford only adopted them

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to enhance her public image,

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and accused her of being a cruel disciplinarian.

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She said, "I'm a marvellous mother."

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She said, "My children obey me, and they must obey me."

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And this little boy, I think he was four or five years old,

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was in the living room,

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and on the coffee table was a box of chocolates.

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And she told the story, you know, quite proudly, and she said,

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"And he took a chocolate, and said, 'May I have a candy, Mama?' "

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And she said, "Yes, you may have one."

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So when she wasn't looking he took another, and she caught him.

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And she said, "Now, I want you to eat every chocolate in that box."

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And it was a great, big box of chocolates.

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And she stood over him until he ate all the chocolate in the box,

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and then threw them up.

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So she said, "Of course, he won't do that again."

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And she was very proud of herself.

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The book was a sensation,

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although many felt it was an exaggeration of the truth.

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And when it was turned into a film in 1981

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Faye Dunaway said her widely acclaimed portrayal of Crawford

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was an attempt to understand what may have motivated her.

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My babies.

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Someone stole both my babies.

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That's good, darling.

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They were thoughtless, selfish, spoiled children.

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Now they won't wake you up when you need your rest.

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I do think that Joan Crawford became,

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in everybody's minds,

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the result of a kind of scandal,

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and she became a monster.

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People read the book, said, "Oh, this is what she was really like."

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Well, that isn't all that she was really like,

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and it may not even have been what she was really like,

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so that it's important to make some attempt to change that.

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I think she was an extreme disciplinarian,

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and I think that she lacked gentleness

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with herself, first, and also with this child, anyway.

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I think that she had changed and grown by the time that she adopted

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the last two children. But I think she tended to be very stern,

0:19:310:19:35

because that's how she was with herself,

0:19:350:19:37

and I think that she wanted them to learn that

0:19:370:19:39

you've got to work to get something.

0:19:390:19:41

And I've said this before, but let me say it again,

0:19:410:19:43

the story between the mother and the daughter, I think is the inevitable,

0:19:430:19:46

tragic misunderstanding between a child of want, which Crawford was,

0:19:460:19:50

and a child of opulence, which the girl was.

0:19:500:19:52

Christina, the girl, could not understand a child of want,

0:19:520:19:55

which is what Crawford was. She took everything for granted,

0:19:550:19:58

she had a Hollywood existence.

0:19:580:19:59

She had incredibly beautiful dresses,

0:19:590:20:01

she had an incredibly, sort of, wonderful parties and everything.

0:20:010:20:04

So... And also I've talked to people like Carrie Fisher,

0:20:040:20:07

and other children of that time, and they say, we all had that,

0:20:070:20:10

that was how it was in Hollywood them.

0:20:100:20:13

So...but...she... That was the norm to her.

0:20:130:20:15

To Joan, Joan had really worked, alone too.

0:20:150:20:19

She essentially didn't have a man to help her,

0:20:190:20:22

a mate, to share her life with.

0:20:220:20:24

So that Joan wanted the girl to be...

0:20:240:20:26

..grateful, and to understand that what she's got

0:20:270:20:30

was the result of a lot of work, but she couldn't.

0:20:300:20:33

So that an inevitable clash set itself up,

0:20:330:20:36

and it was never resolved.

0:20:360:20:38

Being called a bad mother can, sadly,

0:20:380:20:42

be added to the list of things that Crawford and Davis had in common.

0:20:420:20:46

Bette's daughter, Barbara, who was always nicknamed BD,

0:20:480:20:51

and actually had a small part in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?,

0:20:510:20:56

would also write a book describing her mother as

0:20:560:20:59

an emotionally abusive bully,

0:20:590:21:02

and was criticised for publishing it before her mother died.

0:21:020:21:06

Here we see the pair of them before their relationship had broken down,

0:21:060:21:10

-being interviewed on a trip to the UK...

-Oh, BD...

0:21:100:21:13

..by the actor Derek Bond.

0:21:130:21:15

..I want you to meet Mr Derek Bond.

0:21:150:21:17

-My daughter, Barbara.

-Hello, Barbara.

0:21:170:21:20

-Not a very satisfactory day for riding?

-No.

0:21:200:21:22

How long have you been...

0:21:220:21:23

Have you been over here before, to this country?

0:21:230:21:26

No, I've been here once before when I was only four years old,

0:21:260:21:29

but that's pretty hard to remember.

0:21:290:21:31

Mm. How many foreign countries have you been to, outside America?

0:21:310:21:33

This trip is the only time in over...

0:21:330:21:37

I went to Spain, Italy, and France, and this country.

0:21:370:21:41

-Do you enjoy travelling? Do you like it?

-Oh, yes, I like it very much,

0:21:410:21:44

-but it is work.

-Do you get homesick?

0:21:440:21:47

No. I don't get homesick.

0:21:470:21:49

-You don't?

-No.

-When you grow up, would you like to be an actress,

0:21:490:21:53

-like your mother?

-Not one of my first choices.

0:21:530:21:56

-What do you want to do.

-I'd like to be a secretary.

0:21:560:21:59

-A secretary?

-Yes.

0:21:590:22:01

Darling, why don't you run along.

0:22:010:22:03

-See you later.

-Goodbye.

-Nice to have met you.

-And you.

0:22:030:22:07

Ms Davis, how would you feel if she had said

0:22:090:22:11

she wanted to be an actress?

0:22:110:22:12

Oh, well...

0:22:120:22:15

wanting to be an actress is just, if you want to, you must.

0:22:150:22:19

It's kind of a...

0:22:190:22:21

It's a kind of a drive, it's a thing that you absolutely have to do,

0:22:210:22:24

and if this were it, then she must.

0:22:240:22:27

I could hope for her that her life would run along a little more normal

0:22:270:22:31

channels and she wouldn't have this great need for expressing herself

0:22:310:22:35

in this way.

0:22:350:22:38

-But, if so...

-Do you think people can be happier doing something else?

0:22:380:22:42

No, I think one is happiest doing what one must do.

0:22:420:22:46

You know? I really think I've been an incredibly fortunate person

0:22:460:22:49

and had a most wonderfully happy life

0:22:490:22:51

as regards the accomplishment of my life.

0:22:510:22:54

I don't think it's an easy life,

0:22:540:22:56

I must say.

0:22:560:22:58

Five years after that interview, whilst in Cannes with her mother

0:22:580:23:02

promoting Baby Jane, BD met a man twice her age

0:23:020:23:06

who she married, with Bette's blessing,

0:23:060:23:10

when she was only 16, and he was 29.

0:23:100:23:14

Bette later called that trip one of the greatest mistakes in her life.

0:23:140:23:19

What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? may have been a huge

0:23:210:23:24

critical and box office hit,

0:23:240:23:26

but success didn't alter Bette and Joan's feelings about each other.

0:23:260:23:30

If anything, the animosity intensified,

0:23:310:23:35

particularly around that year's Academy Awards, and the statue

0:23:350:23:40

which Bette always felt she had a special relationship with.

0:23:400:23:43

There is one question I am always asked.

0:23:450:23:47

Did I name the Oscar?

0:23:470:23:49

And fascinatingly enough,

0:23:500:23:51

the only night I was not asked this question was

0:23:510:23:54

in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the night of the Oscar show, which

0:23:540:23:58

I thought was very, very strange, because I'm always asked that.

0:23:580:24:02

I was asked that everywhere in Australia and New Zealand.

0:24:020:24:05

What's the answer?

0:24:050:24:06

Uh...

0:24:060:24:08

Well, I feel I did.

0:24:080:24:10

How?

0:24:100:24:11

Well, my first husband's middle initial was O,

0:24:110:24:15

and he never would tell me what it was,

0:24:150:24:17

because he detested the name, so finally I found out that

0:24:170:24:21

his middle name was Oscar.

0:24:210:24:23

And...

0:24:230:24:25

the rear end of the Oscar looked like him!

0:24:250:24:27

And I always called it Oscar.

0:24:320:24:34

Now, the Academy refuses to accept this,

0:24:340:24:37

-and I sort of willingly say the Academy.

-I see.

0:24:370:24:40

But that's my memory of it.

0:24:400:24:41

Of course, it was a long time ago.

0:24:410:24:43

Bette Davis was nominated for Best Actress for Baby Jane...

0:24:440:24:49

but Crawford wasn't.

0:24:490:24:52

Had Bette won, she'd have had become the first woman

0:24:520:24:56

to win the award three times.

0:24:560:24:59

And after all the praise for her performance,

0:24:590:25:01

she was confident of a victory.

0:25:010:25:04

But it was not to be.

0:25:040:25:06

Were you sorry that you didn't nab that third Oscar?

0:25:100:25:13

Oh, please, be sorry, I broke my heart.

0:25:130:25:16

My two children came with me to the Oscars, the night of Jane.

0:25:160:25:20

Michael and BD were in the audience.

0:25:200:25:23

It was a rough shot, I couldn't believe it.

0:25:230:25:26

I was so sure this time,

0:25:260:25:28

because it was that kind of a part, I really should have had it,

0:25:280:25:32

-no question.

-Do you think she should have been nominated

0:25:320:25:35

-for What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?

-No, I do not.

0:25:350:25:39

I'm very honest about it. I think I should have been.

0:25:390:25:41

The "she" Bette referred to there was, of course, Joan.

0:25:430:25:47

And to make matters worse for Bette,

0:25:470:25:50

when Anne Bancroft was declared the night's big winner,

0:25:500:25:54

the award was actually collected by Joan -

0:25:540:25:58

an arrangement she made in advance, knowing that Bancroft

0:25:580:26:02

couldn't attend because she was busy appearing in a play.

0:26:020:26:06

Amazingly, the director, Robert Aldrich, attempted to repeat

0:26:070:26:11

the success of Baby Jane by casting the two arch-rivals

0:26:110:26:17

in his 1964 film, Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

0:26:170:26:21

Even more amazingly, they both signed on.

0:26:230:26:26

But Bette Davis got her revenge for that Oscar night...

0:26:280:26:31

..by securing a producer's credit.

0:26:330:26:35

She conspired to make life on the set so challenging for Crawford

0:26:370:26:42

that Joan ended up pretending she was too ill to work,

0:26:420:26:45

delaying production by weeks.

0:26:450:26:48

Eventually, Crawford was dropped,

0:26:480:26:51

and replaced by Bette's long-time friend, Olivia De Havilland.

0:26:510:26:55

Joan humiliatingly only discovered the news on the radio

0:26:560:27:01

after it had been leaked to the press,

0:27:010:27:03

allegedly, by Bette.

0:27:030:27:06

Not surprisingly, the pair never worked together again,

0:27:060:27:11

and never had a good word to say about each other,

0:27:110:27:14

until Joan's death in 1977...

0:27:140:27:18

..when it's claimed that Bette was quoted as saying...

0:27:190:27:23

Over the top?

0:27:340:27:36

Certainly.

0:27:360:27:38

But then everything about this clash of the titans was off the scale.

0:27:380:27:41

That quote perfectly illustrated the uncompromising,

0:27:430:27:47

never-give-an-inch nature of Hollywood's most notorious feud.

0:27:470:27:51

It was frightening in its intensity...

0:27:520:27:55

..and strangely fascinating,

0:27:570:27:59

just like Bette and Joan themselves.

0:27:590:28:03

Sylvia Syms looks through the BBC archives to tell the story of one of Hollywood's greatest ever feuds - the rivalry between legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Interviews from the 1960s and 70s reveal the mutual loathing that came to a head when, against all expectations, they starred together in the classic psychological thriller Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?.

The programme looks in detail at the making of the film, examines the fallout when Bette and not Joan received an Oscar nomination for her performance, and shows how, despite the hatred, the pair had more in common than audiences appreciated.


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