The iconic feud between two of Hollywood's most notorious nasty women is finally getting the retrospective it deserves on March 5, when Feud: Bette and Joan makes its debut on FX. Ryan Murphy's new anthology series about celebrities in conflict will kick off with a first season dedicated to Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange), whose decades-long rivalry came to a head (but not an end) when they starred together in the 1962 classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And while we fully expect Murphy's script to deliver its share of ramped-up drama and trademark camp, the true history of the Davis/Crawford catfight doesn't exactly need embellishing. Below, we round up seven key moments from their legacy of mutual loathing.
A love triangle
Despite their longstanding professional rivalry, the original source of the feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford wasn't a job, but a man. Actor Franchot Tone was Davis' co-star in the 1935 film Dangerous, and Davis was wild for him — which made it quite a slap in the face when he blew off her interest and married Joan Crawford instead. Although it sounds like Davis dodged a bullet on that front (Tone was a lush and a lousy husband by all accounts, and his marriage to Crawford lasted only four years), she was also a woman who didn't like to lose, and seeing Tone return from lunch covered in Crawford's lipstick didn't do anything to soften the blow.
David and Crawford already had no reason to like each other, but in 1943, they were given a good reason not to, in the form of the film Mildred Pierce. Davis was the director's first choice, but blithely turned down the title role — and Crawford, who wasn't, had to fight like mad to get it. But like the movie, this story had a twist ending: Crawford ended up winning the Oscar for her performance, while Davis wasn't even nominated for the film she'd turned down the role to do.
Trash talk galore
Like most storied feuds, this one was sustained as much by gossip as it was by actual conflict, which means that half the insults the actresses are reported to have slung at each other are probably made up. But they still traded plenty of barbs, including the sick burn famously uttered by Davis: "Joan Crawford has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie."
Kicking and screaming
Enter What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, the movie that put both Davis and Crawford back in showbiz after they'd aged out of "starlet" status. Despite their open loathing of each other, both women saw the project's potential, and they put aside their off-screen differences during filming... well, mostly. Crawford, whose character in the movie was paralyzed, supposedly loaded up her pockets with rocks during scenes where Davis had to drag her across the floor — and that scene in the Feud trailer where Davis kicks Crawford in the head? Yep, that happened.
Though the actresses managed to play nicely enough during production of Baby Jane, Joan Crawford's claws came out in the aftermath, when only Davis received an Oscar nomination for the film. In an awesome display of pure pettiness, Crawford contacted all the other nominated actresses and offered to accept the Academy Award on their behalf — and the one who took her up on it was Anne Bancroft, who did indeed win for The Miracle Worker. Hence, the non-nominated Joan Crawford ended up smiling and holding the golden statuette on the Oscars stage that night, while Bette Davis had to watch and seethe.
A Coke and a smile
After the success of Baby Jane, director Robert Aldrich wanted to reunite his leading ladies on an adaptation of another Henry Farrell work, Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte. But while both Davis and Crawford agreed to do the film, Crawford was so irritated by her co-star that she bailed on the production after less than two weeks of work. Among the things Bette Davis did that finally drove her nemesis off set: having a Coke machine installed in Crawford's dressing room (knowing that Crawford was on the board of directors at the Pepsi corporation.) Because revenge, like Coke, is a dish best served cold.
The last word
Chasing Crawford off the set of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte might have been a victory for Bette Davis, but only just; despite a critically acclaimed performance, the film didn't earn her a hoped-for Oscar nomination (Baby Jane was her last.) But if the last woman standing wins the feud, then Davis, who outlived her archenemy by twelve years, is our champ — and ever a tithing member of the Church of Snark. Reportedly, her response to the news of Crawford's death was: "You should never say bad things about the dead, only good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good!
Feud: Bette and Joan premieres Sunday, March 5 at 10/9c on FX.