I’m a self-described crier but last night’s Feud: Bette and Joan finale really got my waterworks running. It’s hard, no matter what your line of work or life experience, not to empathize with the two legendary stars aging before our eyes. As an older woman, that’s especially true. Blythe describes the series as following ‘‘the two Hollywood legends as they ‘age out’ of their acting careers and battle each other for supremacy.’’
Women, especially women of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford’s generation have always had a hard time in Hollywood, where looks were everything. When Joan Crawford’s dentist warns her that the bone loss caused by her missing back teeth is wreaking havoc with her health (Joan Crawford reportedly really did have a dental procedure called the buckle, in which the back teeth are removed to make the cheekbones more prominent) and that at her age she should be more concerned with her health than her looks, Crawford replies “I’ll stop worrying about how I look when they dip me in formaldehyde.”
I get it Joan. Nobody wants to see an old woman’s wrinkles, sagging skin and jowls. As a boomer who turns the momentous 64 this year, I’m guilty of that same kind of thinking, avoiding cameras when possible. But wait, that kind of nonsense is over, isn’t it? Aren’t we all evolved and operating on a higher plane? Doesn’t a woman’s inner beauty count more than surface looks? Don’t her accomplishments, her experience, her wisdom outweigh all those superficial concerns? According to the producers, not so much. All you have to do is see how Hillary Clinton was tarred and feathered, her age, her looks, her potential health issues all fodder for critics in the last election.
“We shot the first four episodes thinking that Hillary Clinton was going to win, so those first four episodes were, ‘Haven’t we come so far!’ Then half-way through the shooting, the other scenario happened. It was a bracing slap of, ‘You know what? Nothing has really changed.’ It’s so hard to bring about that change that we all feel is necessary with how women are treated in our society. We worked harder at those things because it’s such a large story even today.”I feel you Bette and Joan! And I’m so grateful that Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon leaned into playing the iconic stars, and telling their story.
“She was a great mystery,” Lange said about Crawfor. “I think part of is that she created Joan Crawford, and this was a character that she played, that was created as a collaboration between her and MGM, and she embraced it. She played it for the next 50 years. But what fascinated me about her wasn’t playing the role of Joan Crawford, as much as what was underneath. What was always just underneath the skin and behind the eyes, and that was Lucille LeSueur, who was this poor, abandoned, unloved, abused, poverty-stricken kid from San Antonio.”
“So many drag queens had already done it so much better, so I was up against that,” Susan Sarandon said of Bette Davis. “Of course I really admire her as an actor and she had been kind of chasing me for years in one form or another to do her, and I never found the right thing. This seemed to be the scariest right thing.”
I started watching Feud because I thought it would be great fun to see these two rivals come up against each other in the the making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane — based on a book. I was expecting a hilarious cat fight—which we got to a degree in the earlier episodes—I wasn’t expecting to be so deeply moved by their plight. A battle for relevance beyond their surface shimmer, a fight to be recognized as the living breathing, intelligent, complicated, nuanced individuals they are beneath the makeup and mascara. A war women everywhere still wage.
Maybe you missed Feud: Bette and Joan? No worry, you can catch all the episodes at FX on demand.