Feud? Joan Crawford and Bette Davis would have been unstoppable as friends
PUBLISHED: 14:16 19 December 2017 | UPDATED: 14:16 19 December 2017
The new BBC2 drama, Feud, about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford has much to teach women about sisterhood
I have been struck with a cold so it was very much the weekend of the TV event for me. I even watched Strictly, something I would never normally do, but although it went on for far too long – how many ‘last dances’ does each couple have to do? – I found it strangely uplifting
Joe McFadden’s last dance (the real one, as opposed to the numerous precursors) was such an energetic delight, I began to see why so many people give up hours of their time to watch people prancing about in sequins for no other reason than their ardent desire to win a glitterball.
But then we all spend our lives chasing after a glitterball, don’t we? It’s just that the glitterball rarely turns out to be an actual glitterball, although it can seem very shiny to us at the time.
Also on the shiny front, I was thrilled to see Mo Farah win Sports Personality of the Year, after realising in astonishment that Mo had never won it before.
Surely he won in 2012? I thought. Super Saturday? But he didn’t even place in the top three that year: it was won by Bradley Wiggins, with Jessica Ennis second and Andy Murray third.
Ludicrously, the best Mo had done before was a third in 2011, so to honour him in his retirement year was excellent, proving for the first time in 2017 that a voting British public can get something right.
Seeing as I’m in a TV mood, I should also say how much I enjoyed the first two episodes of Feud: Bette and Joan, the brilliant BBC2 drama about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford at the time they made the horror classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
I’ve always enjoyed their bitchy putdowns: “Why am I so good at playing bitches?” Davis once said. “I think it’s because I’m not a bitch. Maybe that’s why Miss Crawford always plays ladies.”
Meanwhile, Crawford said of Davis, “(She) looks old enough to be my mother.”
Their sniping is a reminder of all the great dialogue we used to get from Hollywood, now sadly replaced by CGI. But there is a sad note inherent in the story of Davis and Crawford too.
Both were brilliantly talented older women who were cast aside because of their age. As Kathy Bates, playing the wisecracking actress Joan Blondell says in the series, “Men age, they get character. Women age, they get lost.” Bates also had a line which seemed to have a searing prescience in light of the Harvey Weinstein scandal: “We’ve never needed a man, yet we’re always at their mercy.”
Not much has changed then?
It made me think that if two women as sharp and brilliant as Crawford and Davis struggled to be respected, what hope for the rest of us? Davis took no prisoners; she even sued Warner Bros, making it impossible for studios to ‘own’ stars under contract to them and force them to appear in inferior pictures. Yet she was no match for age, once saying: “Anyone who says that life begins at 40 is full of it. As people get older their bodies begin to decay. They get sick. They forget things. What’s good about that?”
The feud between the two women was hilarious to watch with the kind of waspish zingers you always wish you had at your fingertips to annihilate your own enemies, but never manage to come up with at the right time.
However, you can’t help wishing that instead of hating each other, Davis and Crawford had combined forces more often: when they did, their male director didn’t stand a chance. They stand as a lesson to all women that competition between us is debilitative, yet with unity we are unstoppable.
Not always easy to remember though, as the programme’s most memorable quote rejoined: “Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain.”
As they used to say in Hollywood, ‘Aint that the truth?’