Before Taylor vs. Kimye, there was Joan Crawford vs. Bette Davis. The famed starlets ruled the red carpet and the box office from the late '30s through the '60s, and their deep disdain for one another has been well documented. This old Hollywood feud was revived by Ryan Murphy for the TV series Feud in 2017.
Bette Davis won two Oscars and starred in a number of films. She fought anyone who got in her way, including well-established movie star Joan Crawford. The pair's rivalry was one for the ages. Though Davis was just getting her start in Hollywood when Crawford's first major wave of popularity was ending, the two found themselves battling a number of times throughout their long careers.
- Photo: Dangerous / Warner Bros.
Their Feud Began In Earnest Over Crawford's Romance With Franchot Tone
In 1935, Davis starred with actor Franchot Tone in Dangerous. During filming, Davis developed feelings for Tone; she said, "I fell in love with Franchot, professionally and privately... Everything about him reflected his elegance, from his name to his manners."
Crawford, newly divorced and a sex symbol, was also interested in Tone. She invited the actor to her house and greeted him naked in her solarium. Crawford went after him aggressively. Davis said, "[Tone] was madly in love with [Crawford]. They met each day for lunch... he would return to the set, his face covered in lipstick. He was honored this great star was in love with him. I was jealous, of course." Davis felt that Crawford took Tone from her "coldly and deliberately." To add insult to injury, Crawford said that Tone "thought Bette was a good actress, but he never thought of her as a woman."
Crawford's Divorce Supposedly Ruined Davis's First Movie
Davis's first big movie, Ex-Lady, was—in her mind, at least—ruined by Crawford. Warner Bros. planned an extensive publicity campaign for Davis and the film, but their plans were thrown when Crawford announced that she was divorcing her husband, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. The newspapers went wild with the news, and Davis's big break was demoted to a mere footnote while Crawford received pages of press. Whether Crawford purposefully announced the news when Ex-Lady premiered is unclear. But the movie flopped, and when it didn't make enough money, it was pulled from theaters.
- Photo: Bain News Servivce / Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Crawford Insulted Davis After Her Win At 1936 Oscars
Because Davis didn't expect to win an Oscar for her role in the 1935 film Dangerous and because she wanted to anger Jack Warner, who made her attend the Academy Awards in protest of the newly-formed Screen Actor's Guild, Davis wore an old, plain movie costume to the ceremony.
Davis unexpectedly won Best Actress that year. Franchot Tone gracefully gave Davis a congratulatory hug after her name was announced. Crawford, on the other hand, completely ignored her. Tone told Crawford she was being rude to Davis, so Crawford turned and snarkily said, "Dear Bette! What a lovely frock."
- Photo: Now Voyager / Warner Bros.
Crawford Sent Davis Flowers, And Davis Returned Them
In 1943, Crawford moved from MGM to Warner Bros., the same studio where Davis worked. Crawford asked for a dressing room across from Davis, and she attempted to forge a truce with her rival; Crawford sent Davis gifts and flowers, all of which Davis refused to accept.
Crawford May Have Been Attracted To Davis
It's known that Crawford had romantic relationships with both men and women, and Davis suspected that Crawford may have been attracted to her. Crawford told her friend, Jerry Asher, that Franchot Tone wasn't into Davis, but that Crawford "wouldn't mind giving [Davis] a poke if [she] was in the right mood." Asher admits that he's not sure if Crawford was kidding or not, but he did say that Crawford was "attracted to Bette's vitality and energy."
- Photo: All About Eve / 20th Century Fox
Davis Insulted Crawford's Appearance
Bette and Joan duked it out publicly, and the duo exchanged barbs. Davis in particular had a sharp tongue. She said that Crawford's eyebrows were like "African caterpillars." Davis also called Crawford a mannequin. Davis even said that Crawford "slept with every male star at MGM, except Lassie."
After the two starred in a movie together, Davis said, "The best time I ever had with Joan was when I pushed her down some stairs in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”