Who on the production staff of the newly titled Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte had the bright idea to put Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in hotel rooms just 30 feet away from one another? With the close proximity and the Louisiana heat suffocating our Hollywood icons as they attempt to re-create the magic of Baby Jane, it was inevitable that things would get heated. Within just a few days of working together again, the Bette-and-Joan rivalry is back on. And Joan Crawford really ups the ante this time.
It doesn’t take long for Joan to realize that she’s the third wheel on set. Bette’s made sure she has Bob’s ear — she’s on set to give notes even when she’s not needed for the scene. This creative control annoys Joan to no end. When she confronts Bob about it and he informs her that Bette’s been made a producer, well, that sets the insecure Joan off. She has to work twice as hard for people to take her seriously, and she won’t be able to do that under Bette’s thumb. Bob swears it’s more of a vanity title, but Joan deliciously bites back that she’s going to enjoy watching him learn “just how meaningless Bette thinks this title is.”
Even more bothersome to old Joanie is the fact that her director and co-star are hooking up and throwing rowdy parties every night. She wants the people she’s working with to make responsible choices. Joan Crawford is the wettest blanket of them all.
If only Joan knew exactly what Bette was thinking.
At the end of Baby Jane, the Hudson sisters realize that if they had been honest with one another, maybe they could’ve been something other than enemies. Obviously, Feud goes to some lengths to make the correlation between the Hudsons and Bette and Joan. They attempt to draw that same conclusion again here: In another life, Bette and Joan could’ve put this rivalry aside and been real allies. They are both deeply vulnerable women who were pitted against each other from the very beginning. Bette tells Bob the heartbreaking story of the first time she auditioned for Jack Warner. She waited around outside to eavesdrop, and instead of Warner applauding her talent or intelligence, she heard him remark that Bette had no sex appeal. “Who would want to fuck that?” And that he wished she looked like Joan Crawford. Their rivalry wasn’t their own doing — it was created by people like Jack Warner.
“Abandoned!” is the closest Bette and Joan come to acknowledging that their rivalry continues because they each want what the other has. In the most revealing scene of the episode, and possibly the entire series (seriously, I can’t stop thinking about this moment), Joan stomps over to Bette’s room after she and Mamacita have been left behind in Joan’s trailer to find their own way back from set. She accuses Bette of bringing her on to this film simply to repeatedly humiliate her. They continue to hurl insults at one another until Bette softens and asks Joan a simple but staggeringly meaningful question: “How did it feel to be the most beautiful girl in the world?” Joan responds that it was wonderful, but it was never enough. She then returns the favor to Bette: “How did it feel to be the most talented girl in the world?” Bette replies, “It was great. And it was never enough.” I mean, stand up and take a bow, ladies. In just those few lines of dialogue, you learn everything you need to about Bette and Joan’s relationship. They’re more alike than they want to be, but that tiny recognition aside, these two will never be friends. In another life, maybe.
Definitely, definitely not this one.
That small moment of understanding means nothing when Joan discovers that more and more of her big monologues and scenes are being cut from Sweet Charlotte. She knows it’s Bette’s doing, and she’s not going to let that woman have any type of control over her. Joan goes nuclear.
Nuclear for an aging screen legend is, of course, to feign ill and hide out in the hospital until production is halted and the director and studio will have to come crawling back to her and give in to whatever demands she may have. Joan’s demands are all script notes in the vein of giving her character a much bigger backstory and surrounding her with lots of handsome suitors. Like, I get that. Bob, however, does not. When he’s shot around Joan’s absence as much as possible and is getting threats from the studio about shutting down the production, he pays Joan a little bedside visit. It starts out nice enough, but ends with this colorful line: “I suggest you put down your fucking script and pick up your fucking contract and give that a close fucking read.” You guys, when Bob told Jack Warner that he was taking his balls back, he really meant it!
So Joanie heads back to set, but not without making it a big production. She rolls up in a wheelchair with a handsome orderly and waits for the applause. The good will doesn’t last long. During one of Joan’s scenes, Bette has Bob cut and they discuss if the entire thing is even necessary. Joan’s reaction? She says she’s dizzy, and once again she’s whisked away to the hospital.
Production halts one more time.
Everyone knows exactly what Joan is doing, but this time the studio isn’t letting her get away with it. The studio lawyers call Joan in for a little meeting. Bette, as producer, makes sure she is there — she might not be able to control her 16-year-old daughter marrying a man twice her age (fun Google adventure: B.D. and Jeremy are still married), but she’s not going to let Joan derail her career.
The studio is willing to release Joan from her contract … but Joan declines. The next option is to submit to an independent exam. If Joan is cleared for work and still refuses to show up, the studio will sue her.
Joan is fully committed to her ruse, so she goes along with the independent exam, thinking she can seduce the doctor into confirming her story. The doctor is impenetrable — regardless of how fabulous Joan’s eyebrows are. So, when she still does not arrive on set, the studio makes good on their threat: Joan is getting sued. For a lot of money.
Still, she continues to play up her illness in the news; she is the best-looking sick person in town. She is convinced that no actress will agree to take her part and eventually the movie will be scrapped. Sure, she’ll be out hundreds of thousands of dollars, but so will Bette — and that’s enough for her. Unfortunately, Joan forgets that Bette has a lot of actress friends, too.
Bette and Bob get to work on recasting Joan’s role. Several women have said no, and Bette sure as hell does not want Vivien Leigh attempting to play a southern belle (Bette’s cutting remark that Leigh was unconvincing as Scarlett O’Hara was so unexpected and perfectly Bette). She wants her BFF Olivia de Havilland. And after a little persuasion — she did just air out her Swiss chalet, after all — Olivia, in a gorgeous little teal number, arrives on set and saves Sweet Charlotte. A round of Coca-Cola’s for everybody!
If you guessed that Joan takes in that piece of news with lots of screaming and then throwing yet another vase in Mamacita’s general direction, you’d be right. Like the studio, Mamacita is making good on her threat: She told Joan that one more thing being flung at or near her head would be the last. She’s leaving Joan. And just like that, Joan Crawford is left all alone to process how her plan could’ve backfired so spectacularly. It’s very clear that Joan has lost this round.