When Ryan Murphy creates a show, he really creates a show. His latest project, Feud is a eight-episode series about one of the most infamous rivalries in Hollywood between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (each season will be a different famous fight, which is sort of brilliant). If you never knew that the two icons, Davis and Crawford, weren't the best of friends, it's OK — that probably means you're just young. The show picks up later in their lives, which is important to know for the plot, since you know, women in Hollywood don't have it easy. So how old is Bette Davis in Feud anyway? Everything starts in the early 1960s, when Davis was 54 years old. Meanwhile, Crawford is just a few years older and will be shown at the age of around 57 years old.
The series starts with them working on Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? — a film in which the two women play sisters: one of whom was a former Hollywood actress, the other a has-been child star driven mad with jealousy over her sister's fame. It was on the set of the film that everyone got to see just how much Davis and Crawford hated each other.
They did petty things, like Davis putting a Coke machine in her dressing room, knowing that Crawford was on the Pepsi board of directors. Before signing onto the film, Davis made the director Robert Aldrich promise that he wasn't sleeping with her co-star. She reportedly said, ""It wasn't that I cared about his private life, or hers either. I didn't want him favoring her with more close-ups."
The two had been fighting for years, first because they were always competing for roles when they were younger. And then, reportedly, over Franchot Tone, who eventually married Crawford. But the world loves to think that women hate each other because of men, which is only part of the story. Really, Feud is about a culture that pits women against each other no matter what. Although they had been picking at each other for decades, the two women had to compete well into their 50s for the spotlight.
Even today, there are only so many parts for "older women." Imagine back then. Before Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the two also competed for awards and America's attention (Davis was at Warner Brothers and Crawford at MGM). It's almost as if one woman succeeds, another has to fail. More often than not, women are seen as in constant competition with each other instead of lifting each other up. Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. It hurts women to play into all of that.
Murphy reportedly had mainly female directors and writers on the show, so you know they (hopefully) got it right. The showrunner told E! News:
It was a very female-friendly set. I think there were 15 roles for women over 40 on that set. It was a very different environment for all of us. And for Susan [Sarandon] particularly, I think the thing that is what clinched the deal — I told her half the episodes were going to be directed by women. And one of them was going to be Helen Hunt.
He added, "She said, 'OK, that's pretty cool. I've never really been on a set before that's run by women.'" And I think that'll play a big part in what will make this show such a huge success.