Pauline JamesonAs with any show based on true events, fans question how much of Ryan Murphy's latest FX series Feud has been embellished (or completely made up) to enhance the on-screen drama. Largely, the show is faithful to the events (and, more importantly, the themes) of what went on between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis during their decades-spanning feud and, more broadly, what it was like for actresses in that time period. With high-profile actors appearing as equally high-profile real-life figures, it's easy to assume that all the characters are real. But is Pauline from Feud based on a real person, for instance?
Deadline's casting announcement described Pauline (brilliantly portrayed by The Americans actress Alison Wright) as "director Robert Aldrich’s (Alfred Molina) smart-as-a-whip, cool-as-a-cucumber assistant in charge of development." Thus far, Pauline's subplot has been one of the most engaging of the series, leading many to question whether she was a real person. Of course, Aldrich was a real person (the director of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, the equally-real film where Crawford and Davis' long-simmering tension finally boiled over). So does that automatically mean that Pauline is, too?
As it turns out, according to Observer's interview with Wright, the actress "has the unique task of portraying one of the few Feud roles to not exist in real life." Of Pauline's character arc — as a woman who has ambitions of being a director in her own right, in a time when women directors were simply not a thing — Wright called Pauline a "composite" character.
"Pauline is a composite of all the women who worked in the studio systems," Wright told Observer. "My character represents a lot of these women who were very great and capable at their job, at a time everyone expected your endgame to be marriage and kids. Pauline wants to be a director. She wants a future in the business."
Admittedly, this is a little confusing — particularly because her character's name is Pauline Jameson, and there was a English-born actress who passed away in 2007, having had a substantial stage and film career. According to various sources, she also worked as Aldrich's assistant during the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? There is, however, no indication (or any that I can find) that the real Pauline was intent on rising in the ranks to become a director in her own right.
Based on this information, and paired with Wright's comments, it follows that Pauline was a character loosely based on a real person, but crafted to have a particular storyline to fit in, thematically, with the show. After all, in a show about women in Hollywood, Murphy & Co. would've been remiss to leave out the pervasive issues that plagued (and still, to this day, plague) women in the male-dominated director's chair.
Luckily for fans, Wright tweeted that the upcoming episode of Feud is a big one for her character. Can't. Wait.