What Is 'What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?' About? It Brought Bette & Joan Back Together
The central action of the first half of Feud Season 1 took place as its main characters, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, teamed up to film the 1962 thriller What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? In real life, that movie was an unexpected hit, despite (or possibly because of) the fact that its two stars came to legendary blows as tension ratcheted up on set. Like most Hollywood successes, the director wanted to replicate his winning formula with a follow-up — What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? — which will probably come up in Feud at some point before the season ends. But what is What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? about?
Though viewers have caught only snippets of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? being filmed as the Davis-Crawford feud remains at the forefront, it can't be overstated what a dark horse success the movie was. Starring two then-unmarketable actresses (as Davis and Crawford had come to be known) and revolving around the rather unglamorous topic of aging women, the movie ended up being a critical and commercial success, earning Davis a Best Actress Oscar nod that year. Director Robert Aldrich (who, as we've seen on Feud, was very encouraging of Davis and Crawford's rivalry for the purposes of promoting his movie) clearly realized he'd struck gold with the two iconic actresses working together and clashing both on-screen and off. For that reason, he looked to recreate the magic as closely as possible, with another "two older women in a deadly battle of wits" plot.
What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte? was an unpublished short story written by Henry Farrell, the writer of the novel of the same name on which What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was based. In demand as horror-thriller actresses post-Baby Jane, Aldrich recruited his leading ladies to appear in an adaptation of Farrell's story, this time reversing the villain and victim roles to find Crawford as the manipulative cousin Miriam and Davis as the manipulated Charlotte. The story goes that Charlotte's lover was murdered in her youth and she was suspected of the crime, leading to her spinsterdom. Miriam and her lover plot to drive Charlotte mad in an attempt to steal her fortune. Davis, for her part, mandated that the name of the movie be changed sufficiently to not sound like a direct sequel to Baby Jane, resulting in the eventual final title Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte.
According to Slate, both Crawford and Davis signed on for the new movie, but things quickly went sour between them once again, leading to Crawford being replaced with none other than Olivia de Havilland, one of the narrator characters telling Feud's frame story. All of these events are set to be addressed in Feud's remaining few episodes, so viewers will need to tune in to see how closely the writers will hew to recreating the intensity of the Davis-Crawford rivalry during their second (attempted) production together.