Kurt Iswarienko/FX

'Feud' Proves How Hard Women Had It In Hollywood

FX's Feud tells the true story of two classic Hollywood icons who couldn't stand each other, but chose to work together in the later days of their careers for a film that would become a lasting sensation. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford hated each other from the outset when they both fell for the same man, but he chose Crawford. That was in the mid-1930s, but that won't be the period of their lives Feud tackles. The show won't explore the beginning of their rivalry, but instead decades later when their distaste for one another was already long cemented. So when does Feud take place?

Feud revolves around the filming of 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, so the early 1960s will be the era of Hollywood on display in the show. That's important to the story for a few reasons. Feud catches up with Crawford and Davis when their careers were on a decline. They excelled in the black and white movies of the 1930s and 1940s, but by the time the 1960s rolled around their star power had faded. As older women, they struggled to maintain their place in Hollywood, where they were pushed out by a system that prized a narrow ideal of how women should look. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? felt, at times, like their last chance to make their mark on the film industry.

Hollywood ageism affected both Crawford and Davis in different ways. Crawford was always known for her exceptional beauty and glamour, so when Hollywood decided her age (which was anywhere from 56 to 58 at the time of filming Baby Jane, because the exact year of her birth is unknown) precluded her from the kind of characters she used to play, she was left with few options. Jessica Lange, who plays Crawford, said during the TCA press tour, "At the time when Feud takes place, Joan was 10 years younger than I am now, and yet her career was finished because of her age. We've tried to investigate what that does to a woman, and for Joan, who was known for her tremendous beauty — what happens when that beauty is no longer considered viable?"

Davis faced a different dilemma, because her beauty was never the cornerstone of her star image. She was a character actress whose look was always more mutable, but she was left similarly adrift when roles dried up because of her age. It gave her more options than Crawford, certainly, but she still found herself struggling to achieve the same heights she had had when her career was new.

Feud takes place during a time in Hollywood history that is often romanticized in the present, but was actually far from ideal.