In its premiere episode, FX's Feud: Bette and Joan explored both the personal and professional lives of its leading ladies, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. It set the scene for why they decided to join forces to star in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? even though they were longtime rivals. To do that, the show had to delve into what happened in their careers and home lives to inspire them to take on a new project that could have possibly ended up more trouble than it was worth. In the process, Feud touched on Davis' complicated relationship with her husband. But who was Bette Davis' husband on Feud?
Davis' husband was actor Gary Merrill, and in the show he was portrayed by Mark Valley. Merrill was Davis' fourth and last husband, and one with whom she had a famously messy relationship. That was only touched on in the show, however. Feud explained how they met and what caused the end of their marriage, but didn't get into every last little gritty detail — at least in the pilot episode. They adopted two children together, Michael and Margot, and Merrill also adopted B.D., Davis' daughter from a precious marriage. Merrill and Davis were married for 10 years before divorcing, but it didn't seem like many of those years were happy.
Though Merrill worked steadily as an actor, he never reached the heights of his famous second wife — and that didn't bother him, either. According to Merrill's 1990 obituary in The Los Angeles Times, he once told an interviewer, "I've spent my life doing as little as possible... And I intend to keep doing exactly the same thing." His career spanned the stage, radio dramas, television, and film, which was where he met Davis. They fell in love on the set of All About Eve, one of her most well-known pictures.
Merrill's New York Times obituary quotes another interview where he discussed his marriage to Davis and the difficulties they had. "When I think of my marriage to Bette, I think we were playing at it the way we played roles in the movies," Merrill said. "We fell in love in the movies. Subconsciously, we just went on after the movie was finished. As the demands of real life set in, we realized the premise was wrong." It didn't help that both Davis and Merrill were alcoholics who enabled one another and fought constantly. Davis' daughter B.D. alleged in her memoir My Mother's Keeper that Merrill could be abusive and violent, as well as inappropriate with her.
After divorcing Davis (who Merrill married the exact same day he divorced his first wife), he went on to have a relationship with Rita Hayworth and eventually published a memoir about his time with both women. Merrill passed away in 1990 due to lung cancer, and seemed to end his life in the same way he lived it: doing as little as possible, and enjoying it as much as he could.