FX's Feud goes behind the scenes of the iconic camp masterpiece What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which pitted major Hollywood stars against each other both on-screen and off. The plot followed two sisters who had once been huge stars before they turned on each other out of jealousy and destroyed each other's lives. They ended up trapped together in their house, one sister tormenting the other ceaselessly. The antagonism displayed by the characters was mirrored in less extreme ways by the film's two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. However, if you're unfamiliar with old Hollywood icons, then you might be wondering: who is Bette Davis on Feud?
Bette Davis was a Hollywood legend whose impressive career spanned over the course of decades. Davis was more of a character actress than a movie star, standing out from many of her peers thanks to her chameleon skills and transformative performances. She scooped up two Oscars early on in her career, and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in total. If you want a modern day correlation, think of Meryl Streep: both actresses were at the top of their field when it came to talent, output, and star power, though ageism made Davis' roles dwindle as the years continued to passed. Still, she was a strong and fierce woman who lived a fascinating life and forged an incredible career.
Though she'd appeared in films before 1934's Of Human Bondage, that was the role that launched Davis into a string of critical and commercial successes throughout the '30s and '40s. Even when her position in Hollywood became tenuous, thanks to both the unfair boundaries women had to deal with and Davis' fights with Warner Brothers for better roles, her work itself never suffered. She dominated the Broadway stage and even branched out into television, but the movies she left behind are where her image was cemented.
In many ways Davis defined what it meant to be an actress in the modern age of cinema. She didn't fit the mold; she broke it. Her performances were ferocious and full of fire, and she focused on the truth of the character above all, even if she didn't look or sound her prettiest while doing so. Streep said it best herself in a tribute to Davis on TCM: "Bette Davis seemed willing, she even had an appetite, for parts that were conventionally unappealing. She changed the requirement that actresses in the movies invariably be likable or attractive. She lifted the veil of appropriate behavior in women to expose what was scary, unexpected, or ugly — in other words, to do what was appropriate for the character."
Davis was a fighter on-screen and off, famously suing Warner Brothers over a contract that trapped her in roles she didn't want and kept her from pursuing the ones she did. She was married four times and had a less than positive relationship with one of her children, who penned a scathing memoir about Davis (not unlike the one her rival Joan Crawford was famously subjected to). Davis was also known for tossing off more than one sassy bon mot.
Bette Davis had an interesting, often messy personal life, but at the end of the day her legacy was, and always will be, about the work.