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On July 23, 1961, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? began filming. While there was much talk about a feud between the stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford disputed the rumors with smiles. Their smiles were justified in the end when the critical and (more importantly) commercial success of the film relaunched both of their careers.
1. Joan did the legwork.
And she wanted to work with Bette. Both women were stars in their own right, and they had crossed paths in their personal lives, though never professionally. Crawford brought the idea to director Robert Aldrich, whom she had worked with on Autumn Leaves (1956). He said, “I could never see them working together in anything. Then I ready Baby Jane.”
2. Bette played it smart.
After all, Crawford came to her with the project. Even though she liked the part of Baby Jane, Bette played hardball when negotiating with the director and asked for two things: top billing and more money than Crawford. Davis received $60,000 for the role. Later, when Crawford found out at a publicity shoot, she sweetened her own contract.
3. It was a struggle to find a studio.
Bette and Joan were (wrongfully) considered washed-up by Hollywood standards. Jack Warner famously declined, even though he had a history with both actresses. In fact, Warner Brothers had sued Bette Davis because she refused to abide by her contract which was forcing her to star in movies she felt were poor quality. However, after financing was found, Warner agreed to distribute the film.
4. Peter Lawford dropped out.
Lawford accepted the role of Edwin, Baby Jane’s short-lived accompanist, but changed his mind two days later. A member of Hollywood’s “Rat Pack”, Peter had married into the Kennedy family in 1954, and in 1961, John F. Kennedy, his brother-in-law, was in the Oval Office. His reasons for dropping out were reportedly “family concerns”.
5. Davis didn’t think Buono fit the bill at first.
Director Robert Aldrich cast Victor Buono after seeing him perform in an episode of The Untouchables. However, Davis didn’t think Buono should play the part and tried to convince Aldrich. However, after seeing him in the role, Bette told Buono that his performance was "marvelous". It seems others agreed with her too, as Victor was nominated for Best Supporting Actor.
6. It was a genre-making movie.
The film cost $980,000 to make and raked in $3.5 million dollars. Bette received $75,000 and Joan received $150,000. Not only did the movie remind audiences why they loved the leads, it also spawned a whole new genre referred to as “psycho-biddy”, and several Old Hollywood actresses took turns playing unstable and sometimes killer women, including Geraldine Page, Shelley Winters, and Tallulah Bankhead (read that story here).
7. Davis and Joan were supposed to reteam.
The success of Baby Jane inspired the director to ask the novel’s author for a new story. It was first called “Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?” before Bette requested that its name be changed to that of the title song – thus it became Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte. Behind the scenes tensions proved too much for this production, and Crawford was replaced by Olivia de Havilland, even though some scenes had already been filmed.