Bitching is not what it used to be

The feud between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford beats anything Posh and Jordan can offer

By Tracy-Ann Oberman, November 19, 2009

I recently had my hair done for a TV presenting job. So while I was trapped in this West End salon in a small confined chair, hair tinted and trussed up in more tin foil than a turkey at Chanucah, I had nothing to do except read.

I cursed my luck when I realised that I had forgotten my book, then my phone battery went dead and thus I was left to leaf through the endless copies of “Celebrity” magazines.

One thing I noticed is that we love a good feud. For example, Posh Spice on Jordan: “Who let the dogs out?”

Cheryl Cole on Lily Allen: “You’re fat and ugly.”

Sharon Osbourne on Dani Minogue: “She’s like an annoying mosquito.”

Joan and Bette were stellar A-listers who could sell shiploads of fanzines, yet their ongoing feud was ugly, gripping and sophisticated

Is that the best they can do? Is that it for sophisticated banter? Pathetic! Spats ain’t what they used to be.

I say this because for the last few weeks I have been submerged in a bygone era, when dames were dames and feuds were feuds.

I’ve recently been commissioned by BBC Radio 4 to write a play about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and their mutual antipathy that lasted four decades.

These two Oscar-winning actresses were worldwide stars, they had million of adoring fans who hung on their every word, they knew the industry inside-out.

They were stellar A-listers who could sell shiploads of fanzines and yet their ongoing feud was ugly, gripping and thoroughly sophisticated.

Take this from Bette Davis for one in the eye to “mannequin” Joan Crawford: “I am unable to bill and coo publicly with my new baby daughter, I did not have her for publicity reasons, and I am rather bored of the mother role as exploited by some of my cohorts.” Joan’s response to all Bette’s publicity was to unveil her new adopted set of blond twin girls to a fanfare of magazine covers and column inches.

Or Joan on Bette: “Miss Davis is always partial to covering up her face in motion pictures. She calls it ‘ART’. Others might call it camouflage — a cover up for the absence of any real beauty.” Furthermore, when they acted together on the film Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, playing sisters, Bette managed to kick Joan so viciously in the head in one scene that she was hospitalized and had to have 12 stitches.

To get revenge, Joan bided her time until the scene where Bette had to lift her out of a wheelchair. Knowing her co-star had a weak back, Joan allegedly had discreetly sewn weights into the hem of her skirt to double the impact on Bette’s injury.

As the director yelled cut at the end of the scene, Bette gave out a blood-curdling scream and collapsed to the floor, Joan stepped over her smiling and waked back to her dressing room.

Now THAT’S a spat.

These women were accomplished actresses, they were stars and they bought that vigour, passion and professionalism into their mutual hatred.

The so-called “celebrities” who fill today’s glossy magazines have nothing to offer.

I want to open the paper and see the likes of Helen Mirren and Judi Dench slugging it out on a new Neil Jordan film.

That’s the sort of cat-fight that’ll see out the recession.

Last updated: 4:38pm, December 10 2009


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