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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a smash that only took 36 days to film, and yet, in many ways, the drama between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had been building for much longer. Go behind-the-scenes of the thrilling tale below.
1. Joan was hands-on.
Besides getting the ball rolling on the film, Joan practiced moving about in a wheelchair, and even received some training from a war veteran on maneuvering. She also wanted to wear her own outfits, but the costume designer Norma Koch didn’t think short, stylish dresses fit the character. Crawford was eventually talked out of wearing them. Bette was also hands-on with her appearance (more on that here).
2. Bette’s daughter played the neighbor’s daughter.
However, she wasn’t originally cast. The stepdaughter of Anna Lee, who plays the neighbor, was. But Davis asked the director, and her daughter B.D. Merrill got the part. Nevertheless, Lee enjoyed working with Davis, whom she looked up to, and the admiration was apparently mutual. Director Robert Aldrich said Bette called Lee a “pro”.
3. Crawford’s meals didn’t agree with her.
Bette served up two very special meals for her co-star, which were (understandably) not well received. Before meeting its fictional fate, the parakeet peeked at Crawford in real life, which, according to the director, was a sign of affection. According to Burt Reynolds, a close friend of Davis, Bette told him that she was responsible for a real rat being used in Crawford’s close-up, rather than the prop rat.
4. Joan really liked Pepsi.
In fact, she had a vending machine of the stuff installed on the set, and when the director wasn’t looking, she exchanged his Coke for a Pepsi (which he didn’t appreciate). Crawford, of course, was biased because she was married for a time to Pepsi Chairman Alfred Steele. She also served as a spokesperson for the company. And if you keep your eye peeled at the beach, a man delivers bottles of Pepsi.
5. The prop chocolates weren’t chocolate.
Crawford opted for a healthy snack rather than eating sugar, so the chocolates were replaced with meatballs. Bette got quite the surprise when she ate one during a break. Crawford kept a good health regime and lost weight for the role.
6. A dummy was used for that scene.
The tabloids had a field day depicting Bette and Joan’s relationship, and Baby Jane’s crazy antics helped fan the flames. The script called for Davis to slap and kick her co-star, but Crawford was nervous. A doubled was used for the slap, and a dummy was used for the kicking. “To my credit, I have never indulged in physical punches, only verbal ones,” said Bette.
7. Joan’s crucial scene had to be reshot.
The consistency between the lighting of the stars necessitated reshoots for Crawford. However, rather than return to the location, sand was brought into the studio to create an indoor beach. The cost was $60,000. Some of the crew suspected that Joan removed some of the aging make-up so she wouldn’t look so old for her big moment.
8. The drama didn’t stop after the camera did.
Despite the buzz, Bette Davis and Victor Buono were the only cast members nominated for Oscar. When the big moment came, Davis lost to Anne Bancroft for her role in The Miracle Worker. And who should accept the award in her honor but Joan Crawford. If Davis had won, she would have been the first to win three Academy Awards. Instead, in 1968, Katharine Hepburn set the record when she tied for Best Actress after starring in TheLion in Winter.