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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was a surprise hit.
It had a bumpy start finding a distributor because studios didn’t think Bette Davis or Joan Crawford had enough star power left to bring in an audience. Others were nervous that the leading ladies wouldn’t be able to share the spotlight amicably. After all, it was no secret that Davis and Crawford were less than fond of each other.
Yet, in spite of the challenges, Baby Jane was a box office smash that proved the doubters wrong.
And so, years later, director Bob Aldrich decided it was time to get the band back together. He asked Henry Farrell, who had written Baby Jane, to create another story that could drive ticket sales once again.
The result was what was then called Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte?
Davis was the first to commit to the project, but the prospect of working with Crawford again was too much to ask. Rather, she preferred Aldrich’s other option: Ann Sheridan.
That is, until he sweetened the deal, raising her payment from $120,000 to $160,000. So she agreed to work with Crawford again on one condition. The title had to change. She wanted the film to share the same name as the song that had been written for it, “Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte.”
With Bette on board, the question remained if Joan could stomach another round…
Aldrich decided a personal touch was the way to go. So after he sent her the script, he quickly got on a plane, expecting to have to woo his other leading lady to accept.
To his happy surprise, she didn’t need any convincing. The part was too good to pass up. Of course, she also had one condition. She wanted top billing.
Davis refused, so Aldrich sweetened her deal yet again. She would get another $40 thousand, and they would be equal partners on the project. With an offer like that, how could she refuse?
When the production began, Davis and Crawford began to butt heads yet again. But Davis wasn’t playing on the same level anymore; this time, she was equal with the director.
Rather than acting superior though, Davis took the time to socialize with the crew, even regularly lunching with Aldrich and the grips.
“Bette does not play a part. She attacks it. She comes on hungry. And Joan began to worry,” Joseph Cotton said.
Aldrich said, “When shooting started, Joan realized she was playing second banana again, and she wanted no part of that.”
Shortly after the production began, Crawford checked into the hospital. Many suspected it was a ruse, but according to the doctor’s report, she had dysentery and a blood issue.
Davis and Aldrich suspected she was using her illness as a means to get out of the picture. However, after twelve days in the hospital, she seemed to reveal her motives – script changes.
She wanted to beef up her part and pitched several ideas. She wanted the flashback to show her character as well, wanted two love interests, and wanted a ball added. While those ideas were rejected, some script changes did happen.
Eventually, Crawford returned to the set, though it didn’t last long. The dynamic between the two stars hadn’t changed, and Crawford’s heath limited the amount of time she could shoot. Her poor health continued to worsen until it became necessary to shut down the production indefinitely. Many felt Crawford was faking the illness, despite reports from her doctors.
Worried at the growing cost of delays, the studio decided to entertain a replacement. Aldrich suggested Katharine Hepburn, Vivien Leigh, and Olivia de Havilland. Davis shot down Hepburn and Leigh, leaving only one option.
Unfortunately, de Havilland didn’t want the part. So just as he had done before, Aldrich got on a plane and wooed the actress with a very generous salary and benefits.
And just like that Sweet Charlotte found her cousin Miriam.
“It’s always the charming ones of evil intent who are the dangerous ones… you can’t see Miriam coming, and she’s really dangerous,” Olivia said.