Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Hollywood was capable of hurting me so much."

Today is the 40th anniversary of Joan Crawford's death. It seems like a good time to talk about Feud: Bette and Joan, which I've been wanting to do.

The Hollywood Reporter contacted Olivia de Havilland, the only person still alive who is portrayed in the series, to ask her what she thought about it. Here is her reply:

"Having not seen the show, I cannot make a valid comment about it. However, in principle, I am opposed to any representation of personages who are no longer alive to judge the accuracy of any incident depicted as involving themselves."

This sums up my own feelings about certain biographical pictures. I am very judgemental about the accuracy, to the point where I find it a distraction. I was all excited about The Tudors until I read that the writers combined Henry VIII's two sisters into one character. Nope! Never even started watching it. I tried watching the recent Masterpiece Theater series Victoria, but I couldn't really get into it, even though I couldn't spot any glaring inaccuracies.

Old bio pics I don't fact check as much. I've written about several of them that I enjoy. I don't know why it's only the modern ones that have me checking for accuracy. I debated about whether I wanted to watch Feud at all, and decided to give it a try. I ended up watching the whole series to see how it ended. I'm not sorry I did, but I don't think I would watch it again.

David Canfield wrote a review of the series for Slate and said that "Crawford [...] was [the] heroine." While I agree that the story spends the majority of its time with Joan Crawford, especially in the last episode, I would disagree that she's the heroine.
  • Over dinner, Joan confesses that she seduced her own stepfather at the age of 11. Bette says she was a virgin until her first marriage in her mid 20's.
  • Joan colludes with Hedda Hopper to not only spread nasty rumors about Bette during the filming of Baby Jane, but to try (and succeed) to deny Bette the Oscar for her performance. Meanwhile, kind Bette bails Victor Buono out of jail when he is busted at a gay porno film. (And if that scene is not based in some fact, it's just plain mean to Buono.)
  • Joan drunkenly throws herself at director Bob Aldrich several times and is rebuffed. He then drives to Bette's house and hops into bed with her.
  • While Joan is being humiliated during the making of Trog, reduced to changing her clothes in a van, Bette is lovingly visiting her mentally challenged daughter Margo at the institution where Margo lives.
I'm not sure there are any heroines in this story. I've read the book on which the series is based, Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine. Neither one of them comes off well in the book. While I think that while the Feud series tried to portray Joan more sympathetically on the surface, underneath was the same old malice.

On other topics of Joan, I also recently read My Way of Life and A Portrait of Joan. I can see why the lifestyle book is a "camp classic" today; it's way over the top. It's interesting that Joan spends so much time talking about how to hold on to your man, when she succeeded so well on her own for most of her life. I did like the little tidbits of personal things she herself enjoyed; I picked up a bottle of one of the perfumes to which she "remained faithful," Estee Lauder's Youth Dew. It smells amazing. I didn't expect the autobiography to be 100% accurate, but I did find her tone in both books to be kind of charming. It feels like you're sitting down and having a talk with her. And really, isn't that all any true fan could want?

Rest in peace, Joan. Your fans still remember you, which I think would make you happy.

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