Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was one of the most ingenious films of the 1960s, even before it was viewed in theaters by audiences. The very production of the film was genius in its casting. The film’s focus is on a sibling rivalry that turns to torment, torture, and eventually murder. Rather than casting two actresses at will, the production decided to implement one of Hollywood’s most blatant rivalries directly onto the silver screen: Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The two actresses famously hated each other, yet both agreed to do the film. The resulting film is nothing short of a masterpiece, still excelling in suspense and horror. If Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho ever had competition in the 1960s, it was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.
Yet, this very genius idea ultimately backfired when it came down to the Academy Awards. Bette Davis received the Best Actress nomination for her performance and was slated to win, a concept Joan Crawford couldn’t fathom to see become a reality. Once the nominees were announced, Crawford famously campaigned against Davis, succeeding in pushing the vote away from her. To add salt to the wound, Crawford personally called the other Best Actress nominees and informed them she would be happy to accept the Oscar on any of their behalf if any of them were to win the award and weren’t able to make it to the ceremony. When Anne Bancroft won for The Miracle Worker on Oscar night, it was Crawford running to the podium and gloating as if she had won the award herself.
Bette Davis completely transformed herself into the role of Baby Jane Hudson, a washed up child actress who is clinging to her former glory. She squanders her sister’s finances, mentally and emotionally torments her sister (who is handicapped) for being more successful in her career than she ever was. Davis is convincing in her role enough that the mere presence of her on screen is revolting, her mannerisms are in sync with the child-like voice she created for the character, and her behavior suggests nothing short of ill-intent. The performance is unlike anything Davis did in her career before or after, yet her performance as Baby Jane Hudson eerily is as if the role were made for her. Davis doesn’t allow the performance to be exaggerated or campy. Instead, Davis provides enough mania in the character while also making her lucid enough to understand her actions. This was a performance that defined female villains in the horror genre until 1990 when Kathy Bates was able to rival the performance with her own terrifying female villain in Misery, a role that she would win the Best Actress Oscar for.
Lost to: Anne Bancroft for The Miracle Worker (1962)