Bette and Joan

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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Lzcutter
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Bette and Joan

Post by Lzcutter »

I've been thinking about this one for the last few days as the high drama about La Crawford has reached a fever pitch at TCM City regarding Crawford's personal life.

Bette Davis and Joan Crawford were, for the most part, contemporaries. They both started with little in Hollywood and worked hard to be taken seriously and to be the best. Both could be hard as nails and both were capable of a "no prisoners" attitude and approach to life. Both did not go gracefully as they aged.

They both had numerous husbands, affairs and messy private lives.

They both had very public battles with their daughters.

But, it seems to me, that Davis is remembered more fondly and thought of more warmly all these years later than Crawford and I'm wondering why that is.

Does Davis connect with us on some deeper level that Crawford doesn't?

Do we hold Crawford to a higher standard because of "Mommy Dearest"?

Or do we think that Bette is the better actress?

Would love to hear your thoughts.
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MissGoddess
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Post by MissGoddess »

It's funny because I never compare the two in my mind. To me, they are both so different to each other. I see Bette as having come from a comparatively stable background---Joan's was appallingly tough---and I think this shaped them both in entirely different ways. I don't think Bette ever had it as tough as Joan, and that she always had a lot more within to draw from, whereas Joan had to create everything in her life---just everything: home, family, identity, success, security. Bette's path was a little more conventional, though she had to fight a lot in her career. I sometimes wish Bette could have remembered how much more fortunate she was and been a little more gracious, but, then she wouldn't be our Bette, would she? :wink:

I think they were both grand gals in their own unique ways and I admire their perserverance.
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Post by Ollie »

If there is any connection in my mind when thinking of the two, it's "I don't like them one bit".
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Post by moira finnie »

I think that it's true that Bette knew more early stability economically and socially, but both she and Joan knew that there was a hole inside them for life because their fathers each turned his back on their families and walked away emotionally and, apparently, financially. That need for attention probably helped give them the ferocious drive needed to become an actress for what, 50 years?? :shock:

And God knows, it sounds as though every guy who ever got involved with either lady certainly paid for Dad's abandonment too to some degree. I don't think there's any getting over that kind of abandonment, though, as I've inquired before on these pages, wouldn't you think that both these women could have benefited from the perspective some caring (not exploitive) therapist might have given them? Or would that have affected their acting? I'm not sure.

The main similarity that I see these often brave women having in common was actually fear, though I realize that sounds like a contradiction. It seems that a certain amount of fear affected both as they aged (afraid to give up the spotlight, afraid to be alone with their thoughts, etc.). and it seemed to overwhelm poor Joan more than Bette, who could be as tough as an old boot (arguing with Jack Warner for a couple of decades probably does that for you).

I think Davis was the more natural actress in one sense. She had some formal training as well as a high school education and a supportive mother. She didn't seem to have real physical vanity and really didn't care how she looked on screen. Joan, even when she was pulling out all the stops, I sense that she wanted to be lovely at all times. Crawford was also naturally more appealing-looking, though if only they'd hidden the lipstick and eyebrow pencil from her as she aged! Joan, starting from a much more hardscrabble existence, with next to no one to help her, began life as a dancer, not an actress. Sometimes I think she played catch-up all her life, but looking at her early silents such as Our Modern Maidens (in which her intensity as she changes expression is rather painful to watch) and then seeing her in something like Possessed (1932) or A Woman's Face (1941) she's vastly better over time. I don't really compare the two at all, any more than I do most artists.

I do think that both of these actresses have a heroic quality, even when they are in misguided films. Crawford never had the strong stories to tell that Davis had during the '30s and '40s at WB. MGM seemed to want style more than substance in their movies by the time that Crawford came along as a real star and coming from her background, the actress seemed more prone to accept the surface as a reality, (how could the poor kid know any better?).

Imagine if they'd been able to translate their obvious intelligence into another field, other than dramatic acting? Jeez, that's a scary thought.
Last edited by moira finnie on March 26th, 2008, 4:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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"But ya are, Blanche..."

Post by benwhowell »

I think MissG hit the nail on the head...
Joan was more blessed in the "good looks" and glamour department and worked hard to maintain that image.
Bette was more of a "plain Jane" and worked hard to get character roles to cement her reputation as a "great actress."
Who had time to deal with annoying family and friends?
Look no further than "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" for evidence of that...
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(Too bad there isn't an "emoticon" with it's tongue in cheek. That would be more fitting.)
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silentscreen
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Re: "But ya are, Blanche..."

Post by silentscreen »

benwhowell wrote:I think MissG hit the nail on the head...
Joan was more blessed in the "good looks" and glamour department and worked hard to maintain that image.
Bette was more of a "plain Jane" and worked hard to get character roles to cement her reputation as a "great actress."
Exactly! To me Joan was more of a "star" and Bette was more of an "actress." They were both jealous of each other for those very reasons. I have more respect for Bette because I think she worked harder at her art. She never had the benefit of the MGM glamour treatment even if she could've pulled it off, which she couldn't. She had the good sense to realize that.
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Post by Mr. Arkadin »

I think both were incredibly good actresses in their own right and although they could go over the top, they were both capable of great understatement and subtlety. I don't think their rivalry was based on actress/star jealousy, as it was the fact that both of them were always trying to challenge themselves in new ways/roles and realized that they had only one true competitor in that aspect (that, and certain men they fought over :wink:).

Joan and Betty were plenty tough, but who else could play such roles in The Corn is Green (1945) or Mildred Pierce (1946) in which we love these characters not just for their individualism and drive, but their vulnerability and candor? Personally, I would find it hard to choose between the two and I'm glad I don't have to. My DVD player accepts both actresses.
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Post by jdb1 »

When I was a little girl, first paying attention to the classic films that were shown on TV, I think I generally confused Crawford and Davis - they looked the same to me then, as in fact did most of the 30s-40s actresses. However, I think I quickly discovered them as separate people sooner than I learned the differences of the others. They were unique, and to me they seemed to be somehow more important than most other actresses because of the roles they played (the only other one I recognized in this regard being Katharine Hepburn).

Moira, your impression of Crawford's painful intensity as she changed expression was noted by others, even at the time. I think I once before mentioned at TCM how frustrated F. Scott Fitzgerald was when he had to doctor a Crawford script, because, he said, every time she had to show a new emotion, everything had to stop while she "composed" her face for the shot. But you are right in saying that she got better; in fact, she got much better as her confidence grew. I think her popularity with her fans had a lot to do with it - as has often been said, she drew much of her strength and endurance from them.

One thing I feel the two women had in common was a tenseness on the screen, which for the most part was a positive thing in terms of their performances. However, IMO neither was very good a comedy, apart from getting off a few good comic lines in a film. I don't think either had the capacity to relax enough in front of the camera - to "let go" in a non-dramatic way. I think they may have felt reluctant to be perceived as foolish. I find that this shows especially in Davis, who did more "light" scenes than did Crawford; I find her rather plodding and awkward in the few comdies she did. Crawford's performance in "Goodbye, My Fancy" is excruciating.

Also, I really don't like Davis as a young flirt in "Mr. Skeffington." I don't think it's a successful portrayal; and I think someone like Hepburn could have made it much more convincing -- Hepburn, being more athletic and venturesome, wasn't afraid to take a verbal or physical pratfall. In this regard, Crawford, although also seeming uncomfortable in comedy, was, as a former dancer, at least a more physical actress than was Davis, and let more sensuality, however muted, come through.
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Post by mrsl »

Lynn:

I have often thought of Davis and Crawford as two sides of one coin. Not a big fan of either, but appreciating both ladies careers and talents, I wish I could have done the comparison as you did. Unfortunately, you don't have to be a ?itch to command respect, yet both chose that path - sometimes nice people do end up high on the scale. I don't believe either one is held to a higher standard, I think they are equal in memory and esteem. Actually, I think many of their roles are inter-changeable, Bette would have done a fine job as Mildred Pierce, and Joan would have probably been a great Eve, only without the Davis characteristics (Joan would have added her own instead). Think of Joan in that dress, standing on the stair, with her lips barely moving saying "It's gonna be a bumpy night", with that sly, sideways smirk of hers. Also, visa versa with telling Veda what a little tramp she was.

Personally, I think many of both of their films could have been done by Kate Hepburn, Barbara Stanwyck, and wish Eve Arden had been given the opportunity to try some of them. The difference would have been Eve's golden gloves instead of the brass nails used by the other two.

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Post by charliechaplinfan »

I regard both ladies as hard as nails. What was Bette's gripe against Joan? they seemed to be set againist each other before Joan joined Warners. Perhaps Bette was jealous of Joan's looks and Joan jealous of Bette's reputation and better roles.

I only know that as a rule I'd prefer to watch Joan out of the two. I'd rather have Kate Hepburn than either :)
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Post by silentscreen »

charliechaplinfan wrote:I regard both ladies as hard as nails. What was Bette's gripe against Joan?
The reason I said that Bette may have been jealous of Joan as a glamour girl was because of something I heard her say in a documentary about how MGM was this glamorous place, (where Joan worked before going to Warner Bros.) while Warner Bros. was just a working class studio that didn't pamper it's players. So in her view, Joan was at the best studio.

Also Joan married someone that Bette was in love with- Franchot Tone. They were in constant competition with each other over parts and men. Joan got the better men and Bette got the better parts. :D
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Post by charliechaplinfan »

Thanks for filling me in, Silentscreen :D .

I agree with what someone else said too that somebody should have moved the lipliner and eyebrow pencil well away from Miss Crawford. She'd have looked far nicer without it.
Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself - Charlie Chaplin
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Post by silentscreen »

Whether true or not, Bette also believed that Joan went behind her back and influenced the powers that be to see to it that she didn't get her third Academy Award for Baby Jane. Thereafter she was particularly nasty toward Joan, efectively driving her from the set of Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, a role she started to play, but was replaced in by Bette's friend Olivia de Havilland.
"Humor is nothing less than a sense of the fitness of things." Carole Lombard
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