"Feuds are never about hate. Feuds are about pain. They're about pain." – Olivia de Havilland
"Dateline Los Angeles: Stars of the night sky tend to keep to fixed orbits and never interfere with one another. Seems things sometimes operate that way in Hollywood, too.
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, stars of equal magnitude who ruled in motion pictures in the fabulous '30s, never got to know one another. Now, in the Indian Summer of their careers, they're about to." – Hedda Hopper
Those lines from FEUD: Bette and Joan Season 1 Episode 1 perfectly summarize the pilot of what is sure to be a magnificent series about the legendary animosity between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis.
My love/hate relationship with Ryan Murphy continues with FEUD. After viewing only one hour of the five made available to critics, I got the sense we're in for an experience much like that of The People vs. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story.
While watching The People vs OJ Simpson, it was impossible to focus on any potential flaws, because the passion for the subject was so obvious in every movement on screen.
The same is true for Bette and Joan.
The casting is superb, the set design absolutely delightful and the editing is done with a skill that leaves nothing fluttering in the wind, interpretation unknown unless it's purposefully filmed that way.
Although the leads, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, don't necessarily look like their namesakes, their spirits capture Joan and Bette very well.
By the end of the pilot, you'll not only forget you've known Lange and Sarandon for so much more but easily accept them as feuding stars with all the emotional turmoil that goes with it.
Both women were so layered, and the characters in FEUD are no different. Learning even a smidgeon of information about them is an invitation to devour the entire historical reference on their lives.
It's a shame the series is highlighting the fact women have always had to fight for their rights as actors as they aged, but at the very least it makes the discussion all the more relevant today.
If people think women are complaining about the lack of work for actresses in their 40s, then they should pause a moment and think about the fact Joan and Bette were concerned about work in their 50s.
To make the story complete, though, we have to thank Ryan Murphy for his love of women of all ages in the present. Can women play younger? You bet your ass they can. Thank you, Mr. Murphy. That's part of my love story with you.
Still, it was difficult hearing about the troubles getting Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? made when we think of it as one of the best movies of its time. The anger Jack Warner had for Bette was unsettling, and all I could think was...does anybody really remember Jack Warner the man like they remember Bette Davis?
Bob: She just wanted better parts, Jack, a say in her own destiny.
Bette: OK. Fine, but because of her own selfishness and bullheadedness, the entire studio contract system came crashing down! The whole thing! Because of her! She's the one who put the crack in the levy, and you want me to work with her again?! Are you f*cking crazy?? Never!! Never Again!! Never!! That f*cking c*nt!!! Her unemployment is my long-simmering revenge.
I never knew Bette was responsible for putting the first cracks into a system as unfair as was the contract system, and applaud her even more for that move.
It seems both Bette and Joan spent their careers fighting with everything they had to get to the top and stay there. Bette used her brains, and Joan used her body.
It's ironic that all Joan wanted was to be taken seriously and respected, but also used the casting couch liberally, yet she was annoyed at the rise of Marilyn Monroe and felt she represented an even worse era of stars coming into fame.
Even so, women weren't as easily given top billing of films in their day, so what Joan and Bette achieved was quite significant. That they achieved it without ever working together and by forming such a rivalry only further piqued the interest of gossip columnists of the day when news of Baby Jane came about.
Joan didn't like people thinking she was stupid, and becoming the Chairman of the Board of PepsiCo after her husband Al died helped raise her confidence. She lived what she worked, too, both swilling and selling Pepsi at every turn.
When she found Baby Jane, Joan only wanted Bette for the part. Her reasoning was part business and part personal.
She claimed she always wanted to work with Bette, but what she wanted most was her respect. She wanted the respect of all of the women in Hollywood, something she never got, most likely because of her way with men.
Joan's Beau: You admire her.
Joan: I admire her talent and her craft, and I will have her respect, even if I have to kill both of us to get it.
Bette had a talent Joan needed for the movie, and Joan also knew that together, they'd be unstoppable.
Bette: It's all cyclical. It will come back in fashion.
Joan: But we won't. If something's going to happen, we have to make it happen. No one's looking to cast women our age. But together, they wouldn't dare say no. We need each other, Bette.
Bette: So what the hell happened to her anyway, Baby Jane.
Joan: Read it. Find out. [pause] Oh, and I'm offering to you the title role.
Bette: The lead?
Joan: You can call it that.
But they weren't, of course. Joan's choice of directors was also open for discussion. Bob Aldrich worked well with Joan and could see the potential for what a picture with Joan and Bette would do. Well, at least his gal Pauline saw it and ensured Bob did, as well.
It's great to see Alison Wright back on FX as Pauline. She was the heart of The Americans Season 4, and when she flew off to the USSR nobody knew how her future would go. Hey! She landed some 20 years earlier and also on FX.
Bob's own work was in the crapper because of a movie he did hoping to cash in on the success of Ben Hur. If one studio didn't want to work with old women, another wanted to work with one or the other of them, and some thought Bob was the liability.
Bette and Joan seemed natural to them and like an unbeatable combination, but it was a hard sell. Thankfully for us, it worked.
Bette's role on Broadway was awful. From what we saw, she seemed more of a janitor mistakenly taking the stage than an actual part of the play and continued the ruse when she refused to link hands with the other actors for the curtain call.
Bette may be good on stage, but she belonged in Hollywood.
If the world was waiting to find out how well they would get along, the studio ensured they were off to a rocky start.
With a promotion during the signing of their contracts, Joan discovered a discrepancy in the pay the women were receiving while cameras were flashing before their eyes.
What was about respect and equanimity suddenly became about much more. When Joan sidled up to Bob Aldrich, trying to use her wiles to get what she wanted, he gently lifted her away.
The look on her face revealed she had lost the one thing she counted on when all else failed. So she demanded double the "mistake" that was on the contract. So much for equality.
Covering the private lives of Bette and Joan as wives and mothers added complexity to the hostility the women felt toward each other.
They had so much in common, but their years of fighting for themselves in a vacuum meant they missed out on what could have been an actual friendship.
The best friendships are usually formed when two people are different enough to gain insight into their lives through the shared contact with the other person. Joan and Bette as friends might have been more interesting than they were as rivals, but we'll never know.
From the moment they arrived on set at Baby Jane, their differences pushed buttons.
Joan was drinking and shared a shot with Bette in her small, dirty dressing room. Mamacita was at her side.
Bette arrived with daughter BD at her side and struggled as she watched her mother make decisions she knew would only poke the hornets' nest.
Even though their first moments on set were fraught with fear and anxiety over working together and the expectations they'd put onto the film and their places within it, there was a little bit of good to come from it, as well.
Bette wanted Joan to lose the shoulder pads, tone down the lipstick and try to remember her character had been indoors for years.
Joan was annoyed at the tips when she had yet to film her first scene. But she also received something rather unexpected.
Bette admitted they needed each other, and they needed each other to be good, and if there's one thing she knew about Joan, it's when she was good, she was good.
It was something Joan had waited a long time to hear, and the validation was welcomed with slight tears.
That first day proved Joan needed validation a lot, but when she got it, she pressed on doing even better than she did a moment before, which was already great.
It's hard to imagine these women who we look back on now with so much admiration were in need of validation at that point in their careers, but we are all human and as we see so many times, it can be the most outwardly perfect-seeming people who are the most fragile.
Joan obviously put a lot of effort into her seemingly effortless put-together persona.
Then Bette chose her wardrobe for Baby Jane with a pinch of antagonism.
Bette [sorting through costume dresses]: These are all wrong. I want her to look demented. This one. Wigs!
Wig Gal: Funny fact for you, Bette, Joan wore this one in some early 1930s MGM melodrama, and from the looks of it, it hasn't been touched since.
She looked demented, alright, but wearing a wig that hadn't been worn since Joan wore it in a movie years earlier to drive her to that point was a jab not just to ratchet up the tension between Blanche and Jane.
From the beginning, and even though Joan gave to Bette the part with more bite, the women were going to be at each others' throats for the best of everything. T
here would be no compromising between these two women.
Watching the dailies immediately left a sour taste in Joan's mouth as she worried about the harsh lighting, forcing Bob and Jack Warner to cast eyes at each other. Surely, their roles in the feud were only beginning.
Even Bette, though, found herself far more emotional watching what she had become for the film than she expected.
The sad, dreary, unhappy, and yes, demented woman on screen pulled from Bette just as emotion after filming as it did during.
What kind of pain was she hiding that she could so easily brandish for the scenes, making them so heartbreaking and real? Would working on Baby Jane do anything to soothe her wounds?
But Bette and Joan weren't ready to go for the kill. Not yet, anyway.
When Hedda Hopper invited them to a dinner party, they believed they were joining a larger party. It was an ambush.
There probably won't be many times the two women find themselves on the same side of an argument, but when Hedda tried to pull out of Bette and Joan a soundbite for her column, she was left wanting.
Yet, Hedda probably knew more about both women than they knew about each other, thus her quote at the very top of this review. Bette and Joan were putting up a united front for the time being, but how long would it last?
If they knew about each other what everyone else knew about them, would they so easily defend their opposite positions on the film?
Well, maybe if there were sitting together at a dinner table. How bad does a feud have to be to insult the only other guest at the table? Maybe we're going to find out.
The premiere of FEUD: Bette and Joan was a stunning hour of television that delivered on its promise to introduce one of Hollywood's best-known rivalries.
Sarandon and Lange become Bette and Joan, bringing with them all of their personal and professional experience to breathe life into two of Hollywood's biggest stars.
Do not miss this and be sure to tune in for the rest of FEUD: Bette and Joan.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.