Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
Take two combative and combustible divas from the golden age of Hollywood glamour, stir in a script reflecting the timeless themes of fading beauty and fame, and while you’re at it crank Bette Davis up to 11 and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a camp classic.
While the star power of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane is a duo with Joan Crawford, Davis is the camp heart of the film. Her campaign of jealousy and resentment as former child star Baby Jane Hudson against her wheelchair-bound sister, Blanche (Crawford), may have been horrific during its original run in 1962, but over the years it’s taken on a fine patina of camp cheese. There’s Baby Jane barking out, ”Butcha ya are, Blanche! You are in the chair!” There’s her questionable dietary choices for a homebound invalid. And then there’s Baby Jane decked out in her baby-doll dress and pancake makeup, trying to reclaim her glory years of child stardom with a rendition of ”I’m Writing a Letter to Daddy,” which remains one of the most disturbingly hilarious performances this side of Glitter.
Davis had a gift for delivering lines that lasted a lifetime (see All About Eve), so it’s no surprise that her famous co-star ends up as merely a foil for Baby Jane’s gleeful insanity. But add in all the stories of behind-the-scenes clashes between the two and Crawford’s looming fate as a camp icon and world’s worst celebrity mother, and you have a movie that helped define camp for a generation.