This episode is based on the long-standing mutual dislike that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis shared throughout their lengthy careers that culminated when both agreed to play opposite each other in Robert Aldrich's great "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" in 1962. The alleged feud always struck me as one-sided, with Davis more guilty of hostility than Crawford. Davis seemed forever on the offensive (apparently resentful that Crawford, to her a lesser actress, had become a huge star), while Crawford was on the defensive, forced to protect and prove herself.
No one in Murphy's version comes off looking good - and that also includes Aldrich, Jack Warner, Hedda Hopper and a seemingly catty Joan Blondell.
The driving force behind the series and the feud itself is the sexist opinion that Davis and Crawford were desperate - and, by extension, angry - because of their ages. But watching Susan Sarandon (incredible) and Jessica Lange (nuanced as always) in those respective roles snapped me out of the fantasy haze that Murphy handily creates and back into reality.
Why? Well, Davis was only 54 when she made "Jane," while Sarandon who plays her will be 71 in October. Crawford, meanwhile, was 56 when she filmed her role; her portrayer, Lange, is currently 66. Both women work regularly these days, no questions asked, and Meryl Streep, who is also 66, may be the most productive actress currently working in film.
To lend another perspective to this, Jennifer Aniston is 48, a few years younger than Davis and Crawford were when they made "Jane" - and she is far from "over the hill." On the contrary, if anything, she's going strong and, to Hollywood's (bottom-line) advantage, more appealing than ever.
Times change. For the better.
One other observation: After "Jane," both Davis and Crawford worked almost exclusively in what many people have dismissed as horror films. True, Crawford made some cringe-worthy movies during that period ("Strait-Jacket," "Berserk," "Trog"), but Davis's efforts were all fairly good ("Dead Ringers," "The Nanny," Aldrich's "Hush ... Hush, Sweet Charlotte").
One could reason that, curiously, Lange's career has taken a somewhat similiar path, given her recent frame-breaking collaborations with Murphy.
But, again, no one seems to care.
In its own bizarre, unexpected way, "Feud" is a sign of progress.
September 24th, 1962 issue of Variety, one month prior to the October-November openings of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"