FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN — PECULIAR MEMORIES

Garry has written his own version of this story, though it’s completely different. And a little bit the same. For him, it’s Hollywood. For me, it is memories.


In 1962, I was 15 years old, at the beginning of my senior year of high school. The school I attended was a giant of a school in Jamaica, Queens, New York. Five stories high (including the bell tower which was where the choir worked), it was shaped like a giant H. Most of the classrooms were on either end of the H with offices, bathroom, closets and all that stuff along the hallways.

There were no elevators. I suppose it never occurred to the designer of high schools that anyone might have a broken leg or something like that.

Jamaica High School was administered by the New York City Department of Education, which closed the school in 2014. The school’s landmark campus, located at the corner of 167th Street and Gothic Drive, remains open. It is now officially known as the Jamaica Educational Campus. It houses four smaller separately administered public high schools that share facilities and sports teams.

It was September 1962 when I noticed a big lump on my ankle. Pretty big. Hard, and it didn’t hurt. At all. Nothing to indicate it was from a bump or a fall. I ran my hand up and down my leg and thought about it. Probably nothing. At 15, everything is no big deal. But, because I also knew my mother had long and ugly bout with cancer (cancer? kids don’t get cancer!), I called her.

“I’ve got a lump on my leg,” I explained. “Here.” She ran her fingers over it.

“Does it hurt?”

“No.”

“Not even a little bit?”

“Nope. Just a lump. I was going to forget about it, but … you know. What do you think?”

“I think we need a doctor,” she said and promptly arranged for me to see the chief resident surgeon at NewYork Presbyterian Hospital. I should mention it was a great hospital. Compassionate, caring and very concerned for its patients. My mother had excellent taste in hospitals, something that would eventually serve me well as time caught up with me.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller-horror (and very camp) film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.

I was in the hospital in the middle of September. The surgeon — Dr. Waugh, I believe … many years ago and names slip away with time — said I had a tumor. What kind of tumor, he didn’t know and couldn’t know until surgery. If it was benign, they would just remove it and off I’d go into the world, none the worse for wear. If it was the other kind, I would likely lose my leg. The whole leg. I was not happy about that, but at least he didn’t mince words or make me feel like a moron.

A week later, I was in surgery. It wasn’t cancer. Benign but a really big tumor. It had wrapped itself around my tibia and femur. It had crawled up the leg and was in the process of pulling apart the two bones. So not cancer, but also, not nothing. They could not simply remove it. There was too much of it, so they took out a piece of my femur and replaced it with a very hard plastic bone. Packed the leg in whatever that stuff is they use and for two weeks, I slept with that leg on a huge pack of ice.

No getting out of bed for anything. At all. I was not to use that leg for a full six months because the implanted bone needed to set. The nurses used to hang out with me in the evening. They were my pals when I watched Invasion of the Body Snatchers. They checked under my bed to make sure there were no pods waiting for me. Then, it was time to go home.

With crutches.

My high school was gigantic and there was no way I could attend school until my leg finished healing. The school called the home teachers unit. There were, even back then, a lot of students who couldn’t attend regular school. Some had emotional issues. Others had physical problems. Some, like me, were having a temporary setback — broken legs or broken something or other — and needed someone to help them stay up to date. I doubted my absence would make that big a difference, but I worried if I didn’t take the exams as expected, I wouldn’t be able to graduate on time.

I got a teacher.

Are you still with me? Because it gets more complicated from here on.


My new teacher had other students. One of them, a young woman, lived nearby. She was schizophrenic, but also a nice young woman and a talented artist. My teacher thought that I would be good for her. She didn’t have any friends, being out of school. Thus we were introduced.

Mary was seventeen and I was fifteen. For fifteen, I was mature. As a mature person, I was still fifteen. I liked Mary, though she had the strangest eyes. She would look at me and it was as if she were seeing through me. Her pictures looked like that too.

One night, just after What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was released, she suggested we go to the movies. I have never been a fan of horror movies. Not even the terribly fake, silly ones with giant lizards and moths. I would get nightmares, so I wasn’t allowed to go to any of them. It was the screaming in the night thing. It ruined everyone’s sleep.

Photos of Bette Davis & Joan Crawford, The ‘Feud’ characters in life

Mary wanted to see it. Said it would be a hoot. I was amenable. I figured I was not a tiny kid. I could watch a horror movie. I’d be fine, right? Of course I would.

I didn’t go to movies often. They were expensive. My allowance was enough so I could get to school and come home. If I walked rather than taking a bus, I could save the 15 cents each way. If I did it a lot, I could hoard enough cash to go to a movie and even have a coke. Since I hadn’t been going to school at all, I had money saved. We went to the movies.

I was uncomfortable. It wasn’t as icky as things with giant lizards, but bad enough. Yet, the night wasn’t over. Mary said: “There’s this wonderful place I like to go at night. It’s really cool. Wanna come?” What teenager could turn down a great invitation like that?  We went.

It was a nice little grave yard. My friend Mary danced through it, her scarf flowing in the breeze. Then, she ran about, gently kissing the tombstones. She was happy.

SUMMING UP

Garry and I are watching Feud – Bette and Joan. It’s about the making of that particular movie. Garry rather likes it. He knows it’s not a great movie. Probably not even a good one, but he likes it anyway. He knew a lot about the feud of the co-stars because he is into movies big time. This show has juicy bits above and beyond his own juicy bits. Also, he had done a piece with Gary Merrill (one of Bette Davis’ husbands) who had a son in Boston politics. Garry had a few juicy stories of his own.

I merely repeated I didn’t much like the movie, though I admitted I’d seen it in 1962, so I could change my mind. Garry finally asked me what I had against it? “Really,” he said. “It’s just a campy movie with two feuding actresses.”

I explained I had a different take on it. “Didn’t I tell you this already?” I asked him. I was sure we’d told each other everything. How could I have omitted this gem? But I had.

When I was done (and this is not the whole story … there’s more), he said: “You should write that.” And now, I have. This was one of the evenings I can clearly remember — fifty-five years later.

There’s no moral to this story, except that my feelings about What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? are uniquely mine.

34 thoughts on “FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN — PECULIAR MEMORIES

    • No … but I was too young for that much conflict. It was interesting … even more interesting than the story tells. Might have made a great novel, had I been 20 years older, but I was a kid. I needed to be a kid for a while longer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tas, check out a movie, “Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon”. It’s a 70’s flick with Liza Minnelli that involves some kinky cemetery stuff.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I remember watching that movie on television when I was a kid and liking it. I didn’t understand much of it, but I liked it. I liked it better when I was a teenager because I was interested in psychology. As for the feud, I heard about it, but never paid it much mind. Hollywood gossip never interested me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • In this case, the feud was very real and had a lot to do with the way the movie came out. But of course, there’s another layer — the two women trying desperately to remain “young enough” to keep working. For me, it was just … strange 🙂

      Like

    • Wscott, allow me a little name dropping here. Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston sat for several interviews with me on myriad subjects. In one session, he talked about old Hollywood actresses he worked with as a young leading man. He chatted about “Ruby Gentry”, an “earthy” flick he did with a mature Jennifer Jones playing a sexy young woman. Heston said he mustered all his acting skills to make the love scenes with Jones look genuine. Jennifer Jones was one of those stars who tried to play “younger” for many years. Heston blamed David O. Selznick, Jones’ husband, for pushing the age inapproriate roles on his wife. Things didn’t go well for the “Portrait of Jennie” star in the latter years of her career.

      Like

  2. Mr. Swiss and I were talking about the Baby Jane film a couple of days ago because he saw that a book had been published about actress relationships. We had both enjoyed the fim. Why do these things start growing in our bodies? One of life’s mysteries that we would rather be without.

    Like

    • Neither of us read the book, but Garry knew a lot about it anyway. It’s funny how much they hated each other. In a better world they would have been friends, but the studio system made it nearly impossible for these women to be anything but enemies. Things have changed … but not enough!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Joan Blondell was a famous wise-cracking actress at Warner Brothers in the 30’s and 40’s. She did lots of movies with Cagney, Busby Berkley, Dick Powell, Bette Davis, Ruby Keeler, Miriam Hopkins and others.
        I met Blondell in the late 60’s, courtesy of Joe Franklin, a legendary NY TV show talk host for many years. I sat with Blondell and Ruth Donnelly, another WB ’30’s character actress, in a dingy Manhattan apartment.
        I remember roaches watching us with fascination as we shot the interview. Pardon me!

        Blondell and Donnelly dished up delightful dirt about life on the Warner Brothers back lots during the 30’s. Bette Davis was feuding with Miriam “Becky Sharpe” Hopkins. Hopkins was an early prima-donna because “Becky Sharpe” was the first feature shot in color (1933). Bette Davis quickly overtook Miriam Hopkins as the Queen of Warner Brothers films. They did several films together including “Old Acquaintance” which was sort of a sanitized “Baby Jane”. Back to Joan Blondell. She said there were lots of angry notes swapped between Hopkins and Davis. Mary Astor also figured in lots of these feuds. Joan Blondell said Jack Warner loved the back stabbing and played the feuding actresses off each other between hot sheet sessions.

        Look for “Joan Blondell” in “Feud: Bette And Joan” now that you know some of the back story.

        This is Jimmy Fiddler….reporting from Hollywood.

        Like

  3. There’s another moral to your (most excellently written) story…

    … ALWAYS get your lumps checked as soon as you notice them! 😉

    I know you are interested in them now, but back then, did you read the disclaimer on the poster before you went in?? 🙂

    love.

    Liked by 1 person

          • Short answer: yes!

            I do live in Australia and my youth was spent in the 70’s at a time when tans were cool, cancer was furthest from the mind, and the hole in the southern ozone layer was getting bigger. we had a government health campaign in the late 80’s: Slip Slop Slap: for shirts, sunscreen and hats when out in the sun. but by then the damage had already been done!

            Now i have to get regular checks and catch new ones as they start!

            love.

            Liked by 1 person

            • lwbut, i did the SAME thing … with the same lack of concern. I’ve told the story a zillion times about my big summer tan during vacation. Returning to work DARK brown and wearing my 3 piece white suit to work. It drove the camera crews bonkers and I loved it!! Not anymore.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. i love your memory of this too, marilyn. i read gary’s and i have my own as well. i had a sleepover with my best friend and this was on late night tv. we decided to watch it to try to scare ourselves and boy did we ever, we were terrified and shrieking. all that happened was we got in trouble for waking up my mother, which was a scary scene in itself. i look forward to watching ‘feud’ and seeing it from the actresses’ point of view.

    Like

  5. That was quite the experience for a 15 year old. I mean the tumour on your leg.
    I don’t remember if I saw the movie or not. I did know about it. The creepy part (to me) would be when your friend took you to the grave yard and did her dance.
    Leslie

    Like

  6. What an experience you went through Marilyn! I remember being frightened after seeing the movie but at the same time fascinated. I am watching Feud and enjoying it- not that is some great piece of work-but the look back is entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The back story of the movie is a lot more interesting than the movie. What is really interesting is how hard it was for the women of that period to get work, no matter how famous they had been. It isn’t easy now, but for them, it was the end of their career. Neither of them ever did a serious bit of work again.

      Liked by 1 person

Talk to me!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s