It’s hard to imagine any Academy Awards drama measuring up to this year’s #envelopegate, but the 1963 ceremony comes close thanks to the bitter feud between legendary actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford.
Their rivalry — chronicled in the new FX series Feud and in the current issue of PEOPLE — began decades earlier, but came to a head after the aging stars filmed their first (and only) movie together, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
“They had struggles onset, and the studio magnified them” for publicity, says actress Susan Sarandon, who stars in Feud as Davis, but things got uglier after filming.
“Joan was tremendously disappointed when her work was not recognized but Bette’s was,” former American Horror Story star Jessica Lange, who stars as Crawford, says of Davis receiving and Oscar nomination for Best Actress in 1963. “I think that was a devastating moment for Joan.”
Refusing to let the, in her eyes, egregious error by the nominating body of the Academy go unmitigated, Crawford set out with gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (portrayed in Feud by Judy Davis) to campaign against Davis.
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“Joan went around with Hedda and did everything she could to make sure Bette didn’t win. And Bette was counting on the Oscar to keep getting leading roles, since they had gone away,” Sarandon tells PEOPLE of Davis, who would have walked away with a record-breaking third Academy Award if she’d won for Baby Jane.
But keeping Davis from winning a third statue home was not enough for Crawford. Even though she wasn’t nominated, she concocted a plan that would allow her to be the one holding the Best Actress statue at the end of the night.
- For a detailed timeline of Davis and Craword’s decades-long rivalry — including more insight from Feud’s stars — pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
As fans will see play out in an upcoming episode of Feud, Crawford convinced two of the nominees — including eventual winner Anne Bancroft — to allow her to accept the award on their behalf.
“That was a big breaking point,” Sarandon says of Davis having to watch from the wings as her arch nemesis stole her dream. “Bette never really got over that.”
Crawford and Davis’ rivalry has become a juicy Hollywood legend, but Feud‘s executive producer Ryan Murphy hopes their story can serve more as a cautionary tale.
“I think people will be inspired by their story to be kinder and more supportive of each other,” he says. “At least that’s my prayer.”
Feud airs Sundays (10 p.m. ET) on FX.