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Non-Fiction Review – Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud


Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud by Shaun Considine

Review by JJares


Before reading this “tell all” book about these two aging stars, I thought their animus happened during the filming of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE. Imagine my surprise to hear that they had been competitors throughout their long careers. This is a delicious book that drops names continuously. Some names are surprising:  Marilyn Monroe, Rock Hudson, Clark Gable, and dozens of others.


Joan Crawford was the earlier star. She worked at MGM as a flapper girl in dancing films. However, she realized early on that flappers would disappear with time, and she looked for another shtick. She was soon everyone’s favorite bad girl. However, that came to a screeching halt when she met Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. Douglas was Hollywood royalty as the son of movie legends Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. His parents were underwhelmed; Joan set about turning herself into a demure housewife and society matron to please the Fairbanks parents.


One of the most fascinating parts of the story was the differing relationships between the stars and the heads of the companies they worked for. Joan was part of Louis B Mayer’s “family,” a close-knit group of actors that looked to Mayer as “Papa.” On the other hand, Bette Davis was famous for defying Jack Warner, head of Warner Brothers. This book gives insights into the controversies and results.


Both Bette and Joan were insecure individuals. Joan was always looking to replace her missing father(s) with other men. She wanted someone to take care of her. Bette needed someone to keep her in check, but married men who weren’t that strong. They each married four men.


Obviously, the author spent considerable time with this book because he had alternative comments about the stars in every encounter. Either Bette and Joan had poor memories or created new incidents to show themselves off more favorably. Offering a counterpoint via other people balances the story. Some of the quotes (opening chapters) were particularly insightful.


One of the problems I had with listening (instead of reading this book) was the loss of seeing the candids, publicity shots, and movie stills in the text. However, the reader was accomplished, and it often sounded as if Bette or Joan were reading their own quotes. The description of the ladies’ participation in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? was fascinating. The author also described the two ‘tell-all’ books the stars’ daughters wrote (and the world’s reaction). The author followed the stars to the end of their careers.


This book is entertaining; the pages are full of insider info and rarely discussed peccadillos of the stars. For example, Joan was incredibly promiscuous (the book names names). A priceless part of this book was the incredible barbs the two stars threw at each other throughout their long careers. Delicious reading.


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