Photograph by Mark Ashkanasy

In 1962, Hollywood legend Bette Davis took out this ‘work wanted’ ad in Variety. Despite 30 years’ experience in motion pictures, the two-time Best Actress Oscar winner had to playfully remind the industry of her legacy and expose its attitude towards older women: “Mobile still and more affable than rumour would have it.”

Joan Crawford was in a similar situation. After almost four decades on screen and her own Best Actress Oscar, by her mid-50s the job offers were drying up. When Davis landed the titular role in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), she found a co-star in Crawford. The low-budget gothic melodrama was far from their glamorous roles, but the film plays on their celebrity pedigree and legendary rivalry.

Davis plays Jane, a former child star who’s grown into alcoholism and madness since her sister Blanche’s (Crawford) fame eclipsed her own. Wheelchair-bound after an accident, Blanche is helpless against Jane’s envy and abuse. The surprise hit spawned ‘hagsploitation’, a genre of campy thrillers and horror movies that resurrected stars of yesteryear. The films provided roles, but they were grotesque caricatures of aging that persist in films like Hereditary (2018) and Relic (2020), whose characters have greater depth, but still represent the shortage of parts for older women.

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) Official Trailer via Rotten Tomatoes Classic's YouTube channel

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Previously on display

1 October 2023

Australian Centre for the Moving Image

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Goddess → Dangerous Women → Bette Davis


17464 times

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