|“||For nearly half a century they hated each other, and we loved them for it.||”|
Pilot is the first episode of Bette and Joan, the first season of the drama anthology series Feud, and the first episode overall. Ryan Murphy, Jaffe Cohen, and Michael Zam served as writers, and Ryan Murphy served as director. It officially premiered on FX on March 5, 2017.
- A transcript of the episode can be found here.
The episode opens in 1978 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, California, where Olivia de Havilland is being interviewed for a documentary about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and giving a narration on their infamous feud that lasted for nearly half a century. Olivia explains that Joan Crawford's real name was Lucille LeSueur, and although she was raised in utter squalor, she grew up to be one of the greatest stars of all time. She goes on to say that Bette Davis was the single greatest actress Hollywood has ever known, playing all of the best roles with a ballsy intensity that no one else had. She says that although Bette and Joan had only made one film together, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, their rivalry remained one of the most legendary of their generation. When asked by the interviewer why the two hated each other so much, Olivia clarifies that feuds are never about hate, but rather about pain.
In 1961, Joan Crawford attends the annual Golden Globe Awards in Los Angeles, where Marilyn Monroe has just received an award for Best Actress. Joan seems disheartened by Monroe's win and goes out of her way to make rude comments about the actress to the rest of her table. As Monroe is giving her speech, Joan almost starts to tear up, upset by the realization that she is no longer Hollywood's "it-girl" and that her career is slowly starting to fade out. She ends up getting overly intoxicated that night and stumbles out in a drunken fit. Her date, Peter, kindly escorts her to her car and drives her home, but not before she is spotted by several members of the foreign press.
The following morning, gossip columnist Hedda Hopper pays a visit to Joan's house to get her latest headline story. Joan's housekeeper, Mamacita, answers the door and tells Hedda that Joan is occupied, but Hedda is not willing to take no for an answer and asserts herself in regardless. Mamacita goes to alert Joan, and Joan is forced to interrupt her beauty regimen to get ready for Hedda. She then comes downstairs to greet the columnist, clearly annoyed that Hedda has shown up to her home unannounced. Hedda explains that she needs a quote from Joan about Marilyn Monroe's Golden Globe win, and if she doesn't get one, she will simply publish the story of how Joan left the Globes in a drunken tirade, amongst other circling rumors that Joan is becoming broke and struggling to pay her bills. Unwilling to have those stories get out, Joan gives Hedda what she wants and admits that the vulgarity of Monroe's clothing and pictures is ruining the industry that she loves. She goes on to say that people don't want Monroe in films, but rather more wholesome stars with good morals, such as herself. Hedda then takes a dig at Joan, clarifying that morals aren't the only difference between her and Monroe. Contrastingly, Monroe actually gets roles.
Angered by Hedda's comment and eager to work in film again, Joan decides to visit Marty out of desperation for a new role. She slams her 1945 Best Actress Oscar on his desk and explains that she would like another one. She begs him to find her a great script, and he agrees to pile together everything he has and to send them to Joan to read until she finds a role she enjoys. However, all of the roles are for grandmother-type characters, which Joan finds unappealing and refuses to play. She is aching for a starring role, but Marty confesses that he sent her everything he has and that there's nothing more he can do, much to Joan's dismay.
Joan then sends Mamacita to the library to get some books, so she brings home an assortment of titles with ladies on the cover to help Joan gather some ideas for a role. As Joan reads over the books, she is unsatisfied with most, as they tend to stereotype women into either of three categories: ingenues, mothers, or gorgons. However, one title in particular catches Joan's eye - Henry Farrell's suspense novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and she immediately sends the book over to film director Robert Aldrich.
We later see Aldrich on the set of his upcoming film, Sodom and Gomorrah, where he appears frustrated with his clumsy cast and crew members after shooting a particularly unsuccessful scene. His son, Bill, then informs Robert that he is needed in his office. There, his assistant, Pauline Jameson, notifies him that he has a call from Eva Braun, a woman with whom Robert is clearly having an affair. After speaking with her on the phone, he explains to Pauline that Eva is interested in signing on to Sodom and Gomorrah, but he turns her down because he knows the film is a bust. He asks Pauline if they have any good scripts, and Pauline pulls out the Baby Jane book, explaining that this would be a great film opportunity. She states that it would be an easier production with one set and a small cast, enabling Robert to produce it himself. Robert seems intrigued with the idea, until Pauline shows him the carton of Pepsi Cola that came with the offer, making it clear that the sender of the package was someone he had conflicts with in the past: Joan Crawford.
Robert immediately goes to visit Joan at her home to talk business. She explains that if Robert can satisfy her demands, they can make the picture together. Robert is still hesitant, given how difficult it was to work with Joan on the set of their previous film, Autumn Leaves, in 1956. However, Joan insists that she can get the perfect co-star, Bette Davis, to play the title role, and ultimately Robert is convinced.
Joan then goes to see The Night of Iguana, a Broadway play starring Bette Davis, in order to convince her to join the film. Bette demonstrates a charming stage presence during the play, but as soon as the curtain closes, she turns off the character and reverts to her irritable demeanor, clearly unhappy with the way her career is going. Joan heads backstage to approach Bette in her dressing room, where she commends Bette for her performance and admits that the play should have gotten better reviews. Bette is noticeably impatient, so Joan cuts to the chase and tells Bette that she has found the perfect role for the two of them. Bette quickly rejects, but after explaining that good roles are not coming in for women their age and offering Bette the title role, Joan is able to convince the stubborn starlet to sign on to Baby Jane.
Bette goes home that night and begins reading over the Baby Jane novel, before deciding to call Robert Aldrich and ask him about Joan's intentions. He explains that Crawford's name on the marquee will get them distribution, but that he needs Bette to make the picture great, as she is willing to take risks that no one else will. He goes on to say that they both need this film, as good offers aren't coming in for him either, and he promises that Baby Jane will be the greatest horror movie ever made. He assures her that she is much too big for Broadway and convinces her to ultimately quit stage acting and return to Hollywood where she belongs.
After securing both Bette and Joan, Robert takes the film proposal to a studio executive, who gives it a green light, but not before suggesting that they go with younger actresses for the starring roles, which Robert abruptly shuts down. He then goes to speak with another executive, who contrastingly thinks that Bette and Joan are perfect for the film, but insists on shifting focus to the attractive neighbor role, even going so far as to tell the story from her point of view. Next, he goes to a third executive, who admits that Bette and Joan aren't the deal breaker for the film, but rather Bob himself, as Sodom and Gomorrah really plummeted his career. Desperate for any shred of acceptance, Robert goes to speak with one final person - Warner Bros President Jack Warner, with whom he already has a relationship.
Jack laughs in Robert's face at first, unwilling to distribute a film with two older women who are no longer considered attractive by Hollywood standards. He also considers it disrespectful that Robert came to him as an absolute last resort, but Robert explains that it's fate, as Warner Bros was the studio where both Bette and Joan worked when they were still under contract. However, Jack insists that both women made his life a living hell and treated him as if he worked for them, not the other way around. They were always looking for more perks and questioning the material that Jack wanted them to do. He also says he was amazed by the ingratitude from the actresses, despite the fact that he has made them into the stars they are today. He explains that Bette even sued him in 1936 to get out of her contract, but Robert assures him that she only wanted to seek out better roles and control her own destiny. Jack doesn't care, and reveals that although he won the suit, Bette still caused the entire downfall of the studio contract system, and her current unemployment is simply his revenge.
Robert then demands that Jack make his picture, and tells him that he needs Baby Jane, as television is beating out the film industry and all of his recent movies are bombs. Robert explains that he received funding from Seven Arts, but that he just needs Jack to release the film in his theaters. He tells Jack he can be the single largest profit participant and offers to pay him first, and since money is his favorite language, Jack ultimately agrees.
Sometime thereafter, Bette and Joan are shown giving a press interview together to discuss their roles in Baby Jane and to publicly sign their contracts. The tension between the two is obvious, and is only furthered when Joan notices that Bette will be paid 600 more dollars in expenses per week than she will. As a result, she leaves in a tizzy without signing the contract. Aldrich notices this, and Joan tells him that the whole film project was her idea and that she deserves more. She explains that she cannot go off into this project immediately feeling resentment for her co-star, just because she is getting paid more. While Robert insists he will get it fixed, Joan clarifies that the issue is a matter of trust, rather than solely about the money. Nonetheless, she still demands to be paid $1,500 per week in order to move forward with the film.
Back to 1978 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Joan Blondell gives an interview for the Bette and Joan documentary. She describes Hollywood in the 1950s, explaining that older woman struggled to get cast at that time, but Joan Crawford never did, however. Her co-stars may have been getting younger and younger, but Crawford was still a shining star and continued to make blockbuster hits. Blondell also describes Crawford's marriage with Alfred Steele, CEO of Pepsi-Cola, as a then-relief to her forty years of consecutive work and financial worries. Bette Davis, on the other hand, wasn't so lucky. Blondell explains that after All About Eve, Bette was on top of the world, but she never got swamped with offers like she expected. She then decided to take on the role of wife and mother, and ended up marrying her All About Eve co-star, Gary Merrill. Unfortunately, the marriage didn't work out so well, and the pair ended up getting divorced after ten years together.
The storyline then returns to 1961, as Gary visits Bette to serve her the divorce papers. Despite their relationship ending, the pair still clearly have romantic feelings for one another, and even end up being intimate that night before Bette ultimately signs the papers and Gary leaves for good. In a voiceover, Blondell adds that intimacy was never the problem in their relationship, but rather Gary's acting, with Bette even going so far as to fire Gary from their Broadway show in favor of another co-star, Barry Sullivan.
That same night, Joan rambles on to Peter about how much she can't stand Bette. Peter is noticeably annoyed, stating that Joan has done nothing other than complain about Bette since they went to dinner earlier. He tells her that they have so much in common, and that they should be close friends rather than enemies. Joan insists that she has tried to be Bette's friend, explaining that she was the first person to send a congratulatory note and bouquet to Bette after she won her first Oscar, but Bette never even thanked her, and then tried to sleep with Joan's boyfriend at the time, Franchot Tone. Joan reveals that she decided to marry Franchot out of spite, and blames Bette for the failed marriage. Peter comments that despite all this, Joan still wanted Bette to be her co-star in Baby Jane, suggesting that Joan knows deep down that the two should be friends. However, Joan clarifies that she doesn't desire friendship from Bette, but rather respect, which is the only thing she ever wants, but never actually receives.
Flash forward to the first day of filming for Baby Jane, where Joan, with the assistance of Mamacita, begins handing out various gifts to the crew members. When she finally enters her dressing room, Joan is appalled to see how small and dirty it is, but Mamacita helps her tidy up. Shortly afterwards, Bette bitterly arrives on set with her daughter, B. D. Hyman, clearly irritated that Joan has been sucking up to the crew to get better lighting and treatment. She goes to speak with Joan in her dressing room, and the two share a drink together, before Bette starts laying down some rules. She points out that while they both hate each other, they need each other for the picture to work. She demands that Joan give her best performance, and even compliments Joan's acting ability, but it isn't long before Bette starts being critical. As she's leaving the dressing room, she makes it a point to insult Joan's appearance, telling her to tone down her make-up and lose the shoulder pads, as they don't fit with the image of her recluse character. Joan is noticeably upset by the comment, which only adds to the tension between her and Bette on set.
After Joan gets into her "Blanche" outfit and receives beauty touch-ups, she notices Robert and Bette speaking with each other on the far end of the set. She immediately confronts them and asks if they're talking about her, to which Bette responds that she was merely giving Bob some ideas about Joan's character. Joan scolds Bette not to tell her how to play her character and insists that she has done a lot of hard work and preparation for the role. She angrily threatens Bob to take Bette back to her dressing room to prepare for her scenes or else she will walk off set. Robert then escorts Bette and explains that she has to make it work between her and Joan, as he took out a second mortgage on his house to make the picture, and he can't be losing money for nothing. He adds that he also has to nail the look for Bette's character and doesn't have time to deal with the drama, and Bette tells him to handle it before storming off.
Later that day, it comes time for Joan to film her first scene. She is noticeably nervous, as this is her first role in nearly three years, and she immediately manages to screw up the first take. However, she is able to bounce back and nail it on the second try. Bob praises her for the performance, and now feeling reinvigorated, she says she wants to film the next take immediately, as she is just getting warmed up.
Meanwhile, Bette rummages through her clothing and wigs to find the perfect look for "Baby Jane". Her stylist points out a specific wig, stating that Joan Crawford actually wore the same wig in an early 1930s MGM melodrama. Bette gets inspired and swiftly throws the wig on. She powders her face with white foundation and puts on heavy red lipstick, making herself look deranged. As Joan gives constructive criticism to Bob about the script, Bette makes a grand entrance in her self-designed "Baby Jane" outfit, drawing the attention of everyone on the set. Joan thinks Bette looks ridiculous, but everyone else loves the look, and the entire set breaks out in a resounding applause. Joan, feeling overwhelmed and out-shined, then walks off set, much to Bette's amusement.
Bette and Joan, along with Pauline and Robert, then attend a brief screening of the scenes the two have shot so far. Joan is unhappy with certain aspects of the shots, especially the harsh lighting, and brings it up to Bob. Bob tells her not to worry and assures her that they haven't balanced the footage yet, but nonetheless, Joan is still upset. She chooses to leave early, as Bette remains in the theater, becoming emotional at the depth of her scenes.
The following day, Hedda invites Bette and Joan to her home for dinner. The women expect it to be a crowded dinner party, and are caught off guard as they arrive to find out that it is only the three of them present. As Hedda goes to get the ladies drinks, Bette warns Joan that Hedda is out for blood, and they are both unsure on how to proceed. They all sit down for dinner together, and before Bette or Joan can even take a bite, Hedda whips out her tape recorder, eager to get the latest gossip. She starts to ask juicy questions, such as which of them is getting the top-billing. However, instead of dishing on the drama, both women decide to tell only exaggerated, positive things about working with each other, much to Hedda's disappointment. The three then enjoy their dinner together as the night falls, before Hedda types up her latest story for Dateline: Los Angeles, explaining that Bette and Joan, both stars of equal magnitude, never got to know each other, but now, they are finally about to.
Special Guest Stars
- Kiernan Shipka as B. D. Hyman
- Mark Valley as Gary Merrill
- Reed Diamond as Peter
- Ken Lerner as Marty
- Joel Kelley Dauten as Adam
The episode drew in 2.26 million live-plus-same-day viewers, which made it the most watched program on FX that week by a wide margin. While below the opening of Ryan’s pop culture phenom American Crime Story (5.1 million), it was in line with the premiere of the Emmy-winning FX limited series Fargo (2.66 million) and also edged the debuts of recent FX entries Taboo (1.8 million) and Legion (1.6 million). As for live-plus-three-day ratings, "Pilot" delivered 5.17 million viewers in total, including two encore telecasts factored in, making it the highest new series premiere on FX since 2016’s The People V. O.J. Simpson.
Pilot received widespread positive reviews among critics, with the episode having an average rating of 9/10 on IMDb, based on the votes of 304 users. Jean Bentley of IGN praised the performances of Lange and Sarandon, stating, "Both Lange and Sarandon play their larger-than-life characters with both sympathy and the cold, calculating nature necessary to survive as a woman in a difficult industry." She went on to say that "The set design and costume design are both incredible, and truly flesh out the campy, candy-coated world. Feud is exciting and fun to watch, and the entire cast is clearly having a blast." Gwen Ihnat of AV Club added that "This first episode of Feud is in itself a high bar of what TV is capable of: setting up its own, very specific, very stylized environment, even as it exposes new layers to characters we thought we know well."
- The telephones in the episode are modular, but those were not introduced until the 1970's.
- When being interviewed by Hedda at the beginning of the episode, Joan takes a long drag of her cigarette as she's standing by her piano. The frame then quickly pans out, but Joan is never shown blowing out the smoke that she just inhaled.
- The establishing shot of Crawford arriving at Davis's play, The Night of the Iguana, shows the Palace Theatre on the marquee. However, Night of the Iguana played the Royale Theatre (which has since been renamed the Jacobs).
- The 1958 Chevrolet Impala convertible shows a front California license plate with a registration sticker on it. In 1961, as now, California plates do not display a registration sticker on the front plate, only the rear.
- When Bette and Joan arrive at Hedda Hopper's home for dinner, Jack Jones' recording of "Wives And Lovers" is playing in the background. That record was released in 1963, but the scene takes place in 1961.
- Marilyn Monroe did not win a Golden Globe in 1961, but in 1960.
- Joan Crawford did not make comments to Hedda Hopper about Monroe in 1961. Rather, she made them in 1953 to gossip columnist Bob Thomas in response to the skin-tight gold lamé dress Monroe wore at the 1953 Photoplay Awards, where Monroe won the "Fastest Rising Star" award.
- Bette Davis and Gary Merrill actually got divorced in 1960, rather than 1961.
- Robert Aldrich's film Sodom and Gomorrah was released in 1962, not 1961.
- Pepsi: Joan mentions this soft drink several times throughout the episode, as she is the brand ambassador and takes every opportunity to advertise the company. Additionally, the drink can be seen several times, including a Pepsi machine that was added to the Baby Jane set.