Ryan Murphy, Jessica Lange, Susan Sarandon Talk Hollywood Ageism, Sexism and Inspirations for ‘Feud’ 02/14/17
As a kid growing up in Indiana in the 1970s, Ryan Murphy only ever penned two fan letters.
One was to actor Ron Palillo, better known as Horshack from “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He never wrote back. The other was to Bette Davis. She did write back.
The legendary actress’ response wasn’t gushy, which made it feel all the more authentic. “She didn’t write ‘Love, Bette Davis, XOXOXO.’ It was like ‘Thanks for the letter. You’re sweet. Bette Davis,” Murphy recalled Tuesday during a luncheon panel session devoted to his latest FX series, “Feud,” which bows March 5.
Murphy’s first letter to Davis led to a running correspondence which eventually led to a meeting in Los Angeles about a month before the screen legend died in 1989. Nearly 30 years later, the prolific writer-director-producer is at the helm of the limited series that tells the story of Davis and Joan Crawford’s frenemy relationship during the making of the 1962 thriller “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
Murphy, Jessica Lange (Crawford), Susan Sarandon (Davis), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Olivia de Havilland) and Kiernan Shipka, who plays Davis’ daughter, B.D. Hyman, and “Feud” co-creator Tim Minear gathered at the Rainbow Room for a gabfest moderated by “CBS This Morning” anchor Gayle King.
The “Feud” team emphasized their effort to examine what it means to be an actress of a certain age, then and now.
“What was really interesting to explore was the idea of what a tragedy the last 15 years was in the lives of these women and how they deserved so much more,” Murphy said.
When King went to the heart of the ageism question, noting that both Sarandon and Lange are both over 50 and remain busy in their profession, Sarandon touched Lange’s arm and said, “Don’t cry when we talk about this.”
In Davis and Crawford’s day, most leading ladies, no matter how successful, saw their careers effectively end around the age of 40. It wasn’t much different when Sarandon and Lange were coming up. “When we started you were over by 40,” Sarandon said. “If you had kids you were no longer seen as sensual or sexy,” Sarandon recalled. “That wasn’t just insinuated to me. That was told to me.”
Lange said she came to realize in doing her research for “Feud” that Davis and Crawford’s infamous battles were exaggerated to build anticipation for “Baby Jane.” “As long as they kept the pot boiling the publicity was there,” to the detriment of “these two titans of the Hollywood star system,” Lange said.
Zeta-Jones had hoped to meet with de Havilland, the 100-year-old legend who lives in France, to do some primary research for her role. But her plans were derailed by the July 2016 terror attack in Nice. Zeta Jones’ father-in-law, Kirk Douglas, proved to be her “Wikipedia” source for information about the “Feud” characters and the world in which they worked.
Douglas advised her that the era of studios dominating the careers of actors “was tough, especially for the women,” Zeta-Jones said. “I said to him ‘It still is.’”
Lange wasn’t too familiar with Crawford before she took the part. She studied everything that she could find, from movies to interviews to books about the actress better remembered now for her grande dame persona than for her work in such pics as “Mildred Pierce” and “The Women.” It wasn’t until Lange learned more about the early years of the woman born Lucille LeSueur in San Antonio, Texas that she “found the way in to the character.”
Sarandon had flirted with the idea of playing Davis in the past but the timing was never quite right, or the scripts weren’t worthy.
“I was too young, my agents were lame, nobody did anything,” she explained.
During the filming of the eight episodes of “Feud,” Murphy would occasionally act out the Crawford and Davis parts to demonstrate what he was looking for from his leading ladies. There was a collaborative spirit on the set that brought out the best in everyone, he said.
“I love those women [and] I love these women,” Murphy said. After he offered his interpretation of their scenes, Lange and Sarandon would inevitably say “OK, we’re not going to do that but we understand what’s in your brain,'” he said.
Murphy’s fascination with Davis began when he was eight or nine and discovered the actress on a late-night TV airing of 1940’s “The Letter.” She reminded him of his grandmother.
Murphy made his first trip to Los Angeles to have his audience with Davis, arranged through the kindness of her assistant, who knew the actress didn’t have long to live.
Murphy recalled Davis greeting him at her apartment door wearing a pill-box hat and surrounded by a “cumulus cloud of cigarette smoke.” What was supposed to be a 20-minute visit turned into a four-hour conversation. “I chain-smoked with her,” he confessed.
The meeting had a profound effect on the prolific writer-producer-director.
“It put me on a path because she was so unusual,” Murphy recalled. “She never bent to who people thought she should be. She was just who she was and goddammit, she was proud of it. I thought ‘I want to live my life like that.’”
The documentary, Bette Davis Bids Farewell, to be aired October 6th 09/08/15
The documentary, Bette Davis Bids Farewell, will air internationally on October 6, 2015. The compelling documentary pays homage to Bette Davis and tells the story of her last days spent at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The documentary will air in the following countries:
MENA, covering all North African countries
GCC, covering Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
Levant countries, covering Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestinian Territories, Syria
Nordic, covering Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland
WHEN BETTE MET MAE is an official selection of the Downtown Film Festival LA 07/23/15
We are excited to announce that the documentary, WHEN BETTE MET MAE, will be having its premiere theatrical release at The Arena Cinema located at 1625 N. Las Palmas Avenue in Hollywood. The showings will be Saturday, August 22nd through Thursday, August 27th.
Taking five years to complete, the documentary captures the evening when Bette Davis met Mae West for the first time at a house party in West Hollywood in 1973. You are a fly on the wall and a witness to this historical conversation between two of the strongest women to ever grace the Hollywood silver screen.
Uniquely, the film is presented using contemporary look-a-like actresses but the audio has been reverse-dubbed and utilizes an audiotape of the women recorded that night in 1973. They come alive. Their candid, lively and fascinating discussion gives a unique insight into the lives and careers of these amazing women, as they tell it.
For more information and tickets, visit http://whenbettemetmae.com/.
Bette Davis Documentary Nominated for Two Awards at the New York Festival 04/01/15
The popular documentary, 'When Bette Davis Bid Farewell', has been nominated in two categories at the New York Festival's World's Best TV & Films competition for Cultural Issues and Editorial Viewpoint. The competition honors programming in all lengths and forms from over 50 countries. Winners will be announced on April 14, 2015.
For more information visit: http://www.newyorkfestivals.com/tvfilm/main.php?p=2,3,16.
The Last Farewell of Bette Davis' documentary has been nominated for a Goya Award 01/30/15
Every year, the Spanish Academy celebrates the quality of Spanish cinema by presenting the Goya Awards (similar to the US Oscars) to the best professionals in each of the technical and creative categories. 'The Last Farewell of Bette Davis' has been nominated for Best Documentary Film. The ceremony will be held on February 6, 2015.
The compelling documentary pays homage to Bette Davis. Miss Davis' last days were spent at the San Sebastian Film Festival. The documentary retraces and reconstructs her final days through eyewitness testimonies. Personal memories are shared for the first time from journalists, photographers, and veteran staff who witnessed the grand dame's final performance in her greatest role: herself as an icon and ultimate star.
'When Bette Davis Bid Farewell' is directed by Pedro Gonzalez Bermudez, winner of the 2012 Goya award for best short documentary for "Return to Viridiana," and co-written by Juan Zavala. The film also features an exclusive interview with Kathryn Sermak, Bette Davis' personal assistant who accompanied her to San Sebastian. Kathryn returned to San Sebastian in May for the filming of this documentary. Her interview took place in the same suite at the Hotel Maria Cristina where she had stayed with Bette Davis 25 years earlier. She shares with us - for the first time on camera - her memories of those days.
For more information about the Goya awards please visit: http://premiosgoya.academiadecine.com/home/.
2015 Panini Americana Trading Cards include Bette Davis 01/28/15
Panini Americana Trading Cards 2015 collection is set to release in April 2015 and has several sets. For memorabilia collectors, there will be Co-Stars Materials cards pairing stars who have worked together, while Jumbo Prime Materials cards will showcase over-sized swatches. Many classic Hollywood names will be found in the Silver Screen Jumbo Materials set including a grouping that will include Bette Davis, Ava Gardner, Bela Lugosi, and Jimmy Stewart to name a few.
For more information visit: http://www.cardboardconnection.com/2015-panini-americana-trading-cards.