What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962 film)

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Robert Aldrich
Produced by Robert Aldrich
Screenplay by Lukas Heller
Based on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? 
by Henry Farrell
Starring Bette Davis
Joan Crawford
Victor Buono
Music by Frank DeVol
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Michael Luciano
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • October 31, 1962 (1962-10-31)
Running time
133 minutes[1]
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,025,000[2]
Box office $9,000,000[3] 475,222 admissions (France)[4]

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller[5] film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford about an actress who holds her crippled sister captive to get people to idolize her. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell. Upon the film's release, it was met with widespread critical and box office acclaim, and was later nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design, Black and White.

The notoriously bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars was heavily important to the film's immense popularity at the time.[6] This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of former Hollywood acting legends, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. In the years after the film's release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the Hag horror subgenre.[6][7] Because of the film's then unheard of and controversial plot (it originally received an X-Rating in the U.K.),[1] and the appeal of the film's stars, it has become a cult film, and continues to play as a Midnight movie.[8] In 2003, the character of Baby Jane Hudson was ranked #44 on the American Film Institute's list of the 50 Best Villains of American Cinema. [9]


In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson (Julie Allred) is a vaudevillian child star. She performs to adoring crowds in theaters and inspires the creation of the expensive “Baby Jane” doll, sold in the lobby after her shows. Baby Jane is a spoiled brat whose doting stage-father Ray Hudson (Dave Willock) gives in to her demands while her disapproving mother and jealous, overlooked sister Blanche Hudson (Gina Gillespie) watch from the sidelines.

By 1935, the now grown sisters' roles have reversed. Both are movie actors, but Blanche has achieved stardom, while Jane’s films have flopped. Unable to establish her talent as an adult actress, Jane has taken to heavy drinking. One night, returning from a party, their car pulls up the driveway to their mansion and one of the sisters steps out to open the gate. The other sister steps on the accelerator, smashing the car into the gate. Blanche is paralyzed from the waist down in the accident.

In 1962, a wheelchair-bound Blanche (Joan Crawford) and a severely aged Jane (Bette Davis) are living together in the mansion. Blanche lives in her bedroom, never leaving the house, watching her old movies on television and reliving her former career. Jane antagonizes her sister constantly, drinks to excess, and wears caked-on makeup in a pathetic effort to appear young. The disabled Blanche depends on her bitter, abusive sister, and has no friends except for her friendly cleaning woman, Elvira Stitt (Maidie Norman). Elvira, concerned for Blanche’s well-being, believes that Jane is exhibiting symptoms of mental illness, but Blanche defends her. Elvira tells Blanche that she has discovered that Jane has been opening her mail and dumping it in the trash. Blanche is reluctant to condemn Jane and shows concern for her sister's welfare.

Jane, lost in reverie, tries to relive her childhood success by singing and dancing before a mirror. Seeing her reflection, she screams in horror. At that moment Blanche calls for her sister with an annoying, repeated use of a bedside buzzer from her room: She wants to know why she cannot call out on the telephone—was it left off the hook downstairs? Jane is annoyed when Blanche informs her she may be selling the house. Jane fights with her sister, fearing what will become of her, and rips the telephone cord from the wall, further isolating Blanche in her room. When Jane brings Blanche's lunch afterwards, Blanche finds under the silver serving dish lies her beloved parakeet, dead on a bed of tomato slices.

Jane makes herself up to go out and place an advertisement for a piano player so she can restart her performing career. While she is out, Blanche tries to get the attention of her neighbor, Mrs. Bates (Anna Lee), who is tending her flowers below Blanche's window. When Blanche cannot get her attention, she writes a note pleading for help and throws it from her window. Unfortunately, Jane returns at that moment and the distraction of the car coming up the driveway prevents Mrs. Bates from seeing the crumpled paper. Jane finds the note, however, and when she brings Blanche's dinner up, she argues with her sister again, telling her the house is hers and it will never be sold. Jane mocks her sister's kindly concern and drops the folded note in her lap. Jane leaves the room, and when Blanche goes to her serving tray for dinner, she cannot bring herself to touch it.

The next morning when Elvira arrives, Jane tells her she can have the day off. Jane's abuse of Blanche continues and they fight again when she brings Blanche her lunch. Blanche has not touched her dinner from the night before and wants to know why her breakfast had not been brought. Jane responds because she had not eaten her dinner and Jane tauntingly eats from the previous night's plate. As she takes the dinner tray away, she tells her sister they have rats in the basement, and when Blanche goes to eat her lunch, she finds a dead rat on the plate. Blanche screams and Jane laughs evilly at her sister's despair. Meanwhile, a talented, down-and-out man named Edwin Flagg (Victor Buono) sees Jane's newspaper advertisement and makes an appointment for that afternoon.

Joan Crawford as Blanche Hudson.

When Edwin shows up at the house, Jane grotesquely performs her signature song from her childhood, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy," with Edwin playing the piano. Edwin tries to conceal his disgust. Jane brags about who she was as a child and shows him a scrapbook of herself. At this time, Blanche uses her buzzer repeatedly to call her sister, wanting to know who the visitor is. Enraged, Jane goes upstairs, confronts Blanche, and rips the buzzer out of the wall and slaps her sister. Back in the living room, Jane and Edwin agree to his salary and they plot their moves. Jane then drives him home. While she’s out, Blanche goes into Jane's room looking for food (by now, she hasn't eaten in a couple of days) and discovers that Jane has practised forging her signature and is writing checks under Blanche's name. She works her way down the stairs to the telephone. Blanche calls Jane’s doctor and tells him that she needs help and asks if he could come to the house right away.

Jane comes home to find Blanche on the phone, talking to the doctor. Blanche abruptly ends the conversation and tries to make excuses in front of her enraged sister. Jane beats her as she lies on the floor, kicking her in the head and stomach until she is unconscious. Jane then calls the doctor back and, disguising her voice as Blanche, tells him not to come because “Jane” found another doctor. Then Jane drags her sister to her room, ties her by her arms, gags her, and leaves her there.

The next day, Elvira arrives to see Blanche. Jane tells her that her services are no longer needed and dismisses her. Suspicious, Elvira sneaks into the house when Jane leaves for the bank to get money to pay Edwin. She finds Blanche's room locked and is attempting to remove the door from the hinges when Jane comes home and catches her. Upon Elvira's demands, Jane gives her the key, and as the maid enters the darkened room to find Blanche bound and gagged, Jane uses a hammer to kill Elvira. Jane sinks deeper into her delusions, saying, "If only they had loved me enough." Edwin rings the doorbell, but Jane does not answer, "Not now Edwin, not now," and when he leaves, she sobs in despair. She drags Elvira's dead body from the house and disposes of it by dropping it some distance away.

A week later, the police call the Hudson house and tell Jane that a cousin of her maid reported her missing. She tells them that she hasn’t seen Elvira in a week. A panicked Jane then prepares to leave with her sister, fearing the police will discover what she’s done. Suddenly, the police show up with a drunken Edwin, there to receive his first payment. While he is there, a weakened Blanche is able to knock over a bedside table in her room. Edwin hears the noise, goes upstairs to investigate, and finds Blanche tied to her bed. He is shocked at her "dying" condition as she begs for his help. Edwin runs from the house to get away. Desperate, Jane puts her sister in the car and drives to the beach.

The next morning, the search is on for the missing Hudson sisters. Elvira’s body was found by the police, and there are bulletins on the radio. Blanche, starved and dehydrated, is lying on the sand with Jane sitting beside her. Blanche tells Jane the truth of what happened years before. It was she, Blanche, who tried to run over her drunken sister. Jane, however, moved out of the way in time and Blanche had slammed into the gate and snapped her spine, but managed to drag herself out of the car and up to the wrecked gate. Because Jane was too drunk to realize what happened, she has long believed that she was responsible for her sister’s condition. Jane sadly asks, "You mean all this time we could have been friends?" With her mental condition completely deteriorated, Jane runs to a beach-side concession booth to get ice cream cones for the two of them. The police arrive and intercept Jane as she is returning with the ice cream cones. As a crowd of beach-goers begin surrounding her, Jane realizes that she again has the attention she’s long craved, and she dances before the onlookers, joyfully happy at last, in her decayed imagination. The police spot a motionless Blanche lying on the sand and break through the crowd to help her as Jane continues to dance and the film ends. Whether Blanche has survived is not revealed.



Bette Davis (left) as Baby Jane Hudson and Joan Crawford as her sister, Blanche Hudson

The house exterior of the Hudson mansion is located at 172 South McCadden Place in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles. Other residential exteriors show cottages on DeLongpre Ave. near Harvard Ave. in Hollywood without their current gated courtyards. The scene on the beach was shot in Malibu, reportedly the same site where Aldrich filmed the final scene of Kiss Me Deadly (1955).

The neighbor's daughter was played by Davis' daughter B.D. Merrill who, following in the footsteps of Crawford's daughter Christina, later wrote a memoir that depicted her mother in an unfavorable light.

It was an open secret that Davis and Crawford loathed each other, and filming was contentious as their real-life hatred for one another spilled over into the production, and even after filming had wrapped. At Oscar time, Crawford was infuriated when Davis was nominated for an Oscar and she was overlooked. She contacted the Best Actress nominees who were unable to attend the ceremonies and offered to accept the award on their behalf should they win. Davis claimed that Crawford lobbied against her among Academy voters. When Anne Bancroft was declared the winner for The Miracle Worker, she was in New York performing in a play, and had asked Crawford to accept her award if she won. Crawford triumphantly swept onstage to pick up the trophy. Davis later commented, "It would have meant a million more dollars to our film if I had won. Joan was thrilled I hadn't."[10] As both Davis and Crawford had accepted lower salaries in exchange for a share of the film's profits,[11] Davis considered it especially foolish of Crawford to have worked against their common interests, especially at a time when roles for actresses of their generation were hard to find.


The film's success led to the birth of the "psycho-biddy" subgenre of horror/thriller films featuring psychotic older women, among them Aldrich's Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte and What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice?.

The film was remade in 1991 as a television film starring real-life sisters Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave.

Critical reception[edit]

The film received positive reviews and elicited mixed responses over the Davis/Crawford combination. In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther observed, "[Davis and Crawford] do get off some amusing and eventually blood-chilling displays of screaming sororal hatred and general monstrousness ... The feeble attempts that Mr. Aldrich has made to suggest the irony of two once idolized and wealthy females living in such depravity, and the pathos of their deep-seated envy having brought them to this, wash out very quickly under the flood of sheer grotesquerie."[12]

Variety stated, "Although the results heavily favor Davis (and she earns the credit), it should be recognized that the plot, of necessity, allows her to run unfettered through all the stages of oncoming insanity ... Crawford gives a quiet, remarkably fine interpretation of the crippled Blanche, held in emotionally by the nature and temperament of the role."[13]

TV Guide awarded the film four stars, calling it "Star wars, trenchantly served" and adding, "If it sometimes looks like a poisonous senior citizen show with over-the-top spoiled ham, just try to look away ... As in the best Hitchcock movies, suspense, rather than actual mayhem, drives the film."[14]

The film maintains a 91% rating on review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, indicating critical acclaim.[15]


The film was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one for Best Costume Design.[16]

  • Laurel Award for Golden Laurel for Sleeper of the Year (Winner)

Box office[edit]

The film was a surprise box office hit, grossing $9 million at the worldwide box office and $4,050,000 in theatrical rentals in North America.[3][18]

In the United Kingdom, the film was originally given an X certificate by the BBFC in 1962, with a few minor cuts. These cuts were waived for a video submission, which was given an 18 certificate in 1988, meaning no-one under 18 years of age could purchase a copy of the film.[1] However in 2004, the film was re-submitted for a theatrical re-release, and it was given a 12A certificate, now meaning persons under 12 years of age could view it if accompanied by an adult. It remains at this category.[19]

In popular culture[edit]

  • One of the Alice Cooper band's all-time favorite movies was this one. "In the movie, Bette wears disgusting caked makeup smeared on her face and underneath her eyes, with deep, dark, black eyeliner." [20]
  • On an episode of The Andy Williams Show that aired on December 20, 1962, Bette Davis presented host Andy Williams with a "Baby Jane" doll and sang a rock 'n' roll version of the song "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
  • On Steve Allen's Westinghouse-network talk show, he and Louis Nye performed a spoof,"Whatever Happened To Baby Fink?" with Allen as Blanche and Nye as Jane.
  • In the 1970s, TV's Little House on the Prairie aired an episode in which Nellie feigns being crippled for attention. Writes actress Alison Arngrim: "The imagery is unmistakable: the blond curls, the bitchy attitude versus the poor put-upon girl with the long brown hair. But now there's a twist... Blanche has finally put Jane in the wheelchair!"[21]
  • A 1980 SCTV skit features Martin Short as Ed Grimley and John Candy in a parody called 'What Ever Happened to Baby Ed?' in which Ed Grimley is the male version of 'Blanche' and John Candy is the male version of 'Jane'.
  • The 1990 series of French and Saunders featured a parody called "Whatever Happened to Baby Dawn?", with Dawn French in the "Jane" role and Jennifer Saunders as Blanche.
  • A Batman villain who first appeared in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series is inspired by this film. The villain, Baby Doll, is a former child actor who has since gone insane.
  • In an episode of Seinfeld, "The Airport" (1992), George Costanza mimics a line from the movie when taunting an escorted prisoner in shackles: "But you are, Blanche... you are in the shackles."
  • In an episode of The Nanny, "Hurricane Fran," Niles torments C.C. Babcock who is in a wheelchair after slipping and falling. C.C. tells Niles, "You wouldn't be able to torture me like this if I wasn't in this chair." Niles quickly quips back, "But you are Babs, you are."
  • The music video to Shakespear's Sister's 1991 single "Goodbye Cruel World" parodies the film (along with Sunset Boulevard) and features a short dialogue scene at the start with Siobhan Fahey in the Jane role and Marcella Detroit in the Blanche role.
  • In 2000, one episode of The WB's Popular parodied the rat dinner scene twice; the first time, Sam McPherson portrayed Jane and the second time, Brooke McQueen portrayed Jane.
  • In Christina Aguilera's music video for "Ain't No Other Man", released in 2006 on her album Back to Basics, she plays her alter ego, "Baby Jane", in reference to the film.
  • The film is referenced in The Simpsons episode "Smart and Smarter", in the scene featuring Lisa's nightmare of her pushing a wheelchair-bound Maggie down the stairs; in another episode, Comic Book Guy remarks of Agnes Skinner: "Now I know whatever happened to Baby Jane".
  • The Designing Women episode "The Strange Case of Clarence and Anita" (first aired November 4, 1991), Julia and Mary-Jo are in the play, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" with Julia (Dixie Carter) as Blanche and Mary Jo (Annie Potts) as Jane.
  • In the video game Bioshock, one model of the enemies encountered by the hero is known as the Baby Jane.
  • In 2007, Minneapolis-based DJ and music producer, Joel Dickinson remixed Bette Davis's "I've Written a Letter to Daddy" for club play. It has been played by world-famous DJ's including Junior Vasquez and remains a Halloween club favorite internationally.
  • The film, particularly the scene when Jane sings "Daddy" grotesquely as Edwin plays the piano, plays in the background during the movie theater scene of the 2005 horror film House of Wax.
  • The Doctor Who spinoff show The Sarah Jane Adventures had an episode titled "Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?"
  • In 2010, a campy remake Baby Jane? was released with drag superstars Matthew Martin as Jane and J. Conrad Frank as Blanche.[22]
  • In 2012, the eighth episode of 666 Park Avenue was titled "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"[23]


  1. ^ a b c "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (X)". British Board of Film Classification. 1962-11-30. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  2. ^ Alain Silver and James Ursini, Whatever Happened to Robert Aldrich?, Limelight, 1995 p 256
  3. ^ a b Box Office Information for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? IMDb. Retrieved April 14, 2012.
  4. ^ French box office results for Robert Aldrich films at Box Office Story
  5. ^ allmovie.com
  6. ^ a b "'BLU-RAY REVIEW - "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"". Slant Magazine. November 6, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  7. ^ "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?". The A.V. Club. June 6, 2008. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Whatever Happened to ‘Baby Jane’? It’s Getting a Remake". New York Times. July 12, 2012. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  9. ^ "AFI'S 100 YEARS...100 HEROES & VILLAINS". AFI. July 4, 2003. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  10. ^ Mother Goddam: The Story of the Career of Bette Davis by Whitney Stine, with a running commentary by Bette Davis, Hawthorn Books, Inc., 1974, ISBN 0-8015-5184-6, pp. 296-297
  11. ^ Ibid p. 307
  12. ^ New York Times review
  13. ^ Variety review
  14. ^ TV Guide review
  15. ^ "WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1960)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved October 2, 2014. 
  16. ^ "The 35th Academy Awards (1963) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  17. ^ "Festival de Cannes: What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  18. ^ "All-Time Top Grossers", Variety, 8 January 1964 p 69
  19. ^ "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (12A)". British Board of Film Classification. 2004-08-27. Retrieved 2011-09-09. 
  20. ^ Alice Cooper, Alice Cooper, Golf Monster: A Rock 'n' Roller's 12 Steps to Becoming a Golf Addict (Crown, 2007). ISBN 978-0307382658
  21. ^ Confessions of a Prairie Bitch by Alison Arngrim, p. 175
  22. ^ "Baby Jane? @ IMDB". 
  23. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2505942/

External links[edit]