Baby Jane Hudson
|Baby Jane Hudson|
Bette Davis as Baby Jane Hudson, in the 1962 film adaptation with Joan Crawford as Blanche.
|First appearance||What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?|
|Created by||Henry Farrell|
|Portrayed by||Bette Davis|
Baby Jane Hudson is a fictional character and the antagonist of Henry Farrell's 1960 novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? She was portrayed by Bette Davis in the 1962 film adaptation and by Lynn Redgrave in the 1991 made-for-TV remake. The 1962 production is the better-known, with Bette Davis earning an Academy Award nomination for her performance.
Novel and film
At the chronological beginning of the story, Baby Jane Hudson is a highly successful child star in Vaudeville, billed as the "The Diminutive Dancing Duse from Duluth". In the film version, a prologue set in 1917 shows her performing with her father, while her mother and sister Blanche watch from backstage. She is evidently favored and spoiled by her father, while her mother attempts to soften Blanche's anger and envy, by promising that one day her chance at stardom will come. The novel reveals that the sisters move to Hollywood to live with an aunt who favors Blanche the way their father had preferred Jane. By the mid-1930s, Blanche and Jane are in Hollywood. Blanche is a successful actress while Jane gets film work only because her sister's contract demands it. While Blanche becomes the leading lady of her era, Jane is widely seen as a has-been, and her films are critical and commercial failures.
One night, an inebriated Jane mocks and humiliates Blanche at a party, provoking Blanche into running away in tears. That night, Blanche is paralyzed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who was found three days later in a drunken stupor, with no memory of what had happened. The accident ends careers for both Blanche and Jane. Jane spends the next three decades living with and caring for Blanche.
Over the years, Jane sinks into alcoholism and mental illness. She is now a grotesque caricature of her childhood self, wearing hideously caked on make-up, her hair in greasy curls, and dressing like a 10-year-old girl. A TV retrospective honoring Blanche's old films sends Jane into a jealous rage as she realizes that she is no longer the ingenue she once was. Delusional and stuck in the past, she clings to the hope that she can revive her child act, even though she is now approaching old age. Jane is driven to desperation by the combination of the increased attention towards Blanche, her discovery that Blanche plans to sell the house and have her committed to a mental hospital, and her futile attempts to revive her long-dead career. She steals Blanche's money to pay for an accompanist and for adult-sized versions of her little-girl costumes. She kills her sister's pet parakeet and serves it to her for dinner, thereafter keeping her as a virtual prisoner in her room. Jane once again drowns her sorrows and pathetically sings to her reflection her signature song, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy", a cloying music hall number from her childhood. However, upon seeing her reflection, and seeing the damage age and drink have done to her, Jane snaps and destroys the mirror.
When Blanche's cleaning woman, Elvira Stitt, threatens to report Jane's abuses, Jane kills her with a hammer. Jane disposes of the dead body by dropping it some distance away. After a call from the police asking about Elvira, whose family has reported her missing, Jane worries that she will be caught. When the accompanist she's hired, Edwin Flagg, discovers Blanche bound and gagged in the bedroom, Jane flees to the seashore with Blanche. On the beach, dying Blanche reveals that it was she who was driving the night of the accident, having intended to kill Jane; she blamed the accident on Jane, who had been too drunk to remember. This revelation destroys what little remains of Jane's sanity, and she regresses to her childhood and becomes "Baby Jane" once again. In a fog of delusion, she goes off to buy ice cream, at which point the police identify her. She dances like a child for the crowd that has gathered to watch the spectacle.
Among the film's most recognized images is Bette Davis as the aged Jane in blond Mary Pickford-like curls performing the syrupy, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy."
Jane's final scene in the film is patterned on the final scene of Sunset Boulevard, where Gloria Swanson's character descends the stairs for an imagined film scene after killing her lover. The success of the movie led to the director's undertaking a film using similar themes and characters, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, also starring Davis as a mentally unstable recluse lost in her delusions.
Jane and Blanche's story is parodied in an apocryphal comic strip in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill.
In the film, director Robert Aldrich mined the careers of his two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (who played Blanche), by using their early (circa 1930s) film clips when the story called for examples of their characters' work. However, the other characters reacted to clips of Bette Davis's early roles with dismay at her "bad acting," and when clips of Joan Crawford's old movies are shown the other characters speak with praise for her acting.
- Bret, David (2008). Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr