Baby Jane Hudson

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Baby Jane Hudson
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane trailer.jpg
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
Lynn Redgrave (What Ever Happened to...)
Susan Sarandon (Feud)
Information
Gender Female
Occupation Former actress
Family Ray Hudson (father)
Cora Hudson (mother)
Blanche Hudson (sister)

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. The character is portrayed by Susan Sarandon, who plays Bette Davis, in the TV anthology Feud: Bette and Joan aired in 2017.

Novel and film[edit]

At the start of the book, Baby Jane Hudson is a highly successful child star in vaudeville, billed as "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 favored and spoiled by her father, while her mother attempts to soothe Blanche's envy and resentment by promising that one day she will achieve stardom.

The novel reveals that the sisters move to Hollywood to live with an aunt who favors Blanche the way their father prefers Jane. (This detail is absent in the film.) By the mid-1930s, Blanche and Jane are Hollywood actresses. Blanche is a successful star, while Jane gets film work only because her sister's contract demands it. Blanche is the leading lady of her era, but 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 leaving in tears. That night, Blanche is paralyzed from the waist down in a mysterious car accident that is unofficially blamed on Jane, who is found three days later in a drunken stupor with no memory of the party and its aftermath. The accident ends Blanche and Jane's careers. Jane spends the next three decades living with and caring for Blanche, stoking bitter resentment which consumes her.

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 television 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. Jane is driven to desperation by the combination of the increased attention towards Blanche and her discovery that Blanche plans to sell the house and have her committed to a mental hospital.

Delusional and stuck in the past, she clings to hopes of reviving her childhood act, even though she is approaching old age. She steals Blanche's money to pay for an accompanist and for adult-sized versions of her little-girl costumes. She removes Blanche's telephone, making her a virtual prisoner in her room. Jane gets drunk and pathetically sings her signature song, "I've Written a Letter to Daddy", a maudlin song from her childhood act. However, upon seeing her reflection and the ravages of age and alcoholism, Jane snaps and destroys the mirror. She kills Blanche's pet parakeet and serves it to her on a dinner platter; she later serves Blanche a dead rat the same way.

When Blanche's cleaning woman, Elvira Stitt, threatens to report Jane's abuses, Jane kills her with a hammer and disposes of the dead body. After the police call about Elvira, whose family has reported her missing, Jane worries that she will be caught. When Edwin Flagg, the accompanist she hires to revive her Baby Jane act, discovers Blanche bound and gagged in the bedroom, he calls the police and Jane flees to the seashore with Blanche.

On the beach, a near-death Blanche reveals that she is paraplegic by her own fault: she intended to kill Jane by running her down, but her car struck the metal gates outside their mansion instead, snapping Blanche's spine. Blanche blamed the accident on Jane, who was too drunk to remember the incident. This revelation destroys what little remains of Jane's sanity, and she regresses to her childhood and becomes "Baby Jane" once again, dancing for startled on-lookers at the beach. When two policemen notice the Hudsons' illegally parked car nearby and link it to Elvira's death, they spot Blanche lying on the sand and rush to her aid. Jane is too caught up in her delusions to notice the policemen's presence.

Popular culture[edit]

Among the film's most recognized images is Bette Davis as the aged Jane in blond Mary Pickford-like curls performing the syrupy song "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 the director to undertake 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.

Acting[edit]

In this 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. The other characters react 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. (Davis's scenes, from the film Ex-Lady, are deliberately presented out of context to make Jane Hudson's performance seem amateurish.)

References[edit]

  • Bret, David (2006). Joan Crawford: Hollywood Martyr. ISBN 9780786718689.