What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (novel)

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
A violet colored painted face with black eyes and hair and the book title on top of it.
AuthorHenry Farrell
CountryUnited States
SubjectGothic fiction
GenreHorror, thriller
PublisherRinehart & Company
Publication date
March 3, 1960[1]
Media typeHardcover, paperback

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is an American suspense novel by Henry Farrell published in 1960 by Rinehart & Company.[2] The novel has earned a cult following, and has been adapted for the screen twice, in 1962 and 1991.

Plot summary[edit]

This gothic story deals with two aging sisters, Jane and Blanche Hudson, who are living alone together in a decaying Hollywood mansion. A former child star of early vaudeville known as "Baby Jane", doted upon by her father due to her success on the stage; her ignored younger sister, Blanche, lived in Jane's shadow.

However, their roles were reversed after the death of their parents due to influenza, when both children moved to Los Angeles to live with an aunt. Blanche was favored for her blonde hair and regal beauty, and was even encouraged to pursue a film career. Blanche became a star, while Jane, whose films were failures, languished in her shadow. Blanche had a clause in her contract stipulating that Jane have a role in every film in which Blanche appeared.

Years later, Jane, a slatternly alcoholic who still dresses as if she were 10 years old, and Blanche, disabled after a mysterious car accident they continue to live together in the same mansion in a declining neighborhood. Jane resents having to live in the shadow of her sister (who became more famous than she ever was, and who is now being remembered because of a revival of her films on television), and hates having to cook, clean and care for Blanche. Although stuck upstairs in her bedroom, Blanche has nevertheless managed to keep her good looks, while Jane's appearance is ravaged by alcoholism and neglect.

Blanche, whose only other contact with the outside world is cleaning woman Edna Stitt, and her telephone conversations with her doctor and attorney, realizes that Jane is becoming increasingly unstable. She calls her lawyer and tells him that she is planning to sell the house.

Jane, who eavesdrops on her sister's calls, believes that Blanche wants to sell the house and have her committed to a mental hospital. When Blanche sees Jane's sinister mood swings beginning, she tries to talk to her sister about her decision. However, Jane simply ignores her. Soon, Jane begins to exhibit signs of insanity. She steals Blanche's phone, while making her afraid to eat by serving Blanche's dead pet bird on a salad and, later, a large rat from the cellar.

In a drunken daze, Jane decides to revive her childhood singing and dancing act of Baby Jane, reasoning that Fanny Brice had success with Baby Snooks. She then hires a musical accompanist, Edwin Flagg, through a help wanted ad.

As reality topples crazily into eerie fantasy, Jane abuses her sister with monstrous cruelty, while embezzling her money to buy liquor and revive her childhood act as "Baby Jane Hudson". Edna comes to find out why Blanche cannot be reached on the phone and why Jane will not let her go upstairs to Blanche's room. Opening the door and finding Blanche tied to the bed with her mouth taped shut, she tries to help, but Jane sneaks up and kills Edna with a hammer. That night, Jane dumps the body. A day or two later, police officers come questioning Jane about Edna's disappearance. Jane panics, grabs her barely conscious sister, and heads for the location of some of her happiest childhood memories, the beach. It was there some 50 years before that crowds used to gather around and watch Baby Jane practice her songs and dances, while Daddy played the banjo. Jane plays in the sand, while Blanche lies weak and on the verge of death from her ordeal.

Realizing that she may be dying, Blanche reveals to Jane that it was actually she, not Jane, who had driven the car on the fateful night. Jane had spent the evening humiliating Blanche at a party. As Jane unlocked the gates, Blanche tried to run her down with the car, but Jane moved out of the way. The car then slammed into the metal gate, snapping Blanche's spine. She managed to crawl out of the car to the gates, while Jane, frightened, hid inside the house, where she passed out. When the police arrived, they assumed that Jane had been driving. Blanche later realized that the event had driven her sister insane, but refused to allow her to seek psychiatric help for fear that Jane might recover enough to remember what really happened. Realizing that all the years of hatred, guilt, and resentment between the sisters could have been avoided, Jane forgives Blanche.

Jane calls the police and tells them that her sister, Blanche Hudson, is very sick. Outside the phone booth, three officers recognize her and gently take Jane back to the beach. They start to question her and ask her where her sister is. At first, Jane vaguely tells them where her sister is, leading them down the beach. She then becomes confused and ignores their questions. Upon mentioning her name "Miss Hudson", Jane is taken back to her vaudeville days, and she begins to dance "very prettily", despite the police imploring her to tell them where Blanche is. The novel ends with Jane dancing, and does not reveal if Blanche survives or not.

1962 film[edit]

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller[3]-horror film[4][5] film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, about an aging actress who holds her paraplegic sister captive in an old Hollywood mansion, with screenplay adapted by Lukas Heller. 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 intensely bitter Hollywood rivalry between the film's two stars, Davis and Crawford, was heavily important to the film's initial success.[6] This in part led to the revitalization of the then-waning careers of the two stars. In the years after release, critics continued to acclaim the film for its psychologically driven black comedy, camp, and creation of the psycho-biddy subgenre.[6][7] The film's then-unheard of and controversial plot meant that it originally received an X rating in the UK.[8]

1991 film[edit]

What Ever Happened to... is a 1991 American television thriller drama film directed by David Greene and adapted for the small screen by Brian Taggert, based on the novel What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell and the 1962 theatrical film of the same name. It stars real-life sisters Lynn Redgrave as Baby Jane Hudson and Vanessa Redgrave as Blanche Hudson, in the roles previously played by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the 1962 adaptation.

The film was adapted to contemporary times, with Blanche's film success taking place in the 1960s instead of the 1930s. Her films were being rediscovered on home video instead of television reruns. Jane had been a child film star (replacing the original's vaudeville success), though her films were unavailable, leading to her jealousy.


  1. ^ "Books Published Today". The New York Times: 26. March 3, 1960.
  2. ^ Farrell, Henry (1960). What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1st ed.). New York City: Rinehart & Company. ASIN B000I1P4DY.
  3. ^ "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". AllMovie. United States: All Media Network. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (February 16, 2008). "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". RogerEbert.com. Chicago: Ebert Digital LLC. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  5. ^ "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?". The New York Times. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "'BLU-RAY REVIEW – "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"". Slant Magazine. United States: The House Next Door. November 6, 2012. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  7. ^ "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?". The A.V. Club. June 6, 2008. Retrieved March 16, 2017.
  8. ^ "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (X)". British Board of Film Classification. November 30, 1962. Retrieved March 16, 2017.