Since at least the 1980s, it has been publicly alleged that Joan Crawford conspired to prevent Bette Davis from winning the 1962 "Best Actress" Academy Award for her performance in "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" These allegations came entirely from one source: Bette Davis herself.
These allegations were not made public by Davis until all principal persons associated with "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" were dead.
Is there any evidence that Joan Crawford prevented Bette Davis from winning the 1962 "Best Actress" Academy Award?
The answer is: No
Academy Members and The Voting Process
To understand the Academy Awards, one must first have an understanding of how the Academy Awards' voting process works. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is who presents the annual Academy Awards and oversees all functions relating to the awards. Over the years the Academy's eligible voter count has grown in size. As of 2021, the Academy had 9,427 eligible voters. According to Abe Greenberg's March 1st, 1965 article in "The Los Angeles Evening Citizen News," there were approximately 2,800 eligible voting members in 1965.
Each category branch nominates its own; For example, actors nominate actors, editors nominate editors, directors nominate directors, costumers nominate costumers and so on. All eligible members nominate the "Best Picture," and all eligible members vote for the winner from each category branch's nominees. Therefore, nominees are chosen by a much smaller group of voters, and not the entirety of the Academy's voting members. There have been various alterations and additional category branches added over the years, however this basic fundamental platform has remained the process of the Academy's voting system.
Campaigning for nominees and winners has almost always been an element of the Academy Awards. In many ways, the nominees and winners may be nominated, or win, due to political elements, and/or "likability" within the Hollywood film industry. For the same reasons, a person or film may not be nominated or win. It is all based upon variables, with the most obvious intended variable being the worthiness of the win based on the work. However, as history has demonstrated, that may not always be the case. There is no exact science to pre-determine a nominee or winner.
Bette Davis' Nomination for "Best Actress"
Prior to the February 25th, 1963 announcement of the nominees for 1962's "Best Actress," the top contenders named by various industry experts, including entertainment columnists James Beacon and Louella Parsons, were Katharine Hepburn for "A Long Days Journey Into Night;" Geraldine Page for "Sweet Bird of Youth;" Anne Bancroft for "The Miracle Worker;" Joan Crawford and Bette Davis for "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?;" Shirley MacClain for "Two For The Seesaw;" and Yvette Mimieux for "A Light In The Piazza."
At the top of most lists for likely nominees were Hepburn, Page, Remick and Bancroft. Bette Davis was not considered a particularly strong contender over these ladies. As Louella Parsons wrote in her February 12th, 1963 column: "Less likely but still no earthshattering upset would be a sentimental tribute to Bette Davis and/or Joan Crawford for "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" Although neither lady gave a performance measuring up to her best, the picture has been a surprise box-office smash."
Louella Parsons, February 12th, 1963:
James Beacon, February 6th, 1963:
Why Bette Davis Was Not A Favorable Nominee To Academy Members
How The Academy's Voting Process Works and The Nomination of Bette Davis
Joan Crawford Did Not Campaign Against Bette Davis
Why Bette Davis' Allegation Is Believed
The reason why the alleged campaign by Joan against Bette appears to be believed, despite the total lack of supporting evidence or even a witness, is due to the public's general admiration for Bette Davis as an actress. Davis is routinely cited as "the best actress ever," - a very debatable assertion if one takes the time to view all of Davis' filmography, and not just the films that had the highest quality scripts and production value.
Therefore, it seems that due to the admiration for Davis as an entertainer, this aspect also, in her admirer's minds, makes Davis' allegations creditable.
In fact, in many instances, Davis' most egregious bad behavior is forgiven or mediated. Such is often not the case for Joan, whose reputation was damaged severely by the memoir "Mommie Dearest," and the 1981 film of the same title. In Joan's case such indiscretions would be used against her to a maximum degree.
Another reason why the claim may be upheld is due to certain people's desire to believe sensationalized stories, regardless of how outlandish, improbable or inconsistent to the facts the story may be to the truth.
In Shaun Considine's grossly exaggerated and largely fictionalized 1989 book "Bette & Joan: The Divine Feud," Considine writes of a conversation he had with Davis in 1973, whereby Davis stated, "When Miss Crawford wasn't nominated, she immediately got herself booked on the Oscar show to present the "Best Director" award. Then she flew to New York and deliberately campaigned against me. She told people not to vote for me. She also called up the other nominees and told them she would accept their statute if they couldn't show up at the ceremonies."
Any biography on Joan Crawford or Bette Davis, which has recited these allegations, has done so with Bette Davis being the sole source of the allegations, and Davis never offered any source for her contention that Joan campaigned against her, other than it seems to be Davis' own personal belief.
No other person/witness/Academy member has ever made these allegations against Joan. Unfortunately, due to it being a sensational story, Davis' unsourced and biased allegations are printed, published and reprinted again over and over until the allegations have become a "common belief."
For the record, Bette Davis did what no other person in the history of the Academy Awards has ever done; allege they were cheated out of the award and that the winner did not deserve it. At one time, there was a phrased used for such people, it was called "being a sore loser."
If one researches into Davis' life, they will find that Davis commonly expressed contempt, anger and unfounded reasons as to why she lost other Academy Awards. The claim that Joan conspired to prevent Davis from winning in 1963 is merely one of these instances, however, it has become the most notable.
February 25th, 1963:
Joyce Haber interview with Bette Davis, "The Los Angeles Times" (October 11th, 1970):
September 23rd, 1962:
The Associated Press, April 21st, 1989:
Reason #1: Bette Davis' Poor Reputation
As explained above with how the Academy nominations are selected, the group who vote for the nominees is much smaller group than the group who votes for the winner. The "Best Actress" and "Best Actor" nominees are selected by fellow actors, with the industry as a whole selecting the winner.
By 1963, Bette Davis had burned many bridges within the Hollywood film community due to her attitude and bullyish behavior towards cast and crew. This is a documented fact, with Bette starting controversies and set issues over the years with her co-stars. Miriam Hopkins, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holms, Margaret Leighton, Patrick O'Neil, Susan Hayward, Joan Crawford, Eileen Heckart, Karen Black, Oliver Reed and Lillian Gish are among many with whom Davis quarreled with on film sets.
Author and Bette Davis researcher Sam Staggs elaborated upon this aspect of Davis in his 2001 book "All About All About Eve," which documents the making of the film "All About Eve." In his book, Staggs wrote, "Bette Davis was unpopular all over town. Too many directors, producers, writers and technicians knew, either firsthand or from rumors, what a monster she could be on the set. The long history of the Academy Awards proves that Oscars have often been given not as true rewards for professional excellence but rather as bouquets to persons the industry wishes to exalt. They have also been denied to those who didn't meet Hollywood norms. And so, with her reputation, there seemed little chance that Bette Davis could win another Academy Award."
This is coupled with the established fact that Davis repeatedly shunned the Hollywood community over the course of her career. In an January 1963 published interview with journalist Margaret McManus, Davis declared her distaste for the Hollywood community, stating: "I was never part of the Hollywood community when I lived there before, and I don't plan to be a part of it this time...Tell you the truth, I'd be happy not to work, but I have three children...but I could give it up, and not really miss it. I've been at this racket a long time." However, within the same interview Davis declares that she wanted the same community to give her a third Oscar, "Would I like to win a third? I'd go right through the roof. I always like to ne the first."
Adding to Bette Davis' poor reputation in Hollywood, she further cemented her reputation when she worked briefly on Broadway. In late 1961, Davis joined the cast of the Tennessee Williams play "The Night of The Iguana." Prior to performing the play on Broadway, it was toured in cities such as Chicago and Detroit. During this time period, Davis reportedly fought with her cast members, Patrick O'Neil and Margaret Leighton, and, at one point, demanded the play's director physically leave the theater during a rehearsal.
In November 1961, reporter Dorothy Kilgallen reported that Davis was having billing issues with Margaret Leighton regarding whose name would be first, despite Leighton being an establish stage actress and the play's lead. Shortly thereafter, columnist Earl Wilson reported, "Bette Davis denies she's making an effort to get out of her forthcoming Broadway show."
All of this negative activity occurred while Davis was professing that Hollywood had treated her badly, telling reporters, "No woman has been defeated more personally and professionally than I have been for the past 10 years - 10 years of nothing." However, in April 1962, Davis abruptly left the play, with Shelley Winters filling the role. Five month later Davis placed a "want ad" in "The Hollywood Reporter," as if Hollywood now owed her a job.
Reason #2: Bette Davis' September 1962 "Want ad"
The McManus interview was published only three months after Davis had placed a very prominent "want ad" in "The Hollywood Reporter" in September 1962. Many in the Hollywood community deemed the ad to be tacky, in poor taste and insulting. In her 1992 biography "Bette Davis," Davis researcher Barbara Leaming wrote: "Although Bette apparently believed that the industry would be amused by the idea of a major star's advertising for work like this, the gesture backfired badly. Not only did the advertisement fail to attract any substantial offers but Bette's attention-seeking device had the unintended effect of further tarnishing her image as a serious actress."
Reason #3: Public Shunning of Her Film's Co-Star
The Hollywood and news community made note of Bette Davis' lack of consideration for Joan's contributions to "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" during Davis' promotional appearances and interviews for the film. Davis' behavior was viewed by the film industry as discourteous and disrespectful.
Columnist Sheilah Graham wrote, "For all the bows Bette has been taking, I have not read or heard any mention of Miss Crawford."
This was during a time that Joan was actively campaigning for Davis in the press, stating in one published interview, "I'll predict here and now that Miss Davis will will an Oscar for ["What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"].
Reason #4: Bette Davis Was A Suspected Communist
In addition to the above-cited reasons for why the Hollywood community would have ample reason to not want to reward Bette Davis any honors, it is reported that after Davis filmed "Storm Center" in 1955, rumors circulated that she may be a communist. "Storm Center" focused on a librarian, played by Davis, who refuses to remove a book about communism from the town's library. Originally, retired film actress Mary Pickford was hired for the role. However, Pickford had a change of heart. Barbara Stanwyck and others were approached with the role, but they also declined. Several reports claim actresses rejected the role due to fear of being labeled a "communist" by the House Unamerican Activities Committee, who was routinely investigating the Hollywood community.
In any event, following the release of "Storm Center," Bette did not make another film for three years. Kim Hunter, Davis' co-star in the film, would indeed be blacklisted by Hollywood in the late 1950s due to allegations of being a communist. Hunter's September 11th, 2002 New York Times obituary stated, "Her screen career entered a lull in the late '50s, after Hunter, a liberal Democrat, was listed as a communist sympathizer by Red Channels, a red-hunting pamphlet that influenced hiring by studios and TV networks."
Davis biographer Lawrence Quirk recalled in his 1990 Davis biography, "Fasten Your Seat Belts: The Passionate Life of Bette Davis," that "a year after the release of "Storm Center," I wrote a piece called "Hollywood's Neglected Genius," in which I stated that the film studios' failure to find decent roles for Davis was a waste of her talent. This elicited a letter from a congressman asking if Bette Davis was a communist. I replied that I most certainly did not believe so, that she might be a liberal Democrat."
Reason #5: "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Was Considered A Horror Film
Historically, the Academy notoriously does not honor "horror" films with Academy Awards. In fact, in 95 years (as of the date of this writing), the Academy has only awarded 17 horror genre films with Academy Award wins. The majority of those wins have been for "secondary" categories, such as makeup, costume design and visual effects. "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane?" did win an Academy Award, and that was to Norma Koch for "Best Costume Design."
To date, only six horror genre films have won Academy Awards in the five major categories:
"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" (1931): "Best Actor"
"Rosemary's Baby" (1968): "Best Supporting Actress"
"The Exorcist" (1973): "Best Adapted Screenplay"
"Misery" (1990): "Best Actress"
"The Silence of The Lambs" (1991): "Best Picture," "Best Actor," Best Actress," "Best Director," "Best Adapted Screenplay"
"Get Out" (2017): "Best Original Screenplay"
Writer William Goldman also took note of this in a March 25th, 1991 article for "New York Magazine," whereby he predicted Kathy Bates would not win an Academy Award for "Misery" due to the film's genre: "She has no chance whatsoever to win because "Misery" is not what the Academy honors. It's a horror film. They didn't give it to Bette Davis and they'll never give it to Kathy Bates."
Bette Davis posing with Kim Hunter's Best Supporting Actress Award for " Streetcar Named Desire" (March 20th, 1952)
Davis, like Joan with Bancroft, had been selected to accept the Academy Award on behalf of Hunter.
Dallas Morning News, April 2nd, 1963:
New York Times, March 24th, 1963:
Wayne Allen, November 25th, 1962:
Dorothy Kilgallen, September 10th, 1962:
Lilly May Caldwell, October 28th, 1962:
To date, 60 years following the 1962 Academy Awards ceremony on April 8th, 1963, there has never been one ounce of evidence, or one single witness to come forward, to validate Bette Davis' repeated allegation that Joan Crawford campaigned against her for the 1962 "Best Actress" Academy Award.
As demonstrated above, the Academy was composed of approximately 2,800 eligible voting members at that time. If Joan had asked voting members to not vote for Davis, there would, obviously, be witnesses. Many witnesses.
Not only is there no evidence that Joan campaigned against Davis, documentary evidence proves that Joan did the exact opposite, and actively campaigned for Davis in media interviews she gave throughout the end of 1962; repeatedly saying she believed Davis would win the Academy Award for her performance in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"
Joan Crawford Accepting The "Best Actress" Award On Behalf of Anne Bancroft
Joan's acceptance of Anne Bancroft's award for "Best Actress" is commonly cited as "proof" that Joan campaigned against Bette Davis for the award.
This is a false logic. As explained above, there is no evidence that any such occurred. However, because society tends to be more visual, and quick to judge, as opposed to examining facts, the image of Joan holding Bancroft's award has become the evidence used by society to deem Joan guilty of this allegation.
Furthermore, Davis perpetuated this falsehood following Joan's death by making further outlandish claims surrounding Joan accepting Bancroft's award. Many of these additional claims have since been disproven with verifiable evidence. Such has Davis' claim that Joan kept Bancroft's award for over a year. This can be readily disproven by reviewing Joan's day-to-day activities on this website's 1963 Chronicle page.
Joan presented Bancroft with the award on May 7th, 1963. This was three days after Joan arrived back to New York (following Joan fulfilling her already-schedule commitments for Pepsi-Cola) and 28 days following the Academy Awards ceremony on April 8th.
Observers have also cited that Joan was photographed holding Bancroft's award at the Academy Awards ceremony, and that Joan should not have posed with the award if it were not her own. Historically (prior to the Academy altering their rules so that no one can accept an award for an absent winner), the person who accepted the award on behalf of the winner would pose at the ceremony with the award, along with the other major category award winners.
As demonstrated in the below 1952 photo of Bette Davis, Davis posed with Kim Hunter's "Best Supporting Actress" award for "A Streetcar Named Desire."
Reward For Verifiable Evidence
This Webmaster is so completely certain that Bette Davis' allegation that Joan Crawford campaigned against her for the 1962 "Best Actress" Academy Award is baseless, that I am offering a $200 reward to any person who can present one of the following forms of verifiable evidence:
1. A witness to Davis' allegation (i.e. an Academy member's statement certifying that Crawford asked them to not vote for Bette Davis).
2. Documentation supporting Davis' allegation (i.e. a letter by Crawford to an Academy member asking them to not vote for Bette Davis, or a written admission by Crawford that she did campaign against Davis).
3. Any other verifiable evidence that supports Bette Davis' allegation. (i.e. a neutral witness who observed Crawford allegedly campaigning against Davis, or the witness's account of them being told, first-hand, by an Academy member that Crawford asked the member to not vote for Davis).
You may contact the Webmaster at the following email address: BryanJohnson@TheConcludingChapterOfCrawford.com