12 November 2018

The old Hopkins-Davis feud has flared up again

Long before Bette Davis had her infamous feud with Joan Crawford, she had a feud with Miriam Hopkins which was almost as legendary. Bette and Miriam met in 1928 when they worked together on stage in Excess Baggage directed by George Cukor. Bette said that back then Miriam was already trying to upstage her fellow actors, her scene-stealing clearly a compulsion.

Years later, Bette was chosen to play the lead in Jezebel (1938), a role Miriam had played on Broadway and had wanted to reprise in the film. Miriam was furious that Bette had stolen Jezebel, even more so when it earned Bette her second Oscar. Miriam also suspected Bette of having had a fling with her third husband (i.e. director Anatole Litvak) which made her hate Bette even more.


So by the time Bette and Miriam began work on their first film together The Old Maid (1939), the tone had already been set. Things didn't exactly improve when on the first day of filming Miriam showed up in a complete replica of one of Bette's Jezebel costumes. In her autobiography The Lonely Life (1962), Bette recalled: "Miriam used and, I must give her credit, knew every trick in the book. I became fascinated watching them appear one by one. A good actress, perfectly suited to the role; it all was a mystery to me. Keeping my temper took its toll. I went home every night and screamed at everybody."

During production of their second film Old Acquaintance (1943), the Davis-Hopkins feud continued. Things were no better than during The Old Maid and the clashes between the two divas slowed down production considerably, with filming ultimately lasting almost twice as long. Steve Trilling, executive assistant to Jack Warner, kept his boss in the loop about the goings-on on the set and about a month into production sent Warner the following memo.
_____________________

DATE: December 19, 1942
SUBJECT: "Old Acquaintance"
TO: Col. J.L. Warner
FROM: Steve Trilling
...Bette Davis was out today partially illness and in my estimation partially a little temperament. The old Hopkins-Davis feud has flared up again but was very quickly stamped out by our immediately calling the turn on both of them. With Blanke and Sherman* I had a good long talk with Davis last night from 6 PM to 8 PM and this morning with Hopkins from 9 AM to 10:30. There were a lot of tears and a lot of denials of any differences but there has been constant tension on the set and all the old tricks of The Old Maid episode renewed. I told Hopkins that any continuance of tactics would result in my turning the entire matter over to the [Screen Actors] Guild and she would just be banned from pictures. Davis is no white lily either, and I warned her and she agreed to lean over a little backwards and cooperate to get this picture over with and get performances exactly as directed with no nonsense— and less takes. It all ended amicably with both parties vowing there would be no re-occurence. Davis' voice, however, was completely gone and as we had nothing else to got to we were forced to close down for the day....
As ever, 
[* Henry Blanke was the film's producer and Vincent Sherman the director ]
___________ 
Source: Inside Warner Bros.(1935-1951) (1985), selected, edited and annotated by Rudy Behlmer.
Above: Warners' publicity department took advantage of the feud between the two stars and had them pose with boxing gloves with director Edmund Goulding looking on. Below: Gif from a scene of Old Acquaintance where Bette Davis' character has had enough of her old friend Miriam Hopkins and shakes her violently before throwing her into a chair. Bette reportedly loved doing the scene.







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