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From ‘Baby Jane’ to ‘Mommie Dearest’: How to get in the mood for ‘Feud’

In “Feud: Bette and Joan,” the latest fact-based anthology series from TV auteur Ryan Murphy, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon star as classic Hollywood legends Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, respectively. The eight-part drama, premiering Sunday, explores the rancor behind the scenes of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?,” the cult classic that brought the notorious rivals together on-screen. Below we’ve compiled a list of the films, TV appearances and podcasts you should check out to enhance the “Feud” viewing experience.

“Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962)

Obviously, it makes sense to start with Robert Aldrich’s film. In casting that shrewdly played up their competitive relationship, Davis played a former child star who tortures her sister, a washed-up Hollywood actress now using a wheelchair. Both actresses hoped “Baby Jane” would revive their ebbing careers, and it became a surprise box office hit. But much to Crawford’s irritation, only Davis scored an Oscar nomination -- her 10th, making her the first actor to reach the milestone. (Rent on Amazon or iTunes)

“Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte” (1964)

Aldrich hoped to reunite Crawford and Davis in this Southern Gothic tale about Charlotte, a wealthy recluse living in a derelict Louisiana mansion, and Miriam, the poor cousin meant to help her fight eviction. Crawford reluctantly agreed to star as Miriam but dropped out and was ultimately replaced by Davis’ good friend Olivia de Havilland, played in “Feud” by Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Rent on Amazon or iTunes)

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“All About Eve” (1950)

In what is arguably her most celebrated film role, Davis plays aging Broadway grande dame Margo Channing, whose career and personal life come under threat thanks to a scheming understudy, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). The story of a rivalry between two actresses in a ruthlessly ageist industry, it presages the themes explored in “Feud” and also happens to be screening in theaters on Sunday. (Check www.fathomevents.com for listings. Or rent via Amazon or iTunes.)

“Mildred Pierce” (1945)

In this melodrama directed by Michael Curtiz (later remade by Todd Haynes for HBO), Crawford plays the title role, a single working mother-turned-restaurant tycoon driven, and ultimately undone, by her love for her two daughters. Released three years after she was dropped by MGM, the comeback vehicle played up Crawford’s rise from humble origins (her divorced mother worked in a laundry) and reputation as the consummate Hollywood survivor. It also earned the actress her first and only Oscar -- which she accepted in bed, naturally. (Rent on Amazon or iTunes)

“Mommie Dearest” (1981)

Based on Christina Crawford’s scandalous memoir, this camp favorite from director Frank Perry features a legendarily over-the-top performance by Faye Dunaway as an abusive, controlling, impossibly vain Crawford. Though it was widely panned upon release, the film has done much to shape contemporary views of Crawford and turned “no wire hangers!” into a catchphrase. With a run time over two hours, the shrieking grows old quickly, so feel free to fast-forward to the good parts. (Rent on Amazon or iTunes)

“You Must Remember This: Six Degrees of Joan Crawford” (2016)

This supremely addictive podcast, written and produced by Karina Longworth, explores the “the secret and/or forgotten histories of Hollywood’s first century.” A six-episode series last year thoughtfully chronicles the former Lucille LeSueur’s journey from poverty to the pinnacle of Hollywood success, as well as her rocky personal life, complicating the popular view of Crawford as an egomaniacal diva and nightmare mommy. It includes episodes about “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and her relationship with daughter Christina. (www.youmustrememberthispodcast.com)

“Stardust: The Bette Davis Story” (2006)

One of many documentaries about Davis made over the years, this feature-length portrait directed by Peter Jones and produced for Turner Classic Movies is unusually insightful. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, it chronicles Davis’ painful childhood, her battles with studio boss Jack Warner and her tormented private life, which included four marriages and estrangement from her daughter, who wrote two tell-alls about their relationship. Sound like anyone you know? (DVD available for rental on Netflix)

Various TV appearances

If you want to catch a glimpse of Crawford and Davis being themselves — or something close to it -- YouTube is awash with clips of their various TV appearances. Bette Davis was a regular on talk shows, gabbing with the likes of Dick Cavett, Phil Donahue, David Letterman and Johnny Carson up until shortly before her death in 1989. She was also roasted by Vincent Price, Henry Fonda and others on “The Dean Martin Show” in 1973. Crawford, who died in 1977, maintained a lower profile throughout her later decades; in a lengthy interview with British film critic Philip Jenkinson, who describes her as the “founder of nail varnish, bobbed hair and padded shoulders,” you can watch her deflect questions about Davis like a pro. (YouTube)

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‘Feud: Bette and Joan’

Where: FX

When: 10 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-MA-L (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17 with an advisory for coarse language)

See the most-read stories in Entertainment this hour »

meredith.blake@latimes.com

Follow me @MeredithBlake


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