The Hudson House
This private residence in Los Angeles, California might be best remembered as the home of the infamous Hudson sisters in the 1962 horror/thriller, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. It is located in the rather affluent Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, near the famous Wilshire Country Club. The neighborhood's first residents were reportedly a virtual who's who in early California history. Given its status, it turned out to be the perfect fit to double as the home of two fading starlets (one of which is slowly losing touch with reality) in a 1962 Grand Guignol horror film.
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
The film was an adaptation of a novel by the same name from author Henry Farrell and concerns the story of two sisters by the names of Jane and Blanche Hudson. At the age of six, "Baby Jane" had been a popular vaudeville performer whose parents doted over her while ignoring her older sister, Blanche. As the duo grew, Baby Jane's career derailed while Blanche's took off and the resentment between the two deepened. After a tragic car accident paralyzed Blanche, the two sisters take up residence in the home where things quickly begin to unravel.
The film was the first and only teaming of the popular actresses Bette Davis (who played Baby Jane) and Joan Crawford (who played Blanche), whose rivalry was the stuff that journalists dreamt of (and books are written). Surprisingly, by most accounts it was Crawford who suggested that the duo team up for the project and even solicited director Robert Aldrich to helm the adaptation. It is reported that the head of Warner Bros. at the time considered one or both of the actresses to be washed up and took some convincing to give the go-ahead. Even then, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? was not given much of a chance. It was green-lighted with a fairly low budget (considering the star power of the two leads) and shuffled off to shoot at Raleigh Studios, rather than filming at the more prestigious WB lot.
One little interesting tidbit about the production of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is the fact that the role of the young neighbor was played by none other than Barbara Merrill (billed as B.D. Merrill in the credits) - the real-life daughter of Bette Davis. She had previously had a bit role in another of her mother's films, Payment on Demand (1951).
This house filled in for the exterior shots of the Hudson home during the production, while the majority of interior shots were done at the studio. Next to the house is a driveway that is blocked by an iron gate that lines up with the house. It was this gate that played a predominant role in the car crash that paralyzed Blanche and set-up a major plot twist at the end of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Though most of the action was set indoors, the house would bear witness to one of the more contemptuous rivalries that Hollywood has ever seen and also play a major role in the resurgence of the Grand Guignol-style horror films.
By most accounts, the production was a relatively heated affair between the actresses, who reportedly had a severe dislike for one another. Most critics point out that the intense rivalry translated over to the big screen as the character of Baby Jane slowly unraveled and began to mentally (and physically) abuse her sister. The two also brought very different performances to the table with Davis playing a more hysterical, over-the-top Baby Jane while Crawford played it far more subdued and almost passive.
The rivalry carried over to both the pre and post-production of the film as well. There are reports of squabbling over which would get top billing, as well as salary negotiations. Ultimately, Davis received more of an advance upfront than Crawford, while Crawford had a higher interest in box-office receipts. As it would turn out, the film reportedly made back its budget within the first two weeks of release and became a box-office success, which meant Crawford ultimately got the better deal. However, Davis received a "Best Actress" Academy Award nomination for her performance, which could have been her third such award. Meanwhile, Crawford was passed over for her performance, but that did not stop her from finding a way to get her revenge. On the night of the awards, the winner was announced to be Anne Bancroft who had been unable to attend the ceremony. Reportedly as a slight to her co-star (and even the film), Crawford took to the podium to accept the award in Bancroft's absence - something she had already prearranged.
Given the success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, director Robert Aldrich hatched a plan to re-team the two actresses in yet another adaptation from author Henry Farrell. The film was Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) and both signed on to star, along with actor Victor Buono who also appeared in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. However, only four days into production, Crawford checked herself into hospital claiming to be ill, though reports at the time questioned her story. Some sources report that she did not want to be upstaged by Davis again, while others suggest that the rivalry had boiled over and she quit out of anger. Whatever the case, Crawford was released from her contract and her role was filled by actress Olivia de Havilland.
In one more amusing anecdote, Crawford had been on the board of directors at the Pepsi Cola Company at the time of the two productions. During one of the productions (sources vary as to which film it was), she delighted the crew one day by bringing a cooler full of Pepsi to the set. The following day, Davis arrived with an even bigger cooler full of Coke.
The Grand Guignol Era
The success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? also somewhat reinvigorated the careers of Davis and Crawford and launched a series of similar Grand Guignol horror films - often starring either Davis or Crawford. In addition to Hush... Hush Sweet Charlotte, Davis also starred in Dead Ringer (1964). Crawford got roles in William Castle's Strait-Jacket (1964) and I Saw What You Did (1965), followed by Berserk! (1967). In other horror works, Davis later appeared in the haunted house horror film, Burnt Offerings (1976), and the Disney horror film, The Watcher in the Woods (1980). Crawford's last film role was in the Neanderthal horror film, Trog (1970). Shortly before that, Crawford appeared in the pilot episode of Rod Serling's television series, Night Gallery, in a segment directed by a young Steven Spielberg.
The House Today
The house on 172 South McCadden looks pretty much the same today as it did during its appearance in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. The film was remade as a television movie in 1991, but the filmmakers on that production opted to go with a different mansion for their version of the story. However, the house used in the remake is only a few blocks away in the same neighborhood at 501 South Hudson (see WEHTBJ? (1991): The Hudson House). This particular house still serves as a private residence and visitors should respect their right to privacy and not trespass on the property.