9 Famous Classic Hollywood Feuds

Laura Grande | March 5th, 2017

There’s no denying that Hollywood has had its fair share of, shall we say, irreconcilable differences. Here, some of most famous feuds to come out of Tinseltown.

Bette Davis vs. Joan Crawford

 

Davis-Crawford

What list of rivalries would be complete without these two veterans of the screen? Their rivalry reportedly began in 1935 when Davis was filming Dangerous, the movie that would eventually earn her an Oscar. Her costar was the dapper Franchot Tone, a man whom Davis reportedly fell in love with almost immediately. Davis was on cloud nine—for a little while, at least.

Enter: Joan Crawford. The statuesque beauty—she of the famous arched brows—also had her eye on Tone and seduced the actor even though she knew he was attached to Davis. Tone was easily persuaded. The two embarked on a whirlwind affair that culminated in their marriage that same year. Soon after news of the wedding got out, Crawford sniffed, “Poor Bette. She looks like she’s never had a happy day, or night, in her life.” Although the marriage was short-lived (the couple divorced in 1939), the damage was done. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The rivalry came to a head when, in 1962, both women signed on to star in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? The two stars went out of their way to make the other miserable—and each succeeded in their own way. In one scene, where Davis has to drag Crawford by the shoulders, Crawford filled her pockets with rocks so Davis would strain her back. Davis, in turn, allegedly kicked Crawford in the head during a particularly violent scene.

When Davis received an Oscar nomination for her performance and Crawford didn’t, Crawford went out of her way to ensure a spot on the podium by personally phoning the other four Best Actress nominees, convincing them to let her accept their award on their behalf. Surprisingly, they all agreed.

When Anne Bancroft ultimately beat out Davis for her role in Miracle Worker, Crawford swept across the stage, looking radiant, to accept Bancroft’s award while Davis silently seethed in her seat. Watch Crawford hijack the podium below.

When Crawford passed away in 1977, Davis didn’t lament the years they’d spent feuding. Davis told a reporter at the time, “You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”

Next: Debbie Reynolds vs. Elizabeth Taylor

Debbie Reynolds vs. Elizabeth Taylor

 

Reynolds-Taylor

In similar fashion to what originally transpired between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, the feud between Debbie Reynolds and Elizabeth Taylor began with an illicit affair.

Reynolds married the dashing Eddie Fisher in 1955 and the couple had two children together, Carrie and Todd Fisher. But the seemingly idyllic marriage was suddenly torn apart in the tabloids when news broke that Fisher had engaged in an affair with Elizabeth Taylor, a close family friend. In fact, it all started shortly after the death of Taylor’s third husband, Mike Todd, in a plane crash. Fisher had moved in with the grieving widow to provide comfort while Reynolds took care of Taylors’ children at the Fisher home. Reynolds was none the wiser to the affair between her husband and close friend that shortly followed.

“We were friends for years and years,” Reynolds told People magazine in 2015. “But we had a lapse of time when she took Eddie to live with her because she liked him, too. She liked him well enough to take him without an invitation!” (Eddie Fisher died in 2010 at age 82. Elizabeth Taylor passed away the following year at 79. Debbie Reynolds died in 2016 at 84).

The highly-publicized split shocked fans from across the globe: Fisher was painted as a cad who thoughtlessly abandoned his wife and two young children, while Taylor was labelled a “homewrecker.” Reynolds filed for divorce in 1959.

Reynolds and Taylor eventually buried the hatchet in the 1970s when the two were coincidentally on the same cruise ship together. Reynolds, ever vocal about the rift, told Access Hollywood in 2013 how the reconciliation happened. “She [Taylor] sent a note to me and I sent a note to her to say, ‘Let’s just forget about it.’ She was married to Richard Burton [at the time] and I was married to Harry Karl.”

The two rekindled their friendship, keeping in touch until Taylor’s death. In fact, Liz left parting gifts for Reynolds in her will—a sapphire bracelet, necklace and earrings. Reynolds often referred to Taylor as her “dear friend” and has spoken out about her visits to Taylor’s house as her health deteriorated.

Next: Dean Martin vs. Jerry Lewis

Dean Martin vs. Jerry Lewis

 

Martin-Lewis

Considered one of the best comedic duos of all time, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis dazzled audiences with their hilarious schtick for a decade (1946 to 1956). After numerous TV appearances, comedy tours and 16 feature films, the two went their separate ways.

The reason for the split is attributed to a variety of separate incidents. There’s speculation that Lewis thought himself the “bigger star” and pushed for changes in their routine that Martin didn’t support. For his part, Martin professed he was tired of playing second fiddle to Lewis’ vastly more interesting film characterizations.

When Look magazine photographed the two of them for a multiple-page spread, the cover of the issue that hit newsstands had Martin cropped out, leaving Lewis front and centre. Martin eventually ended their professional relationship shortly after the Look debacle, claiming Lewis was more interested in the monetary gain of their lucrative partnership, as opposed to the actual art.

While creative differences have been cited as the cause, some insiders suggest Lewis and his wife didn’t approve of Martin’s wife, Jeanne. The reason: The Lewis’ had been fond of Martin’s ex-wife, Patti, and didn’t take kindly to the new woman in Martin’s life.

In the end, there was never an official reconciliation between the two former friends.

Next: Vivian Vance vs. William Frawley

Vivian Vance vs. William Frawley

 

Vance-Frawley

It’s a testament to the talents of Vivian Vance and William Frawley that fans of the beloved series, I Love Lucy, never knew the costars despised one another in real life. Like, despised one another. (Italics absolutely necessary.)

It started off innocently enough: Vance, only 39 at the time she was cast as Lucy’s best pal, Ethel Mertz, objected to the fact that the role of her wise-cracking husband, Fred, would be played by 64-year-old William Frawley. Vance still considered herself young and glamorous and resented the fact that her husband would be portrayed by a man old enough to be her father. “It really bothered her,” said Greg Oppenheimer, son of Jess Oppenheimer, Lucy‘s producer and head writer. “She told people, ‘How will anyone believe I’m married to that old man?'”

When Frawley got wind of Vance’s comment he was offended, to say the least. Relations between the pair quickly went south from there. Frawley openly referred to Vance as a “bitch” on set—and, according to sources, that was one of his…let’s say, friendlier…epithets for his costar.

Vance later claimed she dreaded scenes that required her to be in bed next to Frawley or kiss him. It got to the point where, if the script called for a kiss, Vance would simply kiss the air near Frawley (as evidenced in the episode “Equal Rights”).

For all nine years I Love Lucy was on air, Vance and Frawley never reconciled their oft-publicized differences. And the two couldn’t have been more dissimilar: Vance, ever the consummate professional, tried not to bring attention to her distain for Frawley. Her costar, however, was quite different on set. Frawley refused to memorize lines (he thought he had too many) and would tear out pages from his script that didn’t contain his scenes.

Although the rift between the screen couple disappointed some of Lucy‘s more ardent fans, others felt that their animosity toward one another only served to enrich their performances. When Fred and Ethel argued and mercilessly teased one another, you truly believed them. Now we know why.

Next: Olivia de Havilland vs. Joan Fontaine

Olivia de Havilland vs. Joan Fontaine

 

deHavilland-Fontaine

Born only a year apart (de Havilland in 1916, Fontaine in 1917), these famous siblings got off the wrong foot right from the start. The squabbling sisters fought throughout their childhood, their rivalry aided and abetted by their mother who clearly favoured Olivia—which led Joan to lash out.

However, their resentment for one another reached new levels when both entered the world of film. Alfred Hitchcock’s screen adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca was one of the most sought after productions of 1941, with many of cinema’s top leading ladies vying for the role. Naturally, both de Havilland and Fontaine (her stage name, taken from their step-father) wanted the part.

The eventual Best Picture winner ultimately featured Fontaine in the lead role, much to de Havilland’s dismay. More salt was added to the wound when, in 1942, Fontaine won an Oscar for her role in Suspicion, another Hitchcock feature. De Havilland, who was also nominated that year for Hold Back the Dawn, could only watch helplessly as her younger sister accepted the award.

De Havilland was vindicated with her 1946 Oscar win for To Each His Own; however the moment was dampened by the fact that the award was presented by Fontaine. When de Havilland reached the podium she barely acknowledged her sister. By 1975, the sisters were officially not on speaking terms. Much of their rivalry, and the reasons behind it, was kept under wraps until the publication of Charles Higham’s 1987 biography, Sisters: The Story of Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine. De Havilland, who turned 100 this year, was reportedly in shock when she learned of Joan’s death at 96 in 2013. Although they hadn’t spoken in years, de Havilland issued a statement about her sister’s passing: “I was shocked and saddened to learn of the passing of my sister, Joan Fontaine, and my niece, Deborah, and I appreciate the many kind expressions of sympathy that we have received.”

Next: Marlon Brando vs. Frank Sinatra

Marlon Brando vs. Frank Sinatra

 

Brando-Sinatra

Frank Sinatra had his fair share of contentious relationships with quite a few of Hollywood’s elite. One of his lesser-known feuds was with Marlon Brando.

When Brando won an Oscar in 1954 for his iconic performance as Terry Malloy in Elia Kazan’s masterpiece, On the Waterfront, Sinatra voiced his disapproval over Brando’s trip to the podium. According to Sinatra, he’d long coveted the role of Terry Malloy and was more than displeased when he was passed over for the actor he not-so-affectionaly referred to as “Mumbles” and “the world’s most overrated actor.” He even scoffed at the notion of actors utilizing the Method acting technique like Brando did for his roles, preferring spontaneity over exhaustive research and multiple takes.

When the two were both slated to appear together in the musical Guys and Dolls the following year, Sinatra was livid when he found out that Brando was cast as Sky Masterson, the romantic lead. Brando extended an olive branch to Sinatra, asking the crooner if he’d be willing to help him with his singing and dancing scenes since, Brando fully acknowledged, he had no real talent for either. Sinatra outright refused, saying he didn’t go for that “Method crap.”

After that exchange, the two only communicated through second parties and the cast and crew were ultimately divided, with everyone picking a side. Brando, who knew Sinatra liked to breeze through films by doing only one take per scene, made sure he tested Sinatra’s patience by insisting on multiple takes for each scene as part of his acting technique. Toward the end of filming Brando was allegedly jumped by two unseen thugs he later said he believed were associates of Sinatra’s Mafia connections. However, the incident left him shaken enough that Brando never spoke about Sinatra in interviews again.

Next: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

 

Astaire-Rogers

In her autobiography, dancing queen Ginger Rogers gave a detailed account of the incident that likely sparked the feud between herself and on-screen partner, Fred Astaire. It was during filming of 1935’s Top Hat, and Rogers requested that costumer designer Bernard Newman make her a blue dress, “like the blue you find in paintings of Monet…with myriads of ostrich feathers.” She was thrilled with the end result and excited to rehearse her dance sequence in it when the film’s director, Mark Sandrich, suggested she wear a simple white gown instead. Rogers seethed—she knew the request came not from her director, but from Astaire. When Rogers threatened to walk off the set, Sandrich caved and let her rehearse in the blue gown.

However, as Astaire twirled Rogers, the ostrich feathers started to fly through the air and attach themselves to Astaire’s clothing. He vented his frustration, but the dress remained in the film. Rogers claimed the anecdote had been blown out of proportion over the years, while Astaire said he’d jokingly created alternative lyrics to the smash tune “Cheek to Cheek”: “Feathers, I hate feathers/And I hate them so that I can hardly speak/And I never find the happiness that I seek/With those chicken feathers dancing cheek to cheek.”

Despite the fact that Astaire downplayed the incident, it was well-known in Hollywood of his perfectionist behaviour and had little issue with putting his foot down when he thought he was right about something. He would also famously point out script flaws or request rewrites, sometimes even well into filming.

Astaire and Rogers never publicly confirmed that there was an ongoing rivalry between them, but little hints of it would emerge during interviews, especially when Rogers took issue with the fact that her contributions to their films were often overlooked. She always ensured reporters that she had just as much script and dance input as her costar.

Astaire’s biographer Michael Freedland confirmed the rivalry. He noted that Astaire once said to him, “Oh, Ginger! She always wanted to be boss.” Although that may not seem like much, consider that Astaire was often referred to as the First Gentleman of Hollywood. The look on his face when he said it, Freedman noted, told the whole truth. He even interviewed Rogers for the book and when he dared bring up “Astaire-Rogers,” she icily responded, “You mean Rogers-Astaire.”

After nine films together, the pair called it quits never fully admitting the resentment they harboured for one another. “To say that we hated each other was nonsense,” Astaire once said. But when asked if he and Rogers liked each other, he simply said, “We worked together. That’s all.”

Next: Abbott vs. Costello

Abbott vs. Costello

 

AbbottCostello

William “Bud” Abbott (left) and Lou Costello soared to fame with their comedy routines in the 1940s and early 1950s. The pair covered all platforms, performing on stage, radio, film and TV, and quickly becoming a household name.

However, their working relationship with fraught with tensions, both professionally and in terms of their respective health woes. Both heavy gamblers, they also endured dramatic bouts with illness: Abbott had epilepsy and often turned to alcohol to ease the pain. Costello, on the other hand, suffered frequent, near-fatal bouts with rheumatic fever.

In 1945, Costello publicly accused Abbott of being a drunk. Many guessed that the comment stemmed from a recent spat the pair had over a maid Abbott had hired (the same one the Costello family had fired). Costello threatened to dissolve their partnership over the issue, but was eventually talked out of it by their agent.

Things only escalated from there and the two stopped speaking to one another unless they were performing together. Despite their enforced silence off-stage, the two continued to perform together until 1957 when Abbott retired.

Next: Cybill Shepherd vs. Bruce Willis

Cybill Shepherd vs. Bruce Willis

 

Shepherd-Willis

When she was cast in ABC’s Moonlighting (1985-1989), Cybill Shepherd was under the impression that she’d be the star of the show. Already a screen vet, Shepherd was a well-known figure in Hollywood. However, no one was prepared for her charismatic costar—a then-unknown Bruce Willis. He instantly became an audience favourite, effectively relegating Shepherd to a secondary role.

Shepherd accused the writers of capitalizing on Willis’ popularity by making his character infinitely more appealing and heroic, while her on-screen alter ego became increasingly “shrewish.” When Shepherd revealed she was pregnant, the writers scrambled to write it into the show, having Maddie Hayes and David Addison hook up. After the scenes were shot, Willis complained that they lacked sexual tension and that he thought the premise of the show was destroyed by the decision.

By the time Willis was cast in his breakout film, Die Hard (1988), the costars were no longer on speaking terms and requested that they film their scenes separately, where possible.