9 Famous Classic Hollywood Feuds
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
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.
Debbie Reynolds vs. Elizabeth 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).
Dean Martin vs. Jerry 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.
Vivian Vance vs. William 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.
Olivia de Havilland vs. Joan 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.
Marlon Brando vs. Frank 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.
Fred Astaire and Ginger 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.
Abbott vs. Costello
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.
Cybill Shepherd vs. Bruce 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.