Oh, settle in, because this one is a lot. Let's start with some quick background. Joan made her first appearance on screen in 1925, and Bette didn't even move to Hollywood until 1930. In 1933, Bette was finally set to have her name featured above the title in the Warner Brothers movie Ex-Lady. The studio had already planned a massive promotional campaign for the movie, which included an announcement of Bette's new phase of her career. Well, that same day, Joan announced she was divorcing her first husband, and newspapers quickly pushed Bette's announcement to a small box in the corner of the page while Joan's divorce was a multi-page spread in a plethora of newspapers. After only a week of premiering, Bette's movie was dropped from theaters for low ratings.
Thought it couldn't get any worse? Well, let's continue. In 1935, Bette starred in a drama called Dangerous and fell in love with her costar, Franchot Tone. Yeah, you could probably guess that Joan got to him first. She ended up marrying him during the filming of Dangerous, which devastated Bette. In a 1987 interview with Michael Thornton, more than 50 years after the incident, Bette told him, "I have never forgiven her for that, and never will." In Joan's personal biography titled Not the Girl Next Door: Joan Crawford: A Personal Biography, she had this to say about Bette's crush: "Franchot thought Bette was a good actress, but he never thought of her as a woman."
These women went at it for the rest of their lives. In 1943, it's reported that Joan attempted to reconcile by sending Bette gifts and flowers, which fell flat. Then, in 1945, Joan won her first and only Oscar for a role Bette turned down. In 1946, Joan received another Oscar nomination for a role Bette turned down. According to Joan's friend Jerry Asher, in 1950, Bette had suspicions that Joan — who, according to her daughter Christina, was likely bisexual had taken an interest in her, which is why she was probably so antagonistic. He mentioned that Joan used to make jokes like, "Franchot isn't interested in Bette, but I wouldn't mind giving her a poke if I was in the right mood." However, he never knew if she was truly just joking or not.
Somehow, after a previous movie starring the two was scrapped when Bette walked out on it, they finally made it work when Joan convinced Bette to do What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? The beef, of course, continued on set and brought this whole thing to a head. During the filming, there's a scene where Bette's character beats Joan's. Rightfully so, Joan was not down with that and requested a body double, which couldn't be used in closeup shots. So, when Bette's time came, she kicked Jane very, very hard in the head, to the point where it's reported that she needed stitches. Bette said she "barely touched her." Hollywood definitely helped add fuel to the fire by giving Bette the Best Actress Oscar nomination for the movie and paying Joan complete dust. Iconically, though, if anyone won and wasn't present to accept their award, Joan made sure she could be the one to do it. Well, when Best Actress was read and it went to Anne Bancroft, Joan was the one to go on stage and accept it; she even ended up in the official pictures with all of the other winners.
To bring this very long story around, in 1964, Joan walked out on a movie the two were supposed to do together after their last success. In May 1977, Joan died, and Bette died in October 1989. While they spent their lives feuding, Bette did come to Joan's defense when Joan's adoptive daughter wrote a memoir slandering her mother after she had already died. Wildly enough, the two had far more in common than they thought because, after Bette's death, her daughter went on to do the same thing.