So like many fabulous gay men I grew up watching Mommie Dearest, over and over and over again. I watched it with my mother and I watched it with my best friend from Mamma Mia… countless times… in fact I can say with confidence that I know every single word uttered by Miss Faye Dunaway in the entire movie… “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the dirt.”
But something that I am actually embarrassed to say is that it was my only image of Joan Crawford. I had never seen her films, or read her book, I just watched Mommie Dearest and worshipped Faye’s portrayal of her. That became real to me. That was Joan Crawford, and I was fine with that. I also loved Bette Davis, but because I actually loved Dead Ringer and saw a few of her other films, so I knew her for who she was as an actress.
So when Feud was announced I was SO incredibly excited. I do a damn good Bette Davis impersonation so all of my friends wanted to kill me merely days after the show was announced. I watched Baby Jayne, memorized monologues and resurrected a few of my favorite Bette Davis songs and quotes, my “I’ve Written a Letter to Daddy” is better then Susan’s, sorry, but it's true. And I was completely ready to love Bette and not Joan.
So when I began to watch Feud, from the minute it started, I was hooked. Feuds are about pain. Absolutely correct, and of course I would see how horrible Joan was to Bette, cause again, all I knew Joan from was Mommie Dearest, which is incredible, but doesn’t show Joan in the best light. Well imagine my surprise when I fell in LOVE with Joan Crawford thru Jessica Lange.
All the malevolence, the monstrosity, the sharpness, the vindictiveness, the inhumanity was there, but it was also, completely justified. When about to go to the Oscars in Feud, Joan is told by her long time friend that she was “better than this”. I said, “No she’s not.”, right before she said, “No I’m not.” She was a product of her environment, as was Bette. And I have to applaud Ryan Murphy, for showing how Hollywood set these two legendary women up against each other so that their hatred would generate movie magic. As if women couldn’t act hatred, they had to actually hate each other.
It made me think of today, it made me think of Madonna’s speech at Billboard Women in Music 2016, where she begged young women to find female peers and not bring each other down, but lift each other up. I love Ryan Murphy because he always manages to show us that though we have become different as a society, we may not have truly changed at all.
And to Jessica Lange, who I fell in love with in when you got in the tub with your husband in Big Fish, and have adored in everything since. I believe that you have given your finest performance to date. Every single action Joan Crawford took in Feud was completely justified because of how you played her. I felt for her, I feel for her, I bought her book, and I am watching her movies.
As an actor you are taught never to judge your character, as a spiritual being I have learned to always assume responsibility in an argument, and as a gay man I have learned that to defy a stereotype takes an incredible amount of passion. To me, Joan Crawford was Mommie Dearest, a woman easily judged, a person who never accepted responsibility, and a very clear stereotype. But Jessica Lange, through her incredible performance, gave Joan Crawford the heart I never thought she had, and for that I love both women even more.