March 6, 2017
The list of film references for Feud: Bette and Joan reads like a Hollywood history master class. They range from Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Lady in a Cage, Sudden Fear, and All About Eve to What Happened to Baby Jane? The series centers on the backstage battle between the two legendary actresses Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange), exploring issues of sexism, ageism, and misogyny in the golden age of Hollywood. “We had to recreate a lot of these classic movies frame by frame within our show… with Jessica and Susan having twenty-five to thirty changes per episode,” says Costume Designer Lou Eyrich.
In addition to film references, Eyrich used details from principal sources such as Joan Crawford’s autobiography My Way of Life. She also culled the experiences of show developer and producer Ryan Murphy who had a written correspondence with Bette Davis, which culminated in a single meeting before the actress’ death.
Finding a silhouette that defined each of the two iconic figures was a matter of painstaking research and development. Eyrich explains, “Bette was a little more carefree in her dressing and she also had bigger chest. She would belt the waist, so she would look a little bit heavier on top. Also, she wore lower heels and flats. Joan wore a lot of shift dresses and ensembles. She always had matching jewelry, like a big necklace with earrings, and often wore coordinating shoes.” Eyrich chose to heighten the hues and used a Technicolor palette for not only the leads, but for the background as well. “At the time, TV and movies were going from black and white to color, and that vibrancy just pops off the screen,” she explains, “That’s what we were going for.”
Eyrich found the project was all the more challenging due to the pace of production. “I had a killer department and we found the fun in it, but we were shooting at such a breakneck speed.” The dedication and commitment of the entire cast was an inspiration. The star-studded series also features Kathy Bates Judy Davis, Sarah Paulson, Alfred Molina, Stanley Tucci, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. “They all came in so willing to go the distance to portray their character—it was really a treat.”
Feud is on FX, Sundays at 10 p.m.