“Feud: Bette and Joan” stars Susan Sarandon, left, and Jessica Lange.Suzanne Tenner/FX
Ryan Murphy, the producer behind Emmy-winning series “American Horror Story” and “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson,” has a new television series, “Feud: Bette and Joan,” which premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on FX.
The eight-episode series gets into the juicy details of the notorious rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford (played by Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange, respectively) while shooting the 1962 hit horror film, “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
And in doing so, the producers went to great lengths to make sure that the sets were as close to reality as possible.
Heading that huge task was production designer Judy Becker. A Hollywood veteran, Becker’s most recent credits include critically acclaimed films “Joy” and “Carol.”
“It’s an interesting period to design for sure,” Becker told reporters of her decision to take on the job during a recent visit to the “Feud” set in Los Angeles.
“It’s always fun,” she continued, “because we’re doing different worlds and different characters. So this is like a Hollywood world and kind of over-the-top characters, and I haven’t done that to this degree before. So, it was pretty appealing.”
Becker uses all the tools and tricks available to her in order to re-create 1960s Hollywood, from online searches to hiring researchers, perusing prop houses, examining footage, visiting the actual sites, and tapping private collectors.
Here’s an inside look at two Hollywood legends’ lives from the set of “Feud: Bette and Joan”:
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Joan Crawford had very expensive, modern (for that time) Hollywood tastes.
Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford on FX’s “Feud.”Kurt Iswarienko/FX
“Joan lived in this very grand way, which was very fashionable in terms of design,” Becker said of Crawford’s home, which took two months to re-create. “She was really keeping up with the times.”
“She was fashionable, Hollywood fashionable,” she added.
Joan Crawford hired famed interior decorator William Haines to outfit her Brentwood-area, Los Angeles home in Hollywood splendor.
Joan Crawford’s dining room, as recreated on “Feud.”FX
“Joan was very good friends with a well-known decorator of the time, William Haines, who started out as an actor and then became a pretty famous interior designer,” Becker said.
Williams Haines’ furniture would be “a fortune now” if you could find them.
Judy Davis, who played feared Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper, stands in the Joan Crawford living room set of “Feud.”Suzanne Tenner/FX
Becker said that William Haines “designed all the furniture that’s in the living room, the kind of tufted furniture. We made those for the show, but they’re based on his designs, which cost a fortune now if you can find them.”
But that doesn’t mean Joan Crawford wasn’t thrifty and protective of her possessions. For example, she had plastic slipcovers made for her furniture.
Joan Crawford’s living room was re-created in great detail by “Feud” Production Designer Judy Becker.FX
“Joan had all that furniture in her real house, and she also had plastic slipcovers on everything,” Becker said. “For real. I mean, there’s a lot of documentation of it, and my favorite photo is the one of her lying in bed with a plastic slipcover over the bedspread as she lies there. And that photo really exists. We didn’t make it up. So it’s pretty funny.”
“Feud” also captured Joan Crawford’s famed vanity, including re-creating the portrait she had commissioned of her.
“She always had a portrait of herself over the mantel, so we had one made of Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford,” Becker added.
Joan Crawford had an affinity for shades of blue, turquoise, and white in her home.
Jackie Hoffman as Joan Crawford’s longtime maid and personal assistant, Anna Marie Brinke aka “Mamacita.”Kurt Iswarienko/FX
“The color palette, a lot of the blue and the white is pretty close to what she had towards the end of the time she lived in this house,” Becker said.
“I have a huge collection of vintage paint chips and paint charts and paint decks, and I use that to inform the color decisions I make,” explained the production designer. “So that’s a kind of research that I do that I find really helpful. And those colors are kind of different from modern colors, and my painters reproduce them.”
In contrast, Bette Davis’ style was much more understated, which was a reflection of her East Coast roots and desire to be seen as a “serious actress” and not just a celebrity.
Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis on FX’s “Feud.”Kurt Iswarienko/FX
“[Joan Crawford] was really a Hollywood celebrity, and her house is very glamorous,” Becker said. “So that was important to [executive producer Ryan Murphy] and important for the feeling of the show, versus Bette, who lived in a much more kind of East Coast way … So we stressed both of those differences when we were designing their houses and their looks.”
Becker continued, “Bette Davis was from a town outside of Boston, and she went to boarding school on the East Coast. She really was like a Yankee.”
Bette Davis’ L.A. home was much smaller than Joan Crawford’s and reflected a more comfy, darker color palette.
“Mad Men” star Kiernan Shipka played Bette Davis’ daughter, B.D. Hyman, with Davis’ first husband, artist William Grant Sherry.Kurt Iswarienko/FX
“Bette had, for example, in her living room, a braided rug, like a colonial braided rug, and she had this kind of dowdy furniture with these little prints on it,” Becker said. “Browns and greens, and it wasn’t so glamorous.”