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    Not So Hushed

    Posted by Mike Finnegan on

    Schools are still on their summer break, Congress and the President are each taking time off and at this time in 1964, a movie involving major Hollywood stars and top behind-the-camera talent was stopped dead in its tracks by a filming suspension that might have led to its costly cancellation. Already, producer-director Robert Aldrich’s Southern Gothic thriller Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), reuniting Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in another horror tale of lurid family secrets coming to light after their wildly successful What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), had to weather a three-week break in filming, following a month’s worth of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, location shooting, due to Davis’s commitment (reluctant on her part, but compelled by threatened legal action) to complete added scenes on an earlier project, Where Love Has Gone (1964). But when the film, co-written by Baby Jane’s source novelist Henry Farrell and screenwriter Lukas Heller, resumed production in July, it shortly became clear that Crawford was too physically and emotionally stressed or, according to numerous reports through the decades, too professionally disgruntled by her perceived mistreatment at the hands of her co-lead and director to continue. “When shooting was suspended indefinitely on August 4, the production insurance company insisted that either Crawford be replaced or the production cancelled,” historian Alain Silver chronicled in his 1995 What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?: His Life and His Films. “Having ruled out or been turned down by Vivien Leigh, Loretta Young and Barbara Stanwyck [other reports even listed Katharine Hepburn!], Aldrich flew to a remote resort in Switzerland and somehow cajoled Olivia de Havilland, the last acceptable actress, into taking over the part: ‘I spent four terribly difficult days with all the persuasion I could command…. I don’t believe half of the things I said myself, but I knew there was no other place to go. If I came back without de Havilland, we wouldn’t have a picture, because we had gone through all the other people that Fox would live with.’ It’s not surprising that Aldrich himself was briefly hospitalized for exhaustion after shooting was over.” When de Havilland finally decided to play Miriam, a family cousin coming to the aid of faded heiress (and suspected but never convicted murderess) Charlotte when the latter is threatened with property foreclosure, a desperation-clouded August gave way to a hopeful September, when the movie got back on track starting on the 9th and was breathlessly completed in time for a Christmas release, also starring Joseph Cotten, Agnes Moorehead, Cecil Kellaway, William Campbell, Victor Buono, Mary Astor and Bruce Dern. Solid – if not Baby Jane-sized – box-office success and five Academy Award® nominations followed, so thankfully, Charlotte escaped being hushed. Flashing forward 53 years, however, the 101-year-old de Havilland hasn’t herself been hushed either, as she recently filed a multi-claim lawsuit against Fox’s FX Network and Feud: Bette and Joan creator Ryan Murphy for the way she was portrayed (by Catherine Zeta-Jones) and statements “attributed” to her in that recent Emmy®-nominated series covering the relationships between Crawford, Davis and Aldrich on both What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. It’s funny how real-life backstories can sometimes prove juicier than movie melodrama backstories, and you can experience the zing of both via the considerable array of extra features accompanying the memorable and murderous Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.