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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

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by Henry Farrell

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The chilling novel that inspired the iconic film

The neighbors all whisper about the two sisters who live on the hill: It's Blanche Hudson who lives in that house, you know. The Blanche Hudson, who starred in big Hollywood films all those years ago. Such a shame her career ended so early, all because of that accident. They say it was


The chilling novel that inspired the iconic film

The neighbors all whisper about the two sisters who live on the hill: It's Blanche Hudson who lives in that house, you know. The Blanche Hudson, who starred in big Hollywood films all those years ago. Such a shame her career ended so early, all because of that accident. They say it was her sister, Jane, who did it--that she crashed the car because she was drunk. They say that's why she looks after Blanche now, because of the guilt. That's what they say, at least.

Nobody remembers that Jane was once a star herself. A fixture of early vaudeville, Baby Jane Hudson performed her song and dance routines for adoring crowds until a move to Hollywood thrust her sister into the spotlight. Even now, years later, Jane dreams of reviving her act. But as the lines begin to blur between fantasy and reality, past resentments become dangerous--and the sisters' long-kept secrets threaten to destroy them.

Now with three short stories available for the first time in print, including What Ever Happened to Cousin Charlotte, the basis for the film Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Before this tale of two sisters locked in the ultimate sibling rivalry became the hit 1962 movie starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, it was a novel by Farrell (1920–2006) written because he needed a commercial success to pay for his wife’s medical bills. As readers can see from this reissue, the original 1960 novel—about a former vaudevillian child star, Baby Jane Hudson, who torments her wheelchair-bound sister, Blanche, who was once a glamorous movie star—has a deep layer of psychological suspense that’s obscured in the campy film. Farrell delves into Baby Jane’s psyche, showing a woman mourning her childhood success and stymied by her inability to act on her emotional needs. A foreword by Farrell’s literary agent, Mitch Douglas, features gossipy tidbits about the Davis-Crawford rivalry. Three short stories, including the wryly entertaining “What Ever Happened to Charlotte?,” which inspired the film Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, round out the volume. Agent: Mitch Douglas, Mitch Douglas Literary and Theatrical. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Farrell's groundbreaking tale of two elderly sisters caught up in a murderous web has been re-released. This volume includes three additional, never-before-published short stories from the author (1920-2006). Baby Jane Hudson was a child star in the early 1900s. A Shirley Temple type of wunderkind, Baby Jane sang, danced and enthralled audiences all over the world. She was also a tiny terror, holding her family hostage with her bad temper and earning power, tormenting her younger sister, Blanche, and dominating her doting parents. Since then, Blanche has had a sparkling career as a Hollywood star, appearing in dozens of movies and dazzling audiences everywhere. But a terrible accident has forced a change in her lifestyle: She is now a cripple that Jane cares for in the fortresslike atmosphere of the former movie star's once-fashionable home. And Jane is deluded. Although close to 60, she cakes her face with makeup and dresses like a little girl, dreaming of the day when she can once again return to show business. In order to prepare for that day, Jane hires an accompanist and starts practicing for the resumption of her childhood career; but she's also immersed in a deadly game with her dependent sister, making certain that Blanche becomes more and more isolated from the outside world. In the process of ensuring that isolation, Jane resorts to cruel tactics that reinforce her mental instability. Farrell's writing comes across as a bit melodramatic by today's standards, but this ageless and much-emulated tale (turned into a classic film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford) still resonates. The book includes three additional, never-before-published Farrell stories. "Whatever Happened to Cousin Charlotte," the story that birthed the film Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, is another relatives-gone-bad story in the same vein as Jane; "The Debut of Larry Richards," about a successful actor whose path crosses with an actor he has spurned, with disastrous results, tips its hat to the old Twilight Zone television series; and "First, The Egg" provides a fanciful, light look at a romance between a man who finds what he believes to be a dinosaur egg and the woman who loves him, even if she does think he's a bit batty. Farrell's psychological thriller-classic holds up. The bonus stories add value to this edition.

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What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?

By Henry Farrell, Mitch Douglas

Grand Central Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Henry Farrell Mitch Douglas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4555-4675-6



I don't give a hang what Father says. I'm in love with you, Meg. What are all the Standish millions next to an angel like you?"

He was a clean-cut young man with dark lustrous hair combed down close to his head. As he spoke, his companion, the blonde girl with the lovely sooty eyes looked up at him. Her brows, which were no more than thinly penciled crescents, lifted slightly at the inner corners, giving her a look of pained enquiry. An intense moonlight beamed down from somewhere behind, nesting in her platinum hair in a perfect halo. She wore a frock with enormous puffed sleeves of gossamer organdy and a skirt that flared widely from the knees. Music frothed up out of the magic night, as from the very air around them. The tune—their theme—was called "Moonlight on Fifth Avenue."

"But he'll cut you off without a penny. Oh, Jeff, you've never had to work for a living."

The young man, though, now had the strength of his love, and he smiled to show it. "I'll learn to work for you, Meg. I want to. You'll see—you'll be proud of me."

The girl lifted her eyes to his and though they were moist, her face was placid. "But it isn't that simple. You were born to"—her gesture included the alabaster terrace upon which they stood, the mansion in the background, the acres of clipped lawn, the fountains, the two glasses of half-tasted champagne on the balustrade—"to all this. Can you even guess what it's like, living in a cold-water flat?"

"It would be heaven—with you."

"Oh, Jeff, you poor—romantic—fool!"

As "Moonlight on Fifth Avenue" murmured yeastily on, they embraced. The sooty eyes opened wide and then closed, presumably with ecstasy. A saxophone moaned. Violins, a hundred of them, swelled the night with heady vibration. And then, as if banished by the sheer din, the terrace, the mansion and, finally, the lovers themselves faded from view. In their place there appeared a man with a strained smile and circles under his eyes....

"Sorry to break in on this fine feature film, folks, but you'll be glad I did when you see what I have here for that favorite pooch of yours!"

Moving her comfortably expanded bulk forward in her easy chair, Mrs. Bates reached out and turned down the volume. Smiling softly with gentle reminiscence, she looked around at Harriett Palmer seated at the other side of the coffee table on the divan.

"Oh, I remember, when I first saw that picture I thought it was just grand. Claude took me—on a Sunday afternoon." Seeing that Harriett's coffee cup was empty, she rose and picked it up. "It was showing at the old Majestic."

Harriett Palmer smiled pleasantly and nodded. "I think I saw it; I'm not sure. Do you remember when it was made?"

Mrs. Bates paused at the entrance to the hallway. " 'Thirty-four. That's what it said in the program in the paper."

When she returned with the replenished cup, she crossed to Harriett and put it down on the table before her.

"You know, I don't believe I ever missed a Blanche Hudson picture." She glanced back at the set to make sure the commercial was still on. "I was such a fan of hers—right up until the time she had her accident. Oh, do you remember when that happened? I felt so awful it might just as well have been someone in my own family."

Harriett, taking a sip of the coffee, looked up, nodded. "Oh, I know. She was beautiful. I still think so."

Even there in the muted lamplight, the difference between the two women, though they were both in their early fifties, was striking. Mrs. Bates, being undeniably plump both in face and figure seemed somewhat older than Harriett Palmer, who had kept herself stylishly slim. Where Mrs. Bates had let her hair turn a natural steel gray, Harriett had rendered her own a sleek silver blonde. Mrs. Bates wore a loose-fitting house dress with a pattern of pale flowers; Harriett had on a pair of fitted black slacks and a white silk blouse. Mrs. Bates had just moved out west from Fort Madison, Iowa. Harriett Palmer had always been a native of Hollywood, California.

For all of their differences, though, the two women had gotten along famously from the very first day of Mrs. Bates's arrival there on Hillside Terrace. Mrs. Bates, a widow of less than a year, had come to California to be away from all the familiar sights of home which had become only sad reminders of happier days before her husband's death. Harriett Palmer was married to a corporation lawyer who spent a great deal of time out of town. Both of them being somewhat at loose ends, they were grateful for each other's company. As they were doing tonight, they spent a great many of their evenings in Mrs. Bates's comfortable, homey living room watching television.

"Have you ever seen her?" Mrs. Bates asked. "I mean, does she ever show herself outside the house?"

Harriett promptly shook her head. "Not that I know of. Oh, I've seen her from a distance—sure—in the car, when they have to drive somewhere—but not so you could tell what she really looks like. I figure she must be at least fifty by now."

Mrs. Bates smiled with a faint show of hesitation. "You know—I shouldn't tell this on myself—but when I bought this house, the thing that really decided me was when they told me Blanche Hudson lived next door. Isn't that silly—a woman my age? And I haven't had even a glimpse of her."

"Well," Harriett grinned, "it does give the old hill a touch of glamour. There was quite a colony of movie people up here in the old days, but she's the only one left."

Mrs. Bates nodded. "Back in Fort Madison—well, you just didn't ever see any movie stars—not in the flesh." Her gaze went to the row of French doors that comprised, almost totally, the east wall of the room, and to the darkness beyond. The Hudson house, a white, two-story Mediterranean absurdity, loomed in ghostly dimness at the end of the garden. "Can she walk at all?"

"I don't know. I think I heard once that she had partially recovered the use of one leg. But apparently she still has to be in a wheel chair all the time."

Mrs. Bates made a soft clucking sound of sympathy. "I'd love to meet her," she said wistfully. "A real movie star. Sometimes I wonder ..." Her voice trailed off thinly.

"Wonder what?"

"Oh, it's just some more of my silliness." Mrs. Bates turned back to her guest. "I spend so much time out in the garden. Sometimes, I'll be out there and—well, I just wonder if she's watching me——" She broke off, darting her gaze quickly to the television set. "Oh, the picture's on!" Hurrying forward, she turned up the volume again.

The blonde girl and a female companion stood on a busy street corner in front of a cafeteria. As the camera moved in for a medium shot, she consulted her wrist watch, then glanced off anxiously down the street. Her dress was simple but attractive and her hair caught the sunlight, as it had previously caught the light of the moon, in a perfect halo.

The other girl was smaller and stouter. Her face was that of a pouting and somewhat fatigued cherub, making her appearance, at once, comic and sad. Her dark hair was arranged in a profusion of absurd ringlets. Her dress was fussy and tasteless, and she had lavished upon her eyes and mouth far too much make- up. As the blonde girl turned to her, she made her eyes wide and foolish in an obvious striving for humorous effect.

"If they don't show up soon," the blonde girl said, "I guess we just aren't going to get fed."

The brunette nodded vigorously. "You said a mouthful. We've got to be back at the office in twenty minutes."

"Well—let's give them five more minutes—and then we'll just go ahead."

"Sure. Besides—when it's Dutch treat who needs a man anyway?"

Harriett sat sharply forward, pointing at the screen. "That's her!" she said. "The other one, I mean—there!—the sister."

Mrs. Bates stared in blank confusion. "That dark girl?" she asked.

"Yes. Don't you remember? It was in Blanche's contract that they had to use her sister in all of her pictures. I forgot until just now. They used it in all of her publicity."

"Oh, yes! Yes, I do remember now. But I never knew which one was her. For heaven's sake! Have you met her?"

"Her?" Harriett looked around with loftily raised brows. "You just don't meet her. She's very funny—strange—everyone says so." She sighed. "Sometimes I wonder about the two of them over there in that big old house all alone. They don't ever seem to do anything—or have anyone in for company. It must be awful...."

Mrs. Bates looked again toward the French doors and the night beyond. "It's nice, though, that she's stayed and taken care of Blanche all these years. She must be a nice person to do a thing like that."

"Well, maybe," Harriett said darkly, "and maybe not. They say she had something to do with that accident, you know."

Mrs. Bates looked around sharply. "She did? The accident where Blanche got hurt?"

Harriett nodded. "There was some story around at the time about how it happened. I forget now exactly what it was, but she was supposed to be responsible."

"Oh—how could she have been? It was just a plain automobile accident, wasn't it?"

Harriett waved a hand in light dismissal. "Oh, there's always talk. Around this town, there is. You can't really tell what to believe."

Mrs. Bates nodded thoughtfully. "I've forgotten," she said; "what's her name? You told me once, didn't you?"

"Jane?" Harriett asked. "Her name's Jane. She was famous, too, I understand, way back when she was just a little girl. Maybe you remember hearing about her—they called her Baby Jane Hudson."

"There they are." The clean-cut young man, dressed now in workman's clothes pointed ahead up the street. "Come on, Mac."

The other young man, fat and jolly-looking, glanced ahead and frowned. "Which one's Gertie? No, don't tell me. I know already."

A reverse shot showed the blonde girl and the brunette as they looked up, saw the men and smiled in greeting. The camera then returned to the men. The fat man shook his head.

"Boy, is that Meg some dish! No wonder you're ga-ga over her."

And then the four of them met. In a close shot the blonde girl and the young man grinned at each other in vigorous noonday ecstasy. The fat man held his arm out to the brunette in an exaggerated gesture of gallantry.

"Ready to tie on the feed bag, Gorgeous?"

The brunette giggled and looked up at him with broad archness. "Okey-dokey, Slim," she said, linking her arm through his. "Don't mind if I do."

The blonde girl with the sooty eyes, looking up at the clean-cut young man with mute adoration, put her hand in his, and together they looked after their retreating friends and smiled.

The girl on the screen smiled, and there in the dimness the woman huddled in the wheel chair at the far side of the room seemed, for a moment, close on the verge of tears. Blanche Hudson, her gaze held fast to the flickering screen in a kind of intense wonder, moved one taut, tapering hand to the collar of her light, rose-colored robe and held it there, palm outward, as if in a gesture of defense.

Moonlight on Fifth Avenue was the third of the old movies Blanche had seen within just the last month, and with each of them she had been left feeling, somehow, a bit more decimated. An invalid for more than twenty years now, loathing increasingly the helpless, wasted old woman she had become, she had begun to believe in the legend of what she had once been on the screen. She had begun to believe in the glamour, the charm, the magic that was said to have once been hers. For a long, long time now she had managed to warm herself by this bright image, to hug it close to her where its radiance might reach the spreading chill inside.

Now she saw that it had been a mistake, watching the old movies. They had brought with them a sad disillusionment that, in its own way, had been a kind of dying. Twenty-five years ago, Moonlight on Fifth Avenue had made a fortune almost purely on the strength of her name. Gazing now at the preposterous, posturing creature on the screen, Blanche found it hard to believe. What she did see—and this with stinging clarity—was that through all these years her sole defense against empty reality had been simply hollow illusion.

And yet she had needed the illusion, for it had sustained her. And she needed it still. Anything was preferable to the stark reality of her present existence.

Reality was crowded so close to her here in this room. It was the large hulking bed there in the shadows, and the wheel chair, and the invalid's lifting bar, suspended by chains from the ceiling above the bed. And the bedside table filled with medications. And the writing desk before which there had stood no chair for more than twenty years. That was reality, that and the stale-sweet smell of her own invalidism, which made her think of fallen leaves rotting slowly and hideously in some dank, sunless place. Blanche sighed, and hearing herself sigh, looked around in sudden apprehension at the dark, squat figure seated dimly at her side.

Distracted by her own unhappy speculations, she had quite forgotten she was not alone. Turning now, she looked obliquely at the face of the woman beside her, a face both revealed and obscured by the shadowing dimness. The large, dark eyes, intent upon the images on the screen, were half closed, narrowed really, as upon some intense inner observation. The contours of the face, underscored by the shadows, seemed not so much softened with age as swollen by it, so that the sagging flesh threatened, greedily, to swallow up the once pert and childlike features embedded within its folds. But there was more there, too, more than mere age and some dark fledgling thought. There was a fever in the narrowed, watching eyes, and in the face there was a kind of angry justification.

A justification, though, for what? Taking her gaze, by force, from Jane's face, Blanche made herself look back in the direction of the screen. Very likely it was all just in her imagination; she was attributing to Jane's attitudes and expressions sinister depths which they did not possess. It was like that when you were too much alone; you became oversensitive and you had to be careful not to let your mind play you tricks.

Jane's moods were nothing new, nor were they a cause for alarm. Jane was simply in the first phase of one of her periodical "spells." They always started the same way, with the abrupt withdrawal into sullen silence, the dark, furtive glances and the sudden bright stares of angry defiance. There would be, perhaps, an emotional outburst and then, toward the end, the drinking. Blanche had, years before, accurately catalogued, in her own mind, the pattern of Jane's spells; they contained no surprises for her now. She understood them. She knew their root. She was used to them.

But then why did she seem to detect in Jane's present lapse some special character that set it apart from the others and made it, even in its beginnings, somehow more disturbing? Blanche again lifted her hand to the neck of her robe, this time pulling the opening more tightly closed. Before, she thought, there had always been that marked edge of wary defiance in Jane's behavior, but this time it was lacking and in its place was something more measured, a kind of purposefulness, it seemed, as if ... Blanche brought her hand down flatly onto the arm of her chair. She had to stop this sort of thinking instantly. She was simply using her imagination to dodge the real truth of the matter; Jane's upset this time was nobody's fault but Blanche's own.

She should have been stronger. She should have resisted the desire—the compulsion, really—to see herself again on the screen. Somewhere at the back of her mind she had known all along that the old films could only bring trouble. She should never have watched them herself and most certainly she should never have let Jane watch them.

Still she couldn't help wondering what thoughts stirred behind Jane's level, hooded eyes. The old jealousy was there no doubt, the old smoldering envy that, through the years, had only slumbered and never, never really died.

Once, during one of Jane's drinking bouts, Blanche had seen clearly the face of Jane's jealousy, and it had been ugly beyond forgetting. Even now it came back to her at times, the dark vision of Jane standing there in the doorway clutching the frame for support, making the air between them alive and hideous with her slurred words of anger.


Excerpted from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell, Mitch Douglas. Copyright © 2013 Henry Farrell Mitch Douglas. Excerpted by permission of Grand Central Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Henry Farrell was a novelist and screenwriter. His most well-known work was the acclaimed gothic horror novel WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, which was first released in 1960 and later adapted into a film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. Mr. Farrell passed away in 2006.

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