Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

by KEM Huntley

“Want to see it again little girl? It shouldn’t frighten you.” The opening scene of a crying Jack in the Box toy forebodes the strangeness yet to come.

Director Robert Aldrich and writer Lukas Heller’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (based on a novel by Henry Farrell), is classic horror saved from camp by its fine performances. The story of sibling rivalry gone mad necessitates the highly wrought performances from its lead actresses, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The sparse supporting cast play their individual parts with enough verve to make them memorable, yet with the restraint required to allow two of Hollywood’s Grande Dames fued.

In 1917, Baby Jane Hudson (main character) is a wildly popular child song and dance act on the vaudeville circuit. Tyrannical behind the scenes, her heart belongs to daddy and her earnings support the show business family. “I want an ice cream. . . . I want it! I make the money so I can have what I want.”

Mother understands (overall story consequence) Jane’s stardom will be short lived, and the real talent lies in big sister Blanche (impact character).

MOTHER

You’re the lucky one Blanche, really you are. Someday it’s going to be you that’s getting all the attention (impact character benchmark-future). And when that happens, I want you to try to be kinder to Jane and your father than they are to you now. . . . I hope you’ll try and remember that (overall story dividend-memory).

Bitterly, Blanche replies: “I won’t forget. You bet I won’t forget!”

Cut to 1935. Baby Jane is a B movie actress.  Blanche, “the biggest thing in movies today.” Blanche has the clout to insist (impact character unique ability-interdiction) Jane receive film work—much to the chagrin of the industry:

PROJECTIONIST 1

When the old man hired the Hudson sisters, how come he had to hire the back end of the act too? Boy, what a no-talent broad that Baby Jane is.

PROJECTIONIST 2

Why can’t she stay sober?

Later, a studio head remarks: “She [Blanche] ought to have sense (relationship story thematic issue) enough to know that she can’t make a star out of Baby Jane again.”

Up to this point, enough information is given to provide backstory for the sisters’ twisted relationship. The next scene is an automobile pulling up to the Hudson residence—one sister opens the gate, the other attempts to run her down (story driver-action). A shriek and a sob and the credits open the film to present day.

Blanche is bound physically to a wheelchair (impact character domain-universe); Jane bound emotionally to her sister by guilt (relationship story domain-physics). They live as recluses with intermittent household help. Nosy Parker neighbor comments: “How come we never see her [Blanche] around? We’ve been living next door (overall thematic issue-situation) for six months now, and the only one I ever see is that fat sister slouching around. Don’t they ever have company? . . . Julie says that sister is kind of peculiar (main character thematic issue-suspicion). . . she’s supposed to be (overall problem-perception) responsible for the accident that crippled her sister Blanche.”

The local television station is broadcasting (impact character signpost 1-present) Blanche’s classic films (impact character concern-past), an event that pleases her, yet raises Jane’s ire (relationship story symptom-self-aware; overall story catalyst-circumstances). A vitriolic alcoholic (overall story symptom-chaos), Jane’s increasing jealousy (main character benchmark-subconscious) and strange behavior (overall story domain-psychology) is cause for Elvira, the Hudson’s’ housekeeper, to prod Blanche to sell the house and conceptualize (overall story goal) a way to put Jane “where they can look after her properly.”

BLANCHE

We’ll probably have to sell the house.

JANE

When did our business manager tell you all this?

BLANCHE

Early last week, I think.

JANE

. . . Oh you’re a liar. You’re just a liar! You always were (impact character solution-actuality). . . . Don’t you think I know everything that goes on in this house (relationship story response-aware)? . . . Blanche, you aren’t ever going to sell this house (relationship story inhibitor-destiny).

Jane, furious, disconnects Blanche’s bedroom telephone (relationship story thematic issue-senses) and serves up a dead pet bird for lunch.

Determined (main character domain-mind) to make a comeback (main character critical flaw-sense of self), Jane places an ad in the personals to hire a musical accompanist. She equivocates to Elvira to keep her out of the way—and away from interfering with Blanche:

JANE

You can have the whole day off.

ELVIRA

Well thanks, but does . . . Miss Blanche know about my taking the day off?

JANE

Oh sure, she knows (overall story inhibitor-falsehood).

Jane receives her gentleman caller garishly made up and dressed in ghastly Baby Jane apparel. Edwin, a musician and mama’s boy, is a bit of a con artist (overall story signpost 3-being). Financial circumstances (overall story catalyst) have compelled him to answer Jane’s ad. He overlooks Jane’s bizarre behavior-intent on following his own agenda (overall story concern-psychology).

JANE

I’m Baby Jane Hudson.

EDWIN

(Taken aback. He obviously has no clue who she is. He makes a quick recovery.)

Oh. Do you mean you’re really the Baby Jane Hudson?

JANE

Yes I am. And I’m going to revive my act exactly as I used to do it. Of course some of the arrangements will have to be brought up to date. Music changes (main character problem) so much, doesn’t it? . . . There are a lot of people who remember me (main character concern-memory). Lots of them.

While Jane is out with Edwin, Blanche crawls downstairs to telephone the doctor. Jane catches her in the act, overhearing Blanche inform Dr. Shelby her sister is “emotionally disturbed.” Jane calls him back, impersonating Blanche (main character approach-be-er), to put the doctor’s mind at ease (overall outcome-failure).

The women’s relationship deteriorates further when Jane bashes Elvira over the head. Jane trusses Blanche up and gags her mouth (relationship story thematic issue-senses). Blanche’s last link to humanity is Edwin. Now a frequent visitor, his mother’s recounting of the Hudson sisters’ scandal does not deter him from playing along with Baby Jane. Once he (overall solution) sees Blanche, dying from dehydration and starvation, he runs out (overall symptom-chaos), a weak, drunk, and frightened man.

(Or was it the lifelike, genuine Baby Jane doll that scared him off?)

Jane believes “he’s gone to tell” (main character thematic counterpoint-evidence) and bundles Blanche off into the car—heading for the beach (relationship story signpost 4-doing). Lying on the sand, near death, Blanche confesses to Jane (impact character resolve-change):

BLANCHE

Jane, I made you waste your whole life thinking you’d crippled me (relationship story problem-perception). . . . You didn’t do it Jane. I did it myself. Don’t you understand (relationship story concern)? I crippled myself. You weren’t driving that night. . . . You were too drunk. . . . You’d been so cruel to me . . . I wanted to run you down—crush you. But you saw the car coming. I hit the gates. I snapped my spine.

JANE

You mean, all this time we could have been friends? (relationship story solution-actuality)

The police then catch up to insane Baby Jane, dancing on the sand, strawberry ice cream in hand (main character resolve-steadfast; main character judgment-good).

Shine a Light

by Mac Huntley

          The ladies in the front were saved the chairs. They deserved it, they were his ladies. Indy, Mary, Ari, Trish, and Gonzo —- and they all looked beautiful in black. The people behind them consisted of characters. They were all colors, attitudes, styles in the mob. Each had a story with him. Some young like him. Some older. All different. But tonight, they all had the same desire.

          His main mice put it together as promised. Only a friendship like theirs would have a night to knock out all the specs of each one’s posthumous party. His was written with simple interjections: Cardboard coffin. Decorated by his mice. Chairs for my ladies. At night. White Xmas lights. Cliffside. City view. The appropriate Stones’ song. Pay respect with burning matches. Wake amidst the bonfire.

          Jay was emotional. Nicki was overwhelmed. Yauch was antsy. Cas Cas was distraught. Luz laughed. All other mice were fucked up or faded.

          Luz left to set up his “My Best Man Died, Come Rage With Me” rager at the place. As did the mob. The ladies went to do lady things, as the finest creatures do. The three mice stood over the dwindling flame, watching the flicker die. Bottles in hand of course.

          “Fuck.”

          “Fuck.”

          “Fuck.”

          “He has a will.”

          “What?”

          “My brother made a will, for his mice.”

          They all stared at Cas Cas in anticipation. He left momentarily. The moment was filled with very puzzled fucks. Once returned, he proceeded to dole out accordingly. To Nicki, a pen for him to keep writing his senses. To Luz, a blunt for his boy. To Yauch, condoms. Jay got a note. Cas Cas dipped out to seek out his wife for a night of reminiscing tears. His wife was pleasant, and lucky, for Cas Cas was a knight. His homage to his brother was nothing but to love. And love he did.

          The mice headed to Yauch’s nest to get fitted. Well, to get Yauch fitted. The boy needed pomade, cologne, and a couple looks in the mirror to prepare for his homage to the fallen.

          “I. Will. Bang. The. Twins.”

          “What? The Carnegies?”

          “Yes Nick. The fucking Carnegies. My homage to our man will a triumph of debauchery over pure innocence.”

          “A threesome is no triumph, just trouble.”

          “I oppose and I shall disprove you, as always, Jay. Also, tonight your homage should be to get into a little trouble. You know he’d love that. You read the note?”

          “No.”

          “Why?”

          Jay left to get air, or at least play with it.

          “So emotional.”

          “So are you.”

          “We all are. Anyway, what’s your homage Snow? Going to write a novella?”

          “Fuck you. I have no idea. I’m thinking.”

          “Don’t.”

          Yauch was finally clothed and doing the final touches to the hair. His confidence almost a disease at this point. But, it played. It always did.

          “Don’t what?”

          “Don’t think. I’m going to be him for a second. Don’t think. Just do. Because you have nothing but good intentions. You are a bitch. You wouldn’t hurt a bitch either. Let this be your homage. Just go be Nick Snow.”

          “Bitch.”

          “Sometimes I wish you and me had sex just so some cool could rub off on you.”

          The two smiled. One in the bathroom, creating sex appeal. The other on the couch, just being himself. It was going to be a good night.

          They jumped into Oldsmobile, and set off. Jay at the helm. Nicki, shotgun. Yauch spread out in the backseat like the real cat he was. Nicki supplied sounds from the dead man’s playlist. Fucking bittersweet was all that was felt. They parked in their reserved spot on the right side of Luz’s driveway. Reserved physically by Luz, who sat in a beach chair in the spot. Dressed in nothing but a Speedo and a snapback, he greeted them appropriately.

          “What the fuck is up my brethren?! Yauch you look gay. Fuck this. Let’s rage.”

          Luz’s place was another world. Each door led to a different vibe. One to sex. Another to complete and utter heartache of memory. There were drugs. There was alcohol. There were shenanigans, sober and not. There was improvised cooking and desperate treks for the simplest of fast food. Loud, loud music was drowned out by conversation. What really filled up the party were stories. Both from the past, and those that were being written moment by moment in the wake. They took over. So many laughs. So many fucking tears. But, it was beautiful. It was Christmas in July.

          The centerpiece, the crown jewel of the party, was the wheelchair the guest of honor spent in his last days of battle. Luz and others surrounded it with candles and various trinkets.

          The three had split up. Yauch went into lone wolf mode, destined to offend. Nicki was present. He drank, he sang, he lived. With everyone. Jay saw this and felt he was a Rod Serling character. When he and Nick had first met, Jay was the butterfly and Nicki was the wallflower. Roles reversed and Jay was happy. He made appearances. But mostly he pondered. Pondered the note. Pondered the past. Pondered the party. Pondered the night.

          Then she shined.

          She was it. The scratch to the itch. The runner’s high. She is what the insomniac thinks about to sleep. The final sheep. She is beauty. She is beautiful. Her presence orders you to acknowledge it, appreciate it, and realize that you cannot touch it. Her dress was pure. Her eyes piercing. Her movements licentious. And now she was looking right back at him.

          “Fuck.”

          She was quick and composed. Like a ballet dancer.

          “You look like you are in trouble.”

          She also knew just what to say to leave you defenseless. But Luz was louder. No one, nor nothing was. Well balanced atop the sacred wheelchair stood the giant.

          “Everyone. Shut the fuck up. Listen. I have words. I have words for my boy. My compadre. I’m so high. Yes.”

          Silent room with a voluntary pause for the one and only Luz.

          “I wish he was here to burn this house down with me. He would. So. Here is my homage. I love you.”

          A pull of Jack, a spit of flames, and a literal burning house. Classic Luz.

          The moments followed were a flurry. The ones who could handle, handled the small fire. The ones who could be useless, were useless in the best way. But no one was scared. They were all in an understanding, an understanding that life was just fucking awesome and that they got to share with one cool fool. Once everything settled, Jay looked for the lady. As the search grew, his heart forcibly feigned with the unread note burning in his back pocket. Torn between carpe diem and a letter from a friend, he sat. His wallowing was cut short to roars and screams from what seemed like a real jungle. He looked towards the once closed master bedroom to see the twins emerge giggly, and naked. Then a very naked Yauch played a true mouse opposite to the trailing respective boyfriends as he darted and dodged from room to room. Jay looked at Nicki. Nicki back at Jay. And they booked. Each pushed a boyfriend and ran separate ways. Eventually, the three found themselves a block away and in the clear. Jay gave his jacket to Yauch. Yauch used it to be an urban Tarzan. They carefully toed back to see the betrayed were waiting by the Oldsmobile. They turned and walked. A slow contagious laughter was produced by the very crossed Nicki. Soon, Yauch succumbed. Then Jay lost it as well. After a block, the guys were startled.

          “Get in. You idiots.”

          “Bryn. You are a goddess.”

          Yauch hopped in the back, where he found a very comfortable poncho. Nicki jumped in, drunk as fuck. Jay took front. He wish Luz could save him again. He couldn’t, but Yauch did.

          “I miss him. I miss him a lot. You know, before I was this popular provider for female orgasms, I had a girl. And, at the time, so did he. They were Asian. They were stressful. And he and I were the best of friends. One day, when his was at school and mine at work, we purposely left our phones at my house and went to the gas station. We picked up 27’s, Pringles, and fucking slurpees and headed to the mini golf course. We challenged each other round after round. Talking mad shit about each other’s games and our own respective lives. It was one of the most precious moments in my life. It was a moment frozen and time, and I always have it. Take me there Bryn. I’ll sleep there tonight and pour one out for the homie.”

          “I’ll come with.”

          “Hell yea, Nicki. Let me pick up some clothes and a bottle first.”

          “And some In-N-Out.”

          “Of course.”

          The two departed with hugs for the getaway driver and even fiercer hugs for Jay. They were in it together. Yauch humped the air with a tongue licking face to combo while Bryn wasn’t looking. Jay was happy. Then mortified.

          “Let’s go to his park.”

          They went. They played in the kids area. Touched the sky on the swings. Rolled down the tiny, grassy hills. They spoke of their history with the deceased. The many memories that were the sweetest scars now. She spoke of her very recent history with the deceased. He listened, and didn’t think for the first time in a while. But it was what wasn’t said that was ringing in both of their minds. Then she changed that.

          “He was never mine. He belonged to everyone. He was someone’s savior, someone’s something. Always. He was a catalyst, a catalyst for life. He was Vi, everyday.”

          She smiled with clarity.

          “And I was never his. He knew that, before I did.”

          Bryn looked up to the sky with her annoyed smirk and a head shake.

          “I’m sure he’s flipping you off with a smile.”

          “Jake, take me out. Anywhere. Let’s get in trouble.”

          He tried to rationalize. She pecked his cheek. He turned to see her on her way. Before following, and starting his life, he reached into his pocket. He understood the narrator in the “Tell-Tale Heart” more now than he did in class. But, the relation was gone in seconds. The note was simple and sincere, contained cussing, and demanded life. The note was him. So fucking him. And now he was flipping him off with the same fucking smile.

          And he went.