Review: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell

The literary classic that inspired the iconic film – the story of two sisters and the hell they made their home.

Once an acclaimed child star of vaudeville, Baby Jane Hudson performed for adoring crowds before a move to Hollywood thrust her sister, Blanche, into the spotlight. As Blanche’s film career took off, a resentful Jane watched from the shadows as her own career faded into obscurity – until a tragic accident changed everything.

Now, years later, the two sisters live in a decaying mansion, isolated from the outside world. Crippled by the accident, Blanche is helpless under the control of her abusive sister, who is slowly descending into madness. And when Baby Jane decides it’s time to revive her childhood act, she won’t let anything – or anyone – stand in her way.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell. Originally published in 1960. My edition is published by Xanadu Publications, UK, in 1990, for their Blue Murder series of books. 192 pages.

Omg, I just have to start out with how much I freaking LOVE the movie Whatever Happened To Baby Jane! I grew up watching a lot of the old classic horror and sci-fi movies and this movie has always been one of my favorites. I talk about it often and I try to make everyone I know watch it. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are amazing in it. The whole movie has the most uncomfortable, creepy atmosphere. Growing up, I hadn’t paid close enough attention to the credits (what kid does?), and I had never realized the movie was based on a book. When I realized this a few years ago, I knew I needed to get my hands on this book. I was wandering around a thrift store recently that was having a sale, and I saw this book laying there. :O I couldn’t believe my eyes! Of course I snatched it up and went to check out. I could not wait to read it! 😀 I just had to know what all was changed / the same from the book to the movie.

I gotta say…. the movie actually stuck pretty close to the book it was based on. I was kind of surprised. The book goes into a little bit more detail about everything with Edwin, that you don’t really get the feel for in the movie. Also, at the end, there is a little bit more going on with the people who find Jane’s car at the beach. But yeah, over all… it was a pretty close match.

Casting Joan and Bette in the role of the two sisters was a brilliant casting choice. They absolutely nailed these two characters. Especially Bette Davis. She was perfect as Jane. In the book, we actually get to see more of Baby Jane’s perspective and inner thoughts on things. You really get more of a feel for just how much she is spiraling out of control and how much she struggles with what is going on in her head. I really liked getting to see her inner thoughts. It made the story much more suspenseful.

Something else that made this book feel more suspenseful is that a lot of the crazy things Baby Jane did, happened off page.

***SPOILER ALERT***

Like when Jane kills that bird. You never see her with any bird. In the movie, she takes Blanche’s pet bird, so you know something crazy is going to happen to it. But in the book, Blanche doesn’t have a pet bird. She just likes to listen to them out the window. So when Jane brings her that dead bird one day, it is completely out of the blue. No warning, no telegraphed moves. It’s just BAM! Dead bird in your face. If you hadn’t seen the movie first, this had to be a complete HOLY CRAP! moment in the book. UGH! I wish I could have just temporarily block out the whole movie so moments like that wouldn’t have been spoiled! I can just imaging the shocked looks on people’s faces back in the day when this book first came out. 😀 When Jane did most of her really crazy shit, it happened off page and you find out about it afterwards.

Normally I’m not a fan of off page kills / horror, but I felt like in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, it really worked well because it left the crazy behavior ambiguous. You didn’t see it, so your brain didn’t know what could have happened, so it starts coming up with all kinds of wild visuals on it’s own. The author pulled out a lot of subtle mind games like this. It made the story much more suspenseful and It made Jane that much more of an unknown X factor.

Also in the book, you get more of a feel for the two sisters at a young age. You see more of the father pushing and pushing Baby Jane into the spotlight. You also see how angry he gets at Blanche when she interrupts or wants to join in. The author really seems to get the whole crazy parent pushing their children in to stardom for money and fame. The parents sole focus is on the golden child and the other is just ignored. What hope did Jane and Blanche have for a normal life?? Very sad, and as crazy as Jane was… I couldn’t help feeling bad for her. 😦 It’s actually a very sad family story when you stop to think about it.

The author also seems to really get how screwed up former child stars become. Ok, yeah, not all child stars are messed up adults… but… there is a high number of them that are. Judy Garland, Corey Haim and Feldman, all the kids for Different Strokes, Shia Labeouf, Lindsey Lohan just to name a few. And it’s not something new going on in Hollywood. It’s been happening since the start of movies.

I really liked how the book shows this side of child stars growing up and being forgotten or not wanted anymore and how they can or can’t cope with adult life. It was very sad because it’s mostly true. A lot of child stars are forgotten, used by greedy parents or studios, and then tossed away like they don’t matter anymore. It’s psychologically damaging to the actor and I can’t even imagine what kind of inner demons they fight with. Yeah, most former child stars aren’t murdering people or imprisoning relatives (that we know of!! 😮 ), but a lot of them are kinda of not doing so well. I was kind of surprised to see a book from the early 60’s tackling this kind of subject.

I really enjoyed reading Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The movie is great, the book is great. Entertaining, suspenseful, man… I’m so happy I finally read this. More gothic and psychological then just straight up horror? There isn’t a lot of big action, and it’s a slow build up of tension and suspense. That might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I thought it was pretty epic though, and I highly recommend it. 😀

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