What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (novel)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (novel)

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a suspense novel by Henry Farrell published in 1960 by Rinehart & Company. The novel has earned a cult following and has been adapted for the screen twice, in 1962 and 1991.

Plot summary

This gothic story deals with two aging sisters, Jane and Blanche Hudson, who are living alone together in a decaying Hollywood mansion. Jane, a former child star of early Vaudeville known as "Baby Jane," was spoiled, pampered and doted upon by her father due to her success on the stage; her ignored older sister, Blanche, lived in Jane's shadow.

However, their roles were reversed after the death of their parents due to influenza, when both children moved to Los Angeles to live with an aunt. Blanche was favored for her brown hair and regal beauty, and was even encouraged to pursue a film career. Blanche became a star while Jane, whose films were failures, languished in her shadow. Blanche had a clause in her contract stipulating that Jane have a role in every film in which Blanche appeared.

Years later, Jane, a slatternly alcoholic who still dresses as if she were 10 years old, and Blanche, disabled after a mysterious car accident involving Jane, continue to live together in the same mansion in a declining neighborhood. Jane resents having to live in the shadow of her sister (who became more famous than she ever was, and who is now being remembered because of a revival of her films on television), and hates having to cook, clean and care for Blanche. Although stuck upstairs in her bedroom, Blanche has nevertheless managed to keep her good looks, while Jane is now aged and ugly to look upon.

Blanche, whose only other contact with the outside world is cleaning woman Edna Stitt and her telephone conversations with her doctor and attorney, realizes that Jane is becoming increasingly unstable. She calls her lawyer and tells him she is planning to sell. She hears the extension downstairs click.

Jane, who eavesdrops on her sister's calls, believes that Blanche wants to sell the house and have her committed to a mental hospital. When Blanche sees Jane's sinister mood swings beginning, she tries to talk to her sister about her decision. Jane does not listen, however. Jane begins to get even crazier, taking Blanche's phone and making her afraid to eat by serving, first, her dead pet bird on a salad and, later, a large rat from the cellar.

In a drunken daze, Jane decides to revive her childhood singing and dancing act of Baby Jane, reasoning that Fanny Brice had success with Baby Snooks. She then hires a musical accompanist, Edwin Flagg, through a want ad.

As reality topples crazily into eerie fantasy, Jane abuses her sister with monstrous cruelty while embezzling her money to buy liquor and revive her childhood act as "Baby Jane Hudson". Edna comes to find out why Blanche can't be reached on the phone and why Jane won't let her go upstairs to Blanche's room. Opening the door and finding Blanche tied to the bed with her mouth taped shut, she tries to help, but Jane sneaks up and kills Edna with a hammer. That night, Jane dumps the body. A day or two later police officers come questioning Jane about Edna's disappearance, so Jane panics, grabs her barely conscious sister and heads for the location of some of her happiest childhood memories, the beach. It was there some fifty years before that crowds used to gather around and watch Baby Jane practice her songs and dances while Daddy played the banjo. While lying on the beach, Jane plays in the sand while Blanche lies there wrapped in a blanket.

Realizing that she may be dying, Blanche reveals to Jane that it was actually she, and not Jane, who had driven the car on the fateful night. Jane had spent the evening teasing and mimicking Blanche at a party. As Jane unlocked the gates, Blanche tried to run her down with the car, but Jane moved out of the way. The car then slammed into the metal gate, snapping Blanche's spine, crippling her. She managed to crawl out of the car and up to the gate and when the police arrived, they assumed Jane had been driving. Jane had been too drunk to know what had happened and could not refute the accusations. Blanche accepts responsibility for her sister's psychosis and the murder of their housekeeper, even saying that Jane might have been able to move on and have a husband if she hadn't prevented her from seeking psychiatric help in the wake of the crash for fear she would remember what really happened. Jane rushes off to phone the police and get help for Blanche when an officer stops her. She begins to lead them to her dying sister when she becomes aware of the crowd staring at her and falls back into her fog of delusion and begins to dance prettily for the crowd. It is not revealed if Blanche gets help in time to save her life.

See also