When it comes to female friendships, there’s always “the smart one” and “the pretty one,” and they’re both colossally jealous of each other’s gifts. Or, rather, that’s the damaging stereotype imprinted on us from childhood onward, thanks to books, movies, and every other form of entertainment. If you really want to make your best friend see red, it seems your best options are A) get an extreme makeover, or B) write a book.
Books have been familiar frenemy territory ever since “Old Acquaintance” in 1943, adapted by John Van Druten from his own play. Inspired by the success of her friend Kit (Bette Davis) as a novelist, superficial Millie (Miriam Hopkins) decides that she’ll write a book of her own. However, instead of crashing and burning like you might expect, Millie strikes gold and becomes a best-selling mainstream author practically overnight. Kit’s books might not sell nearly as well, but at least she’s celebrated by the intelligentsia as a true artist, whereas Millie’s accused by one critic as “grinding them out like sausage.” What began as a simple girlhood rivalry blossoms into a nasty feud between two famous authors, even boiling over into violence (see above image).
As you can imagine, the effect on their friendship proves to be fatal. One of the reasons you can imagine it so easily, however, is because the movie’s been remade and ripped off so many times.
For example, 1977′s “The Turning Point” deliciously rehashed many of the same plot points, applied to the world of ballet. However, a bona-fide remake of “Old Acquaintance” was just around the corner — in 1981, Jacqueline Bisset and Candice Bergen starred in “Rich and Famous,” breathing new life into the Davis and Hopkins roles (respectively) and breathing fire at each other.
Whereas the characters in the 1943 film take years to stoke the flames of their mutual hatred, the ladies of “Rich and Famous” are at each other’s throats from the very beginning, but they manage to raise the stakes scene by scene until they achieve their own violent point of no return.
A similar relationship was manufactured for “Death Becomes Her,” in which Goldie Hawn pulls the trigger on both frenemy barrels — she gets an extreme makeover and she writes a book, sending her glamorous nemesis (Meryl Streep) into paroxysms of rage and self-loathing. Unfortunately this results in Hawn also getting both barrels, directly in the guts.
Their problems notwithstanding, the two end up in an afterlife-long web of codependency. That is what’s so fascinating about these relationships: their endurance. These are people you can’t seem to break away from, even if at times it seems as though your life depends on it. People say “friends are the family you choose,” but no one ever warns you how difficult it can be to un-choose them.
While this situation is not unique to women, for some reason we’ve collectively relegated these stories to their territory. The problem comes when we find ourselves acting out what we grew up watching in the movies. When we allow ourselves (and others) to embody certain stereotypes, does it give us permission to cast those closest to us as our opponents? Do we come into the world with a natural predisposition for making frenemies, or are we taught?
Then again, look who’s telling us that everyone is secretly, fantastically, bitterly jealous of writers: writers. Perhaps the whole mess is merely a case of their paranoid egos run amok? Don’t listen to me — I’ve yet to write a novel, so I’m probably just jealous.