Who are you calling “Diva?”  

In real life, wrangling with a diva is a blood-boiling lesson in the perils of the high-maintenance personality. On film, though, there is an undeniable deliciousness to watching the diva — at a safe distance.  

Divas are so cutting, so presumptuous, so brash, brassy, demanding, withering, larger than life, full of themselves, and they chew through scenery with cast iron teeth. And, in what might just be a law of nature, it often takes a diva to play a diva. 

The satisfaction of watching drama queens is not only in their bad behavior. The inevitable consequence for Olympic caliber self-centeredness is the true payoff. Yes  there is such a thing as justice!

Here is our round-up of some of cinema’s biggest divas. Read quietly, and try not to annoy them.  

Movie: The Women (1939)

What’s the Setup? Saintly wife loses confused husband to social-climbing salesclerk.

Diva: Crystal

Actress: Joan Crawford

Diva Type: Remorseless Man-Eater

Signature Diva Moves: Double-dealing; smug cackling.

Comeuppance: Public humiliation; charge cards canceled.

Real Life Diva? And how. Just watch her reaction to wire hangers. 

Movie: Mildred Pierce (1945)

What’s the Setup? Uber-bratty daughter tests mother’s love.

Diva: Veda

Actress: Ann Blyth

Diva Type: Rapacious Ingrate

Signature Diva Moves: Sniffing with disgust; shaming self-sacrificing mother.

Comeuppance: Life imprisonment?

Real Life Diva? Impossible, especially compared to co-star Joan, whom we’ve already anointed.

Movie: All About Eve (1950)

What’s the Setup? Aging theatre star falls prey to scheming wannabe.

Diva: Margo Channing

Actress: Bette Davis

Diva Type: Petulant Artiste

Signature Diva Moves: Stamping foot; tossing hair; making others wait.

Comeuppance: Replaced by cunning ingénue.

Real Life Diva? Of course! It’s Bette Davis!


What’s the Setup? Flamboyant aunt teaches orphaned nephew that “life is a banquet.”

Diva: Auntie Mame! (They didn’t call the movie “Nephew Patrick.”)

Actress: Rosalind Russell

Diva Type: The Grand Dame

Signature Diva Moves: Big entrances; riotous parties.

Comeuppance: Are you kidding? Everyone loves Mame! Financial losses (and it gives us no pleasure).

Real Life Diva? Of the nicest kind.

Movie: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

What’s the Setup? Faded showbiz sisters—one an invalid, one unbalanced—live unhappily together in decaying mansion.

Diva: “Baby Jane” Hudson

Actress: Bette Davis

Diva Type: Delusional Menace

Signature Diva Moves: Jealous rages; wearing stage makeup at home; careless with pets.

Comeuppance: Rubber room.

Diva in Real Life? Bette out-divas Joan in the movie; off-screen, it was a much tighter race for diva supremacy.

Movie: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969)

What’s the Setup? Domineering Scottish teacher in 1930s takes group of impressionable girls under her wing and instills unorthodox and destructive ideologies.

Diva: Jean Brodie

Actress: Dame Maggie Smith

Diva Type: Machiavellian School Marm

Signature Diva Moves: Mind control; preening over protégés.

Comeuppance: Disillusioned devotee strikes back.

Real Life Diva? They don’t call her “Dame Maggie” for nothing.

Movie: Chinatown (1974)

What’s the Setup? Private eye falls for testy heiress while trying to solve her husband’s murder.

Diva: Evelyn Mulwray

Actress: Faye Dunaway

Diva Type: Freudian Train Wreck

Signature Diva Moves: Mood swings; fudging the truth.

Comeuppance: Wrong place, wrong time.

Real Life Diva? You betcha. The waves had damn well better part when she takes a swim.

Movie: Diva (1981)

What’s the Setup? Parisian postman and opera lover becomes target of crime boss.

Diva: Cynthia Hawkins, opera singer

Actress: Wilhelmina Wiggins Fernandez

Diva Type: The Real Thing

Signature Diva Moves: Singing arias; refusing to be recorded.

Comeuppance: This diva earns a reward: a stolen dress is returned.

Diva in Real Life? We certainly hope so. It’s part of the job description.

Movie: Postcards From the Edge (1990)

What’s the Setup? Drug-addled actress is forced to live with egomaniacal (and drinking) showbiz legend mom.

Diva: Doris Mann

Actress: Shirley MacLaine

Diva Type: Scene Stealer

Signature Diva Moves: Upstaging own child; crashing car after too many Stoli’s.

Comeuppance: Daughter in rehab.

Real Life Diva? Depends on which life you are talking about. But, in this life, it is Shirley MacLaine, after all. We’re going with "yes."

More:  Hollywood's First and Worst Catfight: Bette Davis vs Joan Crawford