As I have watched Bette Davis, what has impressed me most has been her staying power. There is a point in some actors’ careers where they find themselves unable to go further, due to bad press, pressure to compete with younger actors, perhaps even their own expectations and discouragement with aging. Not Bette Davis. She seemed to get better and better. She changed with the times and with age and its limitations, but she always showed up with class.
In her films post-1940’s there were a few stand-outs for me. As we’ve discussed before, All About Eve was released in 1950 and the subject of aging in Hollywood was approached head-on. Check out this scene with Bette and Gary Merrill. She was called paranoid by those around her- but her instinct was spot on. She knew it sooner than everyone about her, but too late to stop it from happening.
Bette as Margo was plotted against by the fair Eve played by Ann Baxter. In a future post, we’ll discuss her fine and insidious attributes. Here, Eve finds a weakness to capitalize on, Margo’s friend Karen
In 1955 Bette starred in The Virgin Queen. Many say that her portrayal of Elizabeth I was the best portrayal of the queen then or since. It was her second time portraying Elizabeth. The first was very compelling, here with Errol Flynn as the Earl of Essex and Olivia de Havilland in The Private lives of Elizabeth and Essex.
When it was suggested that Bette be cast with Joan Crawford in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (1962), Jack L. Warner, head of Warner Studios said, “I wouldn’t give a plugged nickel for either of those two old broads.”*
What a lady. She could deliver any line with precision. She was quoted as having said, “If you want a thing well done, get a couple of old broads to do it.*
In 1983 began a stretch of poor health for Bette, a series of strokes and a mastectomy. I expected that to be the beginning of the end of her Hollywood story. But Miss Davis wasn’t a lady to sit around. She dressed well, spoke properly and continued to go out and do talk shows and continued to act up until she died in 1989. During her convalescence, when forced to be at home, she wrote an interesting book that I have on my shelf, This ‘n That.
It was not the tell-all book her publishers expected it to be. In it, she told about her life, and about what she was going through. In her words, she wanted to share her experiences to help others. She said, “I thought it would be a great help to anybody who’s experienced the things I have experienced.” **
Bette Davis never quit. That sentence sums up all of it. I have enjoyed reading her book and watching videos of her interviews on talk shows with Dick Cavett, Bryant Gumbel, and Barbara Walters, among others. I will close with my favourite interview from the late ’80’s. You can see that she has suffered from the strokes, yet she is all Miss Davis- the same fire inside, the same sense of humour. I repeat. What a lady! Here she is charming David Letterman.