Wednesday, January 8, 2014
''Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night''.
‘’Cinderella, she seems so easy “It takes one to know one,” she smiles. And puts her hands in her back pockets. Bette Davis style‘‘. – Desolation Row (Bob Dylan)
Move over, Audrey Hepburn. Bette Davis is rapidly gaining ground as my new favourite actress. Well, okay, let’s not over-act here, but since I’ve seen ‘Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte’ I’ve been in love with her attitude, with her style, with her classiness. When I saw ‘All About Eve’ recently, these feelings only grew stronger. I must admit, I’d known her name for several years already, without having seen even a single film of her. How? Because of the marvellous Kim Carnes song ‘Bette Davis Eyes’. And I think the whole world will know what Carnes meant with those eyes. Bette’s eyes are big, they’re huge and they have this ‘Don’t mess with me’ look. That’s exactly what my hero Dylan describes in his extremely long song ‘Desolation Row’. A girl who puts her hand carelessly in her pockets: just the way Bette would have done it.
Bette, originally named Ruth, Davis was born in Massachusetts more than a century ago, in 1908. After her parents separated, Ruth and her sister Bobby had to attend a Spartan school, before moving to NYC with their mother in 1921. This is where Bette's interest in becoming an actress began. Her mother encouraged Ruth and didn’t object when she wanted to change her name into Bette, after a novel by Honoré de Balzac. It was only five years later, when she saw a production of Ibsen’s ‘The Wild Duck’ that she knew for certain she was meant to be an actress. She attended a School of Theatre, studied dance and finally got her first part in a Broadway production in 1929.
A year later she moved to Hollywood with her mom and got several minor parts in films. When she played the part of a vicious, grubby girl in ‘Of Human Bondage’, she became pretty successful. She received an Academy Award for her part in ‘Dangerous’ and critics loved her. A few years later she already received her second one for ‘Jezebel’. The next years would prove to be very successful for Bette. Most of her roles were those of hard, cruel women and this was not illogical, as it fitted her own character perfectly. Bette definitely was a strong-willed woman. During the war times became harder and Bette had to find other ways to make money. One of the things she did was opening a servicemen’s club, where Hollywood’s stars volunteered to entertain servicemen. In 1943, her husband (she had several, this was one was Arthur Farnsworth) suddenly collapsed on street and died two days later. A hard time began for Bette.
However, she continued making films, most of which were really successful. Around 1950, critics forecasted the end of her career anyway. They were wrong. In 1950 she played in the fabulous ‘All About Eve’, which was also personally positive for her, as she married her leading man. They adopted two children, one of whom died very young. During this period, few of Bette’s films had success and her marriage wasn’t very successful either. She divorced in 1960. The period of her career that followed, was mostly filled with horror films. One of the most famous is ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’ in which she played Joan Crawford’s sister. The two actresses, both very famous, hated each other and a public conflict that would never end, was created.
Bette kept acting until her latest days, in which she suffered from several illnesses. She was diagnosed with breast cancer, suffered from paralysis in her arm and her speech was slurred. To make things worse, her relationship with her daughter deteriorated, when she became a born-again Christian. B.D., her daughter, also wrote a memoir, called ‘My Mother’s Keeper’, about Bette, who wasn’t pleased with this at all. Again, this proves of Bette’s stubbornness, as she promised never to speak to her daughter again. Which she presumably didn’t, till her death in 1989 in France, as an 81-year old lady.
Bette Davis is wildly famous for her quotes. If you ask me, they’re hilarious, straight to the point and often, there’s a lot of truth in ‘em. Take this one: An affair now and then is good for a marriage. It adds spice, stops it from getting boring... I ought to know. I’m sorry, I just think she’s so cool for saying all of this. Bette was definitely cool, no phoney behaviour, no confirmation to what fans wanted, what Hollywood wanted. She was aware of her own talent, obviously, but what’s wrong with that? If you’ve won that many Oscars, I think you have all the right to be self-assured. Of course, she probably wasn’t nice to hang out with, and to be her daughter, I think that must’ve been quite a nightmare. But Bette knew who she was, what she wanted (and got it), what she found and wasn’t afraid to say so. And I think not only Hollywood, but all of us, can learn something of that.