Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Lonely life: By Bette davis

All photos in this post were scanned by me :-)

I know that I just posted about an autobiography yesterday, but this one is just so special that I couldn't resist posting. I was very excited (as you all probably know) to see "The Lonely Life" by Bette Davis under the big green tree this year. With Julie Andrews reading done and dusted, I started to read this properly around two weeks ago and finished it on Monday. I feel like I haven't posted about Bette in ages. I think the last post I did about her films was before the new year... HOW COULD THIS BLOG HAVE GONE BY NEARLY TWO MONTHS WITHOUT A BETTE DAVIS POST???!!! Ah well, I'm making up for it now. I got some more of her films for Christmas and totaling up my collection I now have 19 of her films. I think I have gone over all of them before, except The Star, but I'll save that for a later post. I have only summed up the early part of Bette's life, the later is quite well known, and there is lots to write!

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born during a thunderstorm on the 5th of April 1908 (about ninety years before moi) in Lowell Massachusetts. Her mother - also named Ruth - was Bette's saviour throughout her childhood. Just eighteen months after Bette was born, she gave birth to Bette's sister Barbara. Nicknamed Bobby, the new baby was a welcome playmate for Bette, who was becoming very much a perfectionist child. If she had even a tiny crease in her dress, she would scream and bawl and her mother would have to fetch a new one. Bette's father was tough lawyer, Harlow Morrell Davis, who, "regarded children as only a necessary evil." One night while they were sat in their garden looking up at the stars, he said, "Do you see all the stars in the sky?" to which she replied, "Yes, I see them." Expecting a sweet thought or explanation from her father, he said, "Good. Just look at the night sky and you will remember how utterly unimportant you are."

Within a few years, Harlow left Ruthie and her two children (now both names shortened to "Betty" and "Bobby") to fend for themselves. Ruthie got a job as a photographer in New York and they all moved there and the children had their first proper schooling experience since the summer camp they were sent to while Ruthie was training. Bette was the belle of every ball, and for entertainment every night, Ruthie would pull up their blinds and turn the lights off, and with popcorn and sweets, they would watch the escapades of their neighbors across the road.
I love this photo. My dad told me I looked a little like her in this pic the other day. Yay!
It was decided that Bette (who's name was now spelt with an E instead of a Y) and Bobby would be sent off to Cushing Academy, a school in Massachusettes. It was here that she met her future husband, long term sweetheart, Harmon O. Nelson. It was around now that she saw a production of The Wild Duck with Blanche Yurka, and was inspired to become a great actress. Her ambition was to play the lead in her school play. She did.
In a school production. I'm so jealous. We don't get half as much greenery as they did in our shows.
After training at the John Murray Anderson school in New York, Bette became part of several productions and stock companies (including the Goerge Cukor repertory company with long time nemesis, Miriam Hopkins), playing mainly ingenues and small parts. She then progressed to Broadway and was spotted by a talent scout for Universal Studios and she got her first contract in Hollywood after a series of screen-tests. She was cast in low budget and unsuccessful films until she shot to fame in Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage (1934) with Leslie Howard.
In desperate need of this outfit.
I really loved this book. From her humorous anecdotes about growing up in New England to her deep thoughts about her life and the motion picture business. The chapter she dedicated to insulting Hollywood leading men was amazing. It was just put down after put down for pages and pages. You really got the gist of her and how she felt about the way she was branded as the "Different looking one" and the "Always playing bitches" one. Unfortunately this book was written just as she started working on Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962) so there was no Joan Crawford goss.
There are plenty of sweet memories about working with her great friend Joan Blondell, and how she was best friends with Olivia De Havviland. She does talk a little about her husbands (all four) but it isn't the main theme of the book, as I was afraid it may progress into being. I also only recently learned that her character in The Letter (1940) was British. My friend and I were having a text conversation a while back discussing how awesome it was that Greer Garson was British and we did have to agree in the end that Bette Davis was an honorary British citizen.

I would recommend this to anyone. It's a bit tricky to lay your hands on - they do sell them on Amazon, but they are a bit pricey!



Audrey said...

Great review! I wonder why she changed her name from BettY to BettE--just to stand out more? Does it say in the book?

Camille said...

Great post. I'd love to read this book. I thought a few times about read an bio about Bette, I didn't know she wrote one. I'll probably ordered it :)
I love the second picture. I don't see why people say she was not really pretty. I think she really had something on those kind of picture.

ClassicBecky said...

Bette, like you I think Bette Davis stands out as the premiere actress of the golden age of movies. I just adore her. I would LOVE to read this book, and may try to get it online even if it IS pricey. I wonder why she disliked her leading men? Perhaps it was because in her day it was definitely a man's world, and the woman had to be twice as aggressive to get noticed and respected. It would be interesting to know. Loved your review.

Sarah said...

Bette- I love this book too! I also have on my Amazon wishlist- This 'N That- and hope to see get it for my birthday this month. Great post!

Allen Hefner said...

Another great post! And thanks for the info on early Bette. Everyone knows she became one of the strongest women in Hollywood, but as you said, it is not general knowledge about her early days.

Bette was beautiful in her early films. While that beauty changed over the years, she coped with it and stayed vibrant as an actress. Try to find some of her later TV interviews with people like Jack Paar and Johnny Carson.

It would be interesting to dig up some of Ruthie Davis' photographs. I Googled it, but all it had were shoes!

Aurore said...

I love Bette and have around 81 of her films and also collect her books and some other memorabilia. She really was a great actress in her early days. The books however, if you read them, will portray how she failed to compete with the times. She believed that you needed youth to be a good actress and seemed to have a child like acting approach in many of her later films. I think she was greatly misunderstood and perhaps very lonely and bitter in later life. Her films are still oustanding though and great for a rainy Saturday afternoon.....If you have never seen Of Human Bondage..start here, it's great!

Linda said...

hi i.m a massive fan of bette davis & have just bought a dvd box set containing-mr skeffington,dark victory,now voyager & the letter...which i know i,ll have hours of pleasure watching,,tho i find it,d quite difficult to find bette davis goods..can i ask you question?it has been puzzling me for god knows how which bette davis film is she in garden wearing fishermans coat& hat,digging as though she,s burying something...LINDA

Bette said...

Hi Linda! So glad you got that boxed set, I have it too and it's great! As for your fisherman's coat digging and burying question... I'm not sure. The only film I can think of where she is digging is in Dark Victory where she is going blind and starts digging holes for some gardenias she's planting - I think that might be it. I also think she may wear a raincoat in either Stolen Life or The Great Lie. Maybe you merged the two by mistake. Anyhow I hope that hepls!

cinemarion said...

She was one of the best!

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