Thursday, 16 August 2012

Stories of My Life: The Stardust Melody

"I'm an Aries, I never lose."/ "Old age is no place for sissies."

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was once asked why she thought she became such an excellent actress on the silver screen. "I cannot be second best." She answered. Bette was a firm believer in the reach-for-the-moon, land-on-a-star philosophy. She would try to be the best always, and, even if she weren't, there would no way she would be the worst. Every time I looked at her, I thought of the picture above. What a tough cookie, what an unbreakable shell. What an insensitive fountain of determination and strive. I wonder if there's the least bit of feeling inside her heart. But, one day I stumbled across a piece of information that motivated me to look further in. Maybe I didn't have the whole story. I found out Bette Davis' favorite song was "Stardust", by Nat King Cole. Please take time to listen to it. When the first notes entered my ears, I lowered my head and immediately started to cry. It was such an astounding melody with lyrics just as beautiful. It made me feel something amazing that I had never felt before and I thought: This is a piece of art that requires a whole different type of sensitivity to appreciate. And then I thought about Bette's face. And, surprisingly, I didn't think of her like in the picture above. Her face came up in my head like I'd never seen it before. I found a photo that depicts exactly the expression I envisioned. Look at it for a while.

"You wander down the lane and far away, leaving me a song that will not die.
Love is now the stardust of yesterday, the music the years gone by."
Isn't there something in those eyes? That's when I realized how wrong I was. We talk about judgement and we don't realize we do it ourselves sometimes. I didn't know who Bette Davis really was. I noticed I did to her what I had suffered myself many times: Judged as cold and heartless due to our dry and realistic view of the world. Bette Davis knew what she wanted and knew it would not be easy to get there. She had no time to waste on fantasies or rose-colored glasses and as the years went by and she realized how detrimental they were, she didn't tolerate them in other people. She strove to inhabit reality with no exceptions. But, her heart was kind and sensitive. Bette meant well in many more occasions that she is given credit for. 

The first example I would like to give is that of a Broadway play she was on briefly in 1940, before the release of "The Letter". The play was produced by a fellow by the name of Charles Bacall, a New York City  based show business lawyer. Does his last name sound familiar? Yes, he was the uncle of who would soon become Lauren Bacall, a very good actress in her own right, but who, back then, was only a dreamer. Bette Davis was her unmatched icon and her first notion of what it meant to be a performer. "Please, Uncle Charlie, can't you fix it so I can meet her? Can't you make that happen?" "Why, dear niece, Ms. Davis is a very big star, a two-time Academy Award Winner, she has no time for 15-year-old girls."
Turns out she had. Ruth Elizabeth Davis took time out of her busy schedule to talk and entertain Ms. Bacall and her friend, yet another 15-year-old aspiring actress. After the meeting, Bacall wrote her an innocent letter, thanking her for her time, advice and inspiration. Bette answered from her own wrist. Lauren Bacall is almost 88 years old and still has that letter. 

In 1941, Bette was offered the fabulous opportunity to play Sandra Kovak in the movie "The Great Lie". Showy part, whoever took it would be catapulted into stardom and she knew it. Who would say no? Bette did. She declined on purpose, so that the part would go to her good friend Mary Astor, whose career was going through a rough patch. After Davis selflessly gave up the part, Astor performed beautifully and went on to win a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award. It was then when she was discovered and chosen to star in The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart and her career took off completely. She had only Bette Davis to thank for everything she had become. 

Bette Davis was a woman of character. A woman who did what was right and not what was easy. In the wartime, she volunteered her acting ability to entertain the American troops in the Hollywood Canteen, a project that she idealized and funded almost single-handedly. She was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and she was so active she contributed to that role becoming more and more important to the movie world, rather than just a symbolic figure.

She was not a sweet woman, in the literal sense of the word. She was not a delicate flower or a fragile child. She had a tough titanium shell and she was not easy to break. She was also not easy to buy, to corrupt, to convert. She held her own.

When I found out the truth about Bette Davis I realized how wrong I was to judge. I realized I had done to her what many had done to me. Judged as a lack of heart what was a down-to-earth view of the world and life. I judged as a lack of feeling the intrepidity and strength to fight for her dreams. And I ignored the good in her heart only because she was not one to broadcast the good things that she did: she understood it was between herself and her conscience.

I’m sorry, Bette Davis. My respect for you has grown by a million percent. You are an inspiring and fascinating woman. To realize it, all one needs is good eyes to see it, an open mind to think it and a stardust melody to lead the way. 

So long,


  1. I really learned a lot with your post, like the Lauren Bacall and Mary Astor stories. The only reason I don't like Bette more is because I have watched few films with her (if compared with Joan, for example).
    This was a great lesson on judgement!

    1. Yes, Bette is one of those actresses that the more you know her the more you love her! I strongly encourage you to look into her more! I'm crazy about my Bette! Haha
      cheers darling!