Saturday, 6 October 2012

In fond remembrance of Bette Davis

Ruth Elizabeth Davis (1908 - 1989) 
I must start this post with an apology. Today was supposed to be the day in which we celebrate Carole Lombard, a beautiful angel, a war hero, a person none of us has words for anymore. And Carole, if you are listening, you will always be loved, missed and remembered by all of us.
I had a small write-up to post on this blog about her today, but only this morning (and I'm not proud that it took me this long) I found out that today is also the anniversary of the death of our very own Bette Davis.

Now, we all know (I hope) just who this Bette Davis person was. One of the most influential actresses on the history of cinema. Winner of two Academy Awards. A career that spanned over 5 decades. A look, a face, a voice, a character we all know like the back of our hands. Bette Davis was the villain who could make a grown man cry with the raising of an eyebrow with majestic gravity. Bette Davis was the killer, who had the coldness of spirit to shoot her lover to the ground and still pour five or six extra shots upon his body, only to watch him spasm in death. Bette Davis was the femme fatale, who wrapped the entire world around her fingertips with such ease that it seemed like she was born to do it. Bette Davis was the indestructible fortress who, all alone in the 1930s, sued Warner Brothers' Studios for the right of not appearing in motion pictures she disagreed with or wasn't comfortable with for reasons she judged as her business and her business only. She was 5'3 and she stood taller than any other woman I've seen.
But yet, she was the little girl who missed her father. She was the woman who married for love, and watched that love tumble down, repeatedly. She was the woman who gave birth to a daughter that turned on her, and caused her a pain she couldn't image feeling in her wildest dreams. She was the woman who cried to the sound of Stardust on a grand piano, and whose heart was touched by the soldiers fighting for her country. She was the woman who heavily disagreed with her own upbringing, but yet told her mother "Do you know how lucky I am to have you?". This was Ruth Elizabeth Davis. And, today, we remember her.

Bette Davis is, to me, among the top five most competent performers in the history of cinema. She could literally play anything. She did not possess extraordinary beauty, but yet she played a woman whose looks won over the most powerful men in town (Mr. Skeffington, 1944). She had nothing on Greta Garbo or Audrey Hepburn, beauty-wise, but yet no one seemed to be more appropriate for the role. She played a woman who watched death arrive slowly, and decided to watch her last days approach with dignity, on one of the most chilling performances I have ever seen (Dark Victory, 1939). She played an actress who saw her entire career being outshone by a newcomer, and who felt threatened despite her grandeur and unmatched excellence (All About Eve, 1950). And she played a woman psychologically disturbed to an almost homicidal extent (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, 1962). She was equally convincing in all of those. Fifty years went by and she remained great.

Bette was indestructible. We associate the word strong to many female performers of the Golden Era: Katharine Hepburn, Joan Crawford... So much so that I think this word starts to get thrown around just a little bit. They were strong, yes, but indestructible is a lot stronger than strong. Well, Ms. Davis was the definition of indestructible. Scars, yes. Weaknesses, certainly. But she did not let them get on her way. Throughout her life, she showed incredible compartmentalization skills. No matter what was going on, she was still Bette Davis. She would not be second best. She would not fail. I'm not sure to what extent that quality becomes a flaw, but what I do know is that it was consistent. Bette Davis had integrity, perhaps more than any other Hollywood actress. She knew who she was, where she was headed and nothing could change her mind. This is possibly the characteristic I value the most in human beings.

But, yet, the way she died contradicted her entire life. Bette Davis died fragilized. Two strokes and one mastectomy left her skinny and frail, able to do nothing but very little for herself. Her demise was the publication of a book by her daughter, B.D. Wyman, one of the most unflattering and unfair portraits in the history of cinema. Bette loved her daughter. Losing her love was like dying. Ultimately, that's exactly what happened.

Let's not remember the weak Bette who died alone. Let's remember the indestructible Bette, who lives on until this day and who will never die.

Her favorite song throughout most of her life was Stardust, by Nat King Cole. Later on, she discovered another one, "I Wish You Love". She recorded her own version of it. She wanted it to play on her funeral. Today, she would not want us to cry for her (even though that's what I'm struggling not to do right now). She would want us to remember. So, please, listen to her favorite song today. Play it once and think of her. That is all she would ever want.

Thank you, Bette Davis. Gone, but not forgotten.

So long,


  1. What a lovely tribute! Bette is for sure one of the best actresses of all time, nad I must watch more films with her. Have you watched the documentary in which she tells her own life and career, Bette Davis: A Basically Benevolent Volcano?
    Oh, nad the same with Carole! And Janet Gaynor, another famous birthday girl!

  2. Great and lovely remembrance of one of our greatest actresses. Her genius is immortal, and you've captured it beautifully. Thanks for posting!

  3. Bette was the best!!! How many actresses can play ugly (Queen Liz)and vain (Mrs Skeffington)and everything in between. She was truly talented.