For most of my life Bette Davis has scared me; she always seemed gruff and in a huff about something, not to mention always puffing on her ever-present cigarette. Have I conjured up the Big Bad Wolf yet? Sure, she was a phenomenal actress–Jezebel, All About Eve, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? all come to mind–but the person herself intimidated me. Something about her gave me the impression if I’d met her that she’d be a bit of a bully. And that’s what her daughter wrote about her in her book My Mother’s Keeper, which I read a couple of years ago. Bette, who worshipped the ground her daughter walked on, bullied her own grandchildren (or so her daughter claimed in her book). But the truth usually lies somewhere between she said-she said, and the fact is that most people who use bullying tactics are hiding great insecurities.

Such was the case with Bette, who finally let down her guard late in life to her friend Charlotte Chandler over the course of several interviews which Ms. Chandler used as the basis of her 2006 book about Ms. Davis entitled The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. Bette comes across in the interviews much less as a bully than as a lonely old woman with a few regrets about how she lived her life. Here are a few quotes I found noteworthy:

“One must live in the present tense, but I have always lived in the present tensely.” (page 5)

“My daughter B.D. once told me she thought I was permanently 14. Actually, I like that.” (pg 19)

“”The reason most people look back on their youth as the best time of life is because a blank page looks better than one that is filled out and not according to youthful dreams. Personally, I’m proud of the way I’ve filled out the pages of my life; I’m enjoying my life as Bette Davis now, since I won’t be around to read about it when it appears in the obituaries. When I am honoured with a tribute, I think of it as part of my living obituary. More fun that way.” (page 22)

“Personally, I’ve never been able to figure out really what I am like or what I’m not really like. I could always understand my character on the screen better than I could understand myself. And when I had to play myself in ‘Hollywood Canteen’ and ‘Thank You Lucky Stars’ I was utterly lost, utterly. You cannot imagine.” (pg 123)

“The trouble with playing hard-to-get is that the other person may choose not to play. Just this once, I acted this way because I cared so much. I was never able to profit from the lesson. There was never another Willie [William Wyler]. So all these years I’ve had my precious pride, and now–I have IT to keep me company.” (page 133)

“Wit, especially sarcasm, is a dangerous weapon. Bright people are often too sarcastic. […] I’m still direct, but one can carry directness too far, where one goes around being so bright and so honest that you hurt people.” (page 281)

“I see my life now as a voyage of discovery. My problem was that I didn’t know myself. I used to think it was because I didn’t understand others, but now I know it’s because I didn’t understand me.” (page 293)

Dick Cavett lightin' up Bette on his talk show in the 70s

Dick Cavett lightin’ up Bette on his talk show in the 70s

That’s really all for this week. In the last couple of months I’ve also read some great autobiographies by Tab Hunter, Marie Osmond, Marnie Nixon, Oscar Goodman, Ryan O’Neal, Alison Arngrim (Nellie from Little House on the Prairie), Patty Duke, and Debbie Reynolds. And biographies on Natalie Wood, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland (by her daughter, Lorna Luft), and I’m just starting one on Vivien Leigh. So those have been keeping me (and the inter-library loan clerks) busy. Perhaps too busy…I’ve been thinking I need to take my nose out of the books and start living a little bit more. But the good news is that I’m staying outta trouble. So we’ll see. Hope everyone’s enjoying a safe, Happy MLK Weekend.


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