Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Remembering... Bette Davis

After a stellar career as one of Hollywood's top stars, Bette Davis found herself in the same predicament many talented actresses before her had done: middle-aged and unemployable...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketUnwilling (or unable) to accept such laissez-faire sexism lying down, Bette Davis took whatever work was on offer; she made horror films, which traded on her past fame and camp appeal, she did television when many film actresses of her generation felt it was beneath them, and she toured the world in stage shows, filling arenas and nightclubs alike with her considerable charisma.

In all of these she was an unqualified success; then the triumphs that had sustained her turned to tragedies, seemingly overnight.

Riding high on the success of Kim Carnes' 1981 pop hit Bette Davis Eyes, and having just filmed the pilot for Hotel in 1983 (which promised to be a big hit*) she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and subsequently quit the show. Having survived a mastectomy, weeks later Davis suffered four strokes, which left her partially paralysed. During her recovery her loathsome born-again daughter published a bookful of lies about her called My Mother's Keeper; despite having previously praised her mother to the heavens, the heavens now called on her to heap scorn instead, and did she ever.

Davis' friends and foes alike leapt to her defense, to little avail; the book was a runaway bestseller.

Yet it took more than ill-health and literary matricide to keep down someone as indomitable as Bette Davis. She did her last good movie - The Whales of August - in 1987, and made numerous television appearances to promote it, including Late Night With David Letterman, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, and Donahue.

On this day in 1989, though, death finally caught Bette Davis; having gone abroad to accept a lifetime achievement award from a film festival in Spain, she fell ill, and died at the American Hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, in France. She was 81.

Davis is interred at Forest Lawn in Los Angeles, alongside her mother and sister; her epitaph reads, simply:

She did it the hard way.

On a personal note: that day was a cold and rainy one in Ottawa, where I was living at the time. I had gone out, and when I got home my roommate Matthew gave me the news. We went over to our friend Theresa's house and watched What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) - which I'd never seen before - in her honour. Even now, I can't watch that film without remembering that day, and its jumble of emotions - sadness at losing an icon, the camaraderie of friendship in difficult times, not to mention the shock at and delight in what is simply a bravura performance.

* It was. She was replaced by another Hollywood legend, Anne Baxter, and the show ran for 5 years, making stars of Connie Sellecca and James Brolin.

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1 comment:

Y | O | Y said...

Blaaaaaaanche. Did I tell ya we got rats in the cellar?