Saturday, April 5, 2008

Bette Davis Centenary

Bette Davis would have been 100 today. And she'd probably still have been working. And she certainly would have had a zinger about turning 100 to say to the press. Her famous quote "old age ain't for sissies," will have to do.

When Bette Davis died on October 6, 1989, the subsequent announcement of her death had the justified weight of a "big star" passing. It was almost surprising since, despite her old age and health problems, she seemed unstoppable. I had only just gotten into classic films when she died but I remember the press coverage well.

And at the movie theater where I saw ever single new movie that came (they only had two screens!), a poster soon went up for Wicked Stepmother. This was Bette Davis' swan song. An unfortunate one, said the critics. Despite the appearance of the poster at the theater though, the movie never came. So I never saw a Bette Davis film theatrically in the time of its release.

Bette Davis had an interesting career. Her "comeback" (although she was only just past 40) in All About Eve remains her most enduring work. But there are so many other great performances and films: Of Human Bondage (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), Jezebel (1938), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), and maybe my favorite Bette Davis film Now, Voyager (1942).

There are a few stinker vehicles, including some of her most famous films, like Dark Victory (1939). Dark Victory is about a headstrong socialite who won’t accept that she’s ill and a laugh-out-loud sequence occurs early on when Davis' character, in denial, goes bounding off, telling everyone she doesn’t need a doctor and then tumbles down the stairs! And it goes from on from there...

Davis said that she should have been the first actress to have won three Oscars, with a win for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I agree with her. She should have won. It's particularly disappointing in retrospect since it was really the last notable performance of her career (Anne Bancroft, who did win, should've won later for The Graduate).

Bette Davis is buried at Forest Lawn, and as she'd wanted, her tombstone reads, "She did it the hard way."

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