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"My Favorite Bette Davis"

[In this guest column, Chapter member Diane Harvey shares her perspective on the career of arguably the greatest screen actress of classic Hollywood, Miss Bette Davis, what she sees as its distinct phases & which is her favorite - see if you agree!]



I divided the 60-year acting career of the legendary Bette Davis into three stages:

Stage One 1931-1941, was the often bratty (and the other B-word too), rich and feisty Davis starring in films including, The Great Lie, Dark Victory and Jezebel. We can sum up this phase as the one where she always got her way…with a few exceptions.



Stage Two 1942-1950, she continued to be rich in Now Voyager, but became more caring. As emotionally troubled spinster Charlotte Vale, Davis showed compassion by befriending love interest Jerry Durrance’s (Paul Henried) 12-year-old daughter Tina (Janis Wilson) while both were in a sanitarium. An added twist to her skills was when Davis played twin sisters in A Stolen Life. Davis was maturing and played out that reality in All About Eve.



What Ever Happened to Baby Jane leads the pack of Stage Three 1955-1964. Davis played deranged, sinister and settled characters. Other favs for me in this stage are The Catered Affair and Dead Ringer (second film of Davis playing twins).




So which is my favorite “Bette Davis?” Drum roll please...Stage Two! Why? Because in this stage she played a wider range of characters. Especially impressive to me was the realism in which Davis embraced her age. In All About Eve Davis was 42. Like Channing, she was a confident seasoned actor with lovely long hair, a raspy voice and commanded respect from a cigarette! Also Davis, like Channing, married Gary Merrill.


Though I am captivated by most of them, All About Eve is my favorite Bette Davis movie...and hers too. Davis said in her autobiography, “I can think of no project that from the outset was as rewarding from the first day to the last.”



By the way, “The Fourth Warner Brother,” continued acting until 1989.


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Darrell Z. Grizzle
Darrell Z. Grizzle
14. Aug. 2019

I like your three stages. Each stage has its own characteristics. I think my favorite Bette performance will always be in Of Human Bondage (1934): "And after ya kissed me, I always used to wipe my mouth!"

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Ben D.
Ben D.
13. Aug. 2019

I have a very hard time picturing anyone else in that role either. It definitely would have been a completely different movie with Colbert. I can vaguely imagine Colbert, but then Davis just knocks her right out of my mind. :-)

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Diane Harvey
Diane Harvey
13. Aug. 2019

Thanks for your comments Ben! Yes , I am aware of Colbert as first choice for Margot Channing and Bette's brawls with then hubby William Sherry. Didn't think about the shouting contributing to the raspy voice. My first thoughts were the years of heavy smoking. I struggle with imagining Colbert as Channing, probably because Davis did such an impressionable job with the role even though Colbert was a stellar actor!

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Ben D.
Ben D.
13. Aug. 2019

Bette Davis made so many good movies, I have about ten in second place. My favorite, though, is "The Little Foxes." A bit of "All About Eve" trivia (that you may already know) is that Claudette Colbert was originally cast as Margo Channing, but she injured her back in a skiing accident and was in traction. She said she cried because she knew it was such a good role. I think it was the director who said Colbert would have been "a piss-elegant drunk" as opposed to Davis' more ball-busting performance. And supposedly her raspy voice was due to a huge screaming fight with her then-husband, William Grant Sherry, where she yelled so forcefully she broke some blood vessels…

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Diane Harvey
Diane Harvey
13. Aug. 2019

Thanks Scott for adding beautiful photos to my article! Bette is simply the best!

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