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Bette Davis: The Girl Who Walked Home Alone
Written by Charlotte Chandler   

Book Review by James Colt Harrison

Bette Davis was the quintessential film actress. She entertained audiences for five decades or more with her unique style, her dramatic histrionics, and her captivating screen presence. Author Charlotte Chandler has compiled extensive interviews with the actress in this book.

INTRODUCTION

The fascinating and intriguing aspect of this new book is most of it is in Davis' own words. Chandler has let her speak on her own, interjecting only occasionally to clear up some points of the actress's career. What the reader gets is the genuine article and not the author's point of view. Davis, and Davis alone recounts her life in amazing detail. It's essentially an oral account of Hollywood during Davis' heyday, and in that respect, it grasps the reader and doesn't let go. Nothing is more gripping than having the actual participant of a Hollywood career discuss that profession.

Chandler interviewed Davis during the last decade of her life. Davis died at 81 on October 6, 1989 in Paris. But before she departed, she sat down with Chandler and openly discussed her life, her lovers, her failed marriages, her career disappointments, and her triumphs.

CONTENT

The book covers every aspect of the Davis' early life in New England where she was born, and her life of abandonment by her father. Always looking for the love her father never gave, Bette turned to her loving mother for never-ending support. †

Under contract to Warner Bros. Studios where she was dubbed "the fourth Warner Brother," rumor had it her films made so much money that several sound stages were built on the lot because of her popularity. In the 1930s and 40s she was Queen of the Lot, but she was also a feisty young woman who wanted good parts and constantly fought with mogul Jack Warner to get them.

"I was a pioneer in trying to break the studio system's hold on actors," she remembered. "In 1936 I rebelled. I wanted more say in the choice of my scripts. I wanted a chance at the great directors and the best available actors. Jack Warner made some concessions and said, 'Just be a good girl, Bette, and everything will work out.' I ended up in an English court being sued by the Warner Brothers (for refusing to do some very bad movies). They won, of course; but I paved the way for Olivia De Havilland's eventual victory over the studio system."

After being offered so many miserable pictures at the studio, Bette made a big mistake when she walked out on a part Warner had chosen for her. "I've just optioned a wonderful book for you," Warner told Bette. Her furious retort was, "Ha! I'll bet it's a pip!"

Davis then explained, "Famous last words. It was Gone With The Wind and Errol Flynn had been selected as Rhett Butler." †The book is filled with gossipy tidbits such as this that keep the reader turning the pages to see what comes next.

"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" was just one of the campy and memorable lines written by writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz for Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All About Eve. It turned out to be a career-defining role as Davis was the perfect age to play a fading actress.

"I gave a lot of thought to the character of Margo. I knew she was a fabulous character, and I wanted to give her my very best. †Margo was a treat, and I really wanted to understand her. I decided that she was suffering from an inability to love or be loved, a very serious condition." In statements such as this, we see the inner thoughts of Davis as an actress as she delves into the heart of her characters.

Davis, ever the honest woman, never hid her age. "I've never been one of those women who won't admit she's 40 until she's past 70." However, being an actress, she had an enormous ego. During the shooting of †Deception in 1946 she complained to cinematographer Ernest Haller that she was worried how she looked. She said to Haller, "Ernie, why can't you make me look the way I looked in Jezebel?" Haller quickly said, "Bette, I was seven years younger then," thereby taking the blame for getting older. This is one of the tidbits that make the book so enjoyable.

Another informative aspect of The Girl Who Walked Home Alone is a synopsis of Davis' films in between her reminiscences about a particular project. Thus Chandler wraps Davis' recollections about the film around the short synopsis. This device makes it easier for the reader to understand what it is Davis is referencing.

Bette Davis was famous for being an outspoken woman. Part of the fun of this book are her many pithy comments. In particular, she didn't have much use for her co-star Joan †Crawford in † † Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? "It was important that the makeup show the desperation," Davis explained about her character Baby Jane. "Miss Crawford wanted to look as nice as she could. I wanted to look as terrible as I could. Miss Crawford was a glamourpuss. I was an actress."

The book is fun and unusual because it presents Davis' actual words and thoughts. It was wise of Chandler to let Bette rip away, and rip she does. For Bette Davis fans this is a book not to be missed.

DATA ABOUT THE BOOK

óŹ The Girl Who Walked Home Alone, Bette Davis: A Personal Biography † † † † † †

óŹ Simon & Schuster, New York, March 7, 2006

óŹ ISBN: 13 978-0-7432-6208-8 † † † †

óŹ Hardcover (available in softcover)

óŹ 348 pages

óŹ $26.00

 



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