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Bette Davis's 100th Birthday
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 Bette Davis

Bette Davis, who is one of the featured attractions in our Summer Under the Stars event, was called many things in her time-difficult, intimidating, brilliant, a pop-eyed wonder, impossible, magnificent, the world's best over-actress, the fifth Warner Brother, and the list goes on. But I think Olivia de Havilland, Bette's friend and frequent costar, summed her up best when she described Bette as "a benevolent volcano." Explosive, she could be, with sudden, unexpected eruptions, but Bette was an amazingly compassionate woman as well, capable of being a great friend to anyone who earned her confidence. In the 24 years I knew her, from 1965 until her death in 1989, I did see her rattle chandeliers several times but never, I might add, without some kind of justification, as when a certain Academy Award®-winning actress she worked with in a television movie kept Bette, the other actors and the crew idly waiting for hours because of a drug problem. (B.D. demanded and respected professionalism, above all else, in those with whom she worked.)

There were also outbursts later in her life but those occurred because she was ill and justifiably frightened about it. But the Bette I knew could also be great fun. She loved to laugh. She enjoyed the profession of acting above all else, but she was also (surprise!) quite a hausfrau. She kept a tidy home, often without a housekeeper and never with full-time help. She was also a terrific cook (tasty, basic New England dishes her specialty), a hands-on, no-help-required hostess, a good listener, someone vitally interested in politics (photos signed to her by Franklin Roosevelt and John and Bobby Kennedy were as treasured by her as her numerous awards) and she thoroughly enjoyed such simple things as Easter egg hunts, rides through the Connecticut countryside and dancing to songs by Johnny Mercer. (One reason for the latter: she and Mercer had an on-going romance in the 1940s, something even the nosiest gossip columnists never discovered.)

What she was not was a theatrical diva like the one she played so dazzlingly in All About Eve, nor was she akin to the control-freak of The Little Foxes or the women she played so convincingly in Dark Victory, The Letter, Jezebel, Now, Voyager or the other Davis movies (13 in all) you can see on Saturday, August 8th on TCM. All have some elements of the real Bette in them, of course, but none come close to being an exact mirror of the person she was. That's because Bette Davis was, first and foremost, an Actress with a capital A, and proud of it-and what a treasury of films she's left as her legacy. And something which will make this month even more exciting: a comprehensive, first-rate documentary about Bette, beautifully produced by Peter Jones titled Stardust: The Bette Davis Story (2005). We'll be presenting it as well. It takes an extensive look at this unique, fascinating, benevolent volcano in a way that no documentary has done before. It promises to be quite a day, from start to finish.

by Robert Osborne
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