Jezebel


1h 43m 1938
Jezebel

Brief Synopsis

A tempestuous Southern belle's willfulness threatens to destroy all who care for her.

Photos & Videos

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Mar 26, 1938
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 10 Mar 1938
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Warner Bros. Ranch, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Jezebel by Owen Davis, Sr. (New York, 13 Dec 1933).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Vitaphone
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Synopsis

In New Orleans, in 1850, Julie Marsden, a strong-willed Southern belle, is engaged to marry Preston Dillard, a prominent New Orleans banker with an equally strong mind. Their struggle for supremacy in the relationship comes to a head the night of a traditional ball to which unmarried women are expected to wear white, but Julie defiantly insists on wearing red. Pres is shocked, but ultimately agrees to escort her. At the ball, Julie begins to regret her decision, but Pres forces her to dance, and afterward ends their engagement. In disbelief, Julie waits for Pres to apologize, but he stands his ground, leaving for the North on business. When he returns, she humbles herself in front of him, begging for forgiveness, but it is too late. Pres has married a Yankee, Amy Bradford, and asks Julie to accept his wife without bitterness. The growing threat of yellow fever in New Orleans has forced Julie and her Aunt Belle to move to their country plantation. There they entertain the Dillards, Pres's younger brother Ted, and one of Julie's persistent suitors, the rebellious Buck Cantrell. At dinner, Pres and Buck argue politics, but Pres is called to town and it is Ted who finishes the argument in a duel with Buck. Buck is killed, and Pres is struck down with fever. Julie sneaks through the fever line with the help of her servant, Gros Bat. In town, Dr. Livingstone tells Julie that Pres must go to the leper colony for quarantine. Amy, accompanied by Ted and Aunt Belle, follows Julie, and as Pres's wife, she insists on attending to him. In a final confrontation, Julie convinces Amy that her ignorance of Southern ways means certain death for them both. Amy acquiesces, and Julie rides into the night at Pres's side.

Photo Collections

Jezebel - Scene Stills
Here are several scene stills from Warner Bros' Jezebel (1938), starring Bette Davis and Henry Fonda.
Jezebel - Theater Herald
Here is the herald for Warner Bros' Jezebel (1938). Heralds were advertising handouts that studios provided to theaters for distribution around their town.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Romance
Drama
Period
Adaptation
Classic Hollywood
Release Date
Mar 26, 1938
Premiere Information
World premiere in New York: 10 Mar 1938
Production Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States
Location
Warner Bros. Ranch, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the play Jezebel by Owen Davis, Sr. (New York, 13 Dec 1933).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 43m
Sound
Vitaphone
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
12 reels

Award Wins

Best Actress

1938
Bette Davis

Best Supporting Actress

1938
Fay Bainter

Award Nominations

Best Cinematography

1938

Best Picture

1938

Best Score

1938

Articles

The Essentials - Jezebel


SYNOPSIS

In the decade before the Civil War, Julie Marsden defies the standards of New Orleans society by refusing to play the conventional southern belle. She consistently flaunts social etiquette by doing as she pleases instead of following a tradition of subservience. She thinks nothing of playing the aggressor in her romance with Pres, attends her own party in a riding habit and -- worst of all -- wears a red dress to the Olympus Ball, an action she knows will create controversy. When her audacity ruins her relationship with Pres, she determines to win him back, even after he returns to New Orleans with a new wife.

Producers: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis, William Wyler
Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Robert Buckner (based on the play by Owen Davis, Sr.)
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Warren Low
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Cast: Bette Davis (Julie Marsden), Henry Fonda (Preston Dillard), George Brent (Buck Cantrell), Margaret Lindsay (Amy Bradford Dillard), Donald Crisp (Dr. Livingstone), Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle Massey), Richard Cromwell (Ted Dillard), Henry O'Neill (General Bogardus), Spring Byington (Mrs. Kendrick).
BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

Why JEZEBEL Is Essential After years of delivering dynamic performances at Warner Bros. in second class films, Jezebel was Bette Davis' first big-budget feature as well as her first historical drama. Its success, critically and financially, would cement her position as the studio's top female star and one of the best actresses in Hollywood.

Jezebel was the first film to team Davis and director William Wyler, one of the most acclaimed director-actor collaborations in film history. Davis would always credit him with helping her refine her acting technique for the camera, showing her how to hold back and taming her notorious nervous mannerisms. They would re-team for The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941).

This was one of the first Hollywood films to suggest the power of the screen to reveal character with a richness usually found only in plays and novels. Wyler's use of long takes to allow Davis to reflect her character's thoughts and feelings through body language was a revelation to serious critics of the cinema.

Jezebel is one of the Davis films most consistently cited by feminist critics for her depiction of a woman fighting to maintain her independence. Most of the film's conflict stems from her refusal to let others, particularly men, exercise any power over her.

In his one outing working with Wyler, Warner Bros. star and frequent Davis co-star George Brent had a rare opportunity to demonstrate his acting abilities. Many critics have hailed his work in Jezebel as the most fully rounded male performance in the film.

Warner Bros. had considered producing Jezebel as a vehicle for Davis as far back as 1935, before anybody had heard of Gone with the Wind. On the strength of her breakthrough performance as the vixenish Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1934), the studio almost bought the rights to Owen Davis, Sr.'s failed play about a southern belle whose scandalous decision to wear a red dress to New Orleans's Olympus Ball ruins her chances for happiness. But they decided the female lead was too unsympathetic and passed on it.

Jezebel looked a lot better after Gone with the Wind hit the bestseller lists. Davis was actually a front-runner to play Scarlett in the film version. But studio head Jack Warner insisted on a package deal that would have cast Errol Flynn as Rhett. Although she desperately wanted the role, Davis knew that Flynn could never carry off the male lead and refused the loan.

In an effort to find a vehicle that would move Davis into the top rank of film stars, the studio returned to Owen Davis's play. To complete the package, they cast Henry Fonda in the male lead and hired one of Hollywood's top directors, William Wyler.

Filming began in late October 1937, with perfectionist Wyler soon falling behind schedule as he demanded take after take. As December drew nearer, Warner executives panicked. Jack Warner considered replacing Wyler with William Dieterle. When Davis got wind of this, she stormed into Warner's office, stating that she couldn't possibly keep up her level of performance with another director. She offered to work until midnight to keep the film from falling further behind.

He was doing her a great deal of good off screen. Drawn together by their powerful personalities and dedication to filmmaking, director and star began an affair. Davis would later call Wyler the one great love of her life. When their romance burned out and he married starlet Margaret Tallichet (another Scarlett O'Hara hopeful), Davis was shattered.

Jezebel finished shooting in January 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule and almost $400,000 over budget. But the results were worth it. Davis won some of the best reviews of her career and landed on the cover of Time magazine. On Oscar® night, Davis was a shoo-in for Best Actress and happily credited Wyler for her performance. She was also happy to see costar Fay Bainter honored as Best Supporting Actress for her subtle, understated performance as the sympathetic Aunt Belle.

by Frank Miller
The Essentials - Jezebel

The Essentials - Jezebel

SYNOPSIS In the decade before the Civil War, Julie Marsden defies the standards of New Orleans society by refusing to play the conventional southern belle. She consistently flaunts social etiquette by doing as she pleases instead of following a tradition of subservience. She thinks nothing of playing the aggressor in her romance with Pres, attends her own party in a riding habit and -- worst of all -- wears a red dress to the Olympus Ball, an action she knows will create controversy. When her audacity ruins her relationship with Pres, she determines to win him back, even after he returns to New Orleans with a new wife. Producers: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis, William Wyler Director: William Wyler Screenplay: Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Robert Buckner (based on the play by Owen Davis, Sr.) Cinematography: Ernest Haller Music: Max Steiner Film Editing: Warren Low Art Direction: Robert M. Haas Costume Design: Orry-Kelly Cast: Bette Davis (Julie Marsden), Henry Fonda (Preston Dillard), George Brent (Buck Cantrell), Margaret Lindsay (Amy Bradford Dillard), Donald Crisp (Dr. Livingstone), Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle Massey), Richard Cromwell (Ted Dillard), Henry O'Neill (General Bogardus), Spring Byington (Mrs. Kendrick). BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video. Why JEZEBEL Is Essential After years of delivering dynamic performances at Warner Bros. in second class films, Jezebel was Bette Davis' first big-budget feature as well as her first historical drama. Its success, critically and financially, would cement her position as the studio's top female star and one of the best actresses in Hollywood. Jezebel was the first film to team Davis and director William Wyler, one of the most acclaimed director-actor collaborations in film history. Davis would always credit him with helping her refine her acting technique for the camera, showing her how to hold back and taming her notorious nervous mannerisms. They would re-team for The Letter (1940) and The Little Foxes (1941). This was one of the first Hollywood films to suggest the power of the screen to reveal character with a richness usually found only in plays and novels. Wyler's use of long takes to allow Davis to reflect her character's thoughts and feelings through body language was a revelation to serious critics of the cinema. Jezebel is one of the Davis films most consistently cited by feminist critics for her depiction of a woman fighting to maintain her independence. Most of the film's conflict stems from her refusal to let others, particularly men, exercise any power over her. In his one outing working with Wyler, Warner Bros. star and frequent Davis co-star George Brent had a rare opportunity to demonstrate his acting abilities. Many critics have hailed his work in Jezebel as the most fully rounded male performance in the film. Warner Bros. had considered producing Jezebel as a vehicle for Davis as far back as 1935, before anybody had heard of Gone with the Wind. On the strength of her breakthrough performance as the vixenish Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1934), the studio almost bought the rights to Owen Davis, Sr.'s failed play about a southern belle whose scandalous decision to wear a red dress to New Orleans's Olympus Ball ruins her chances for happiness. But they decided the female lead was too unsympathetic and passed on it. Jezebel looked a lot better after Gone with the Wind hit the bestseller lists. Davis was actually a front-runner to play Scarlett in the film version. But studio head Jack Warner insisted on a package deal that would have cast Errol Flynn as Rhett. Although she desperately wanted the role, Davis knew that Flynn could never carry off the male lead and refused the loan. In an effort to find a vehicle that would move Davis into the top rank of film stars, the studio returned to Owen Davis's play. To complete the package, they cast Henry Fonda in the male lead and hired one of Hollywood's top directors, William Wyler. Filming began in late October 1937, with perfectionist Wyler soon falling behind schedule as he demanded take after take. As December drew nearer, Warner executives panicked. Jack Warner considered replacing Wyler with William Dieterle. When Davis got wind of this, she stormed into Warner's office, stating that she couldn't possibly keep up her level of performance with another director. She offered to work until midnight to keep the film from falling further behind. He was doing her a great deal of good off screen. Drawn together by their powerful personalities and dedication to filmmaking, director and star began an affair. Davis would later call Wyler the one great love of her life. When their romance burned out and he married starlet Margaret Tallichet (another Scarlett O'Hara hopeful), Davis was shattered. Jezebel finished shooting in January 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule and almost $400,000 over budget. But the results were worth it. Davis won some of the best reviews of her career and landed on the cover of Time magazine. On Oscar® night, Davis was a shoo-in for Best Actress and happily credited Wyler for her performance. She was also happy to see costar Fay Bainter honored as Best Supporting Actress for her subtle, understated performance as the sympathetic Aunt Belle. by Frank Miller

Pop Culture 101 - Jezebel


With Jezebel's box office success, Jack Warner agreed to give Bette Davis a new contract at decidedly better terms. He also offered her two terrible scripts in a row. She celebrated her new success by turning the films down and going on suspension for a month.

Jezebel launched a string of box office hits that made Davis one of the most popular actresses in the movies. It also started a record five year run during which Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar® each year (only Greer Garson would match her). Among her later hits were Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940) and Now, Voyager (1942).

Independent producer David O. Selznick was so impressed with the film's score he hired Max Steiner to write the background music for Gone with the Wind (1939), which became one of the most famous scores in film history.

Jezebel may not have been the first film about a southern belle but it was certainly the first to feature one who was strong-willed and independent. Other films with similar heroines which followed in the wake of Jezebel was the much more famous Gone with the Wind with Vivien Leigh, and Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County (1957).

by Frank Miller

Pop Culture 101 - Jezebel

With Jezebel's box office success, Jack Warner agreed to give Bette Davis a new contract at decidedly better terms. He also offered her two terrible scripts in a row. She celebrated her new success by turning the films down and going on suspension for a month. Jezebel launched a string of box office hits that made Davis one of the most popular actresses in the movies. It also started a record five year run during which Davis was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar® each year (only Greer Garson would match her). Among her later hits were Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940) and Now, Voyager (1942). Independent producer David O. Selznick was so impressed with the film's score he hired Max Steiner to write the background music for Gone with the Wind (1939), which became one of the most famous scores in film history. Jezebel may not have been the first film about a southern belle but it was certainly the first to feature one who was strong-willed and independent. Other films with similar heroines which followed in the wake of Jezebel was the much more famous Gone with the Wind with Vivien Leigh, and Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County (1957). by Frank Miller

Trivia - Jezebel - Trivia & Fun Facts About JEZEBEL


Director William Wyler had seen Jezebel on stage and recommended it to his home studio at the time, Universal, as a vehicle for Margaret Sullavan. He also thought it might make a good musical.

Stage actress Fay Bainter, who had only recently come to Hollywood, was paid $2,000 a week for playing Aunt Belle, the same fee Davis got for the film's starring role.

For the red dress that scandalized New Orleans society, costume designer Orry-Kelly created a rust-colored gown that would look red in black and white.

The yellow fever epidemic that struck New Orleans in 1853 claimed 8,000 victims.

When Fonda and Wyler realized they were both signed with agent Leland Hayward, who had just married the ex-wife of both men, actress Margaret Sullavan, they decided to play a practical joke on him. Each called him demanding he come to the set. Separately, Fonda told him he wanted to quit the film because he couldn't work with Wyler, and Wyler told him he wanted to fire Fonda, even though almost all of his scenes had been completed. After much persuasion, Hayward got them both together on the set to talk out their problems, at which point a photographer snapped a quick picture of them they would label "The Maggie Sullavan Club."

When Fonda's daughter, Jane, was born shortly after he finished his scenes for the film, he sent Wyler a telegram from the newborn Jane looking for acting work. Wyler wired back, offering his condolences on her poor choice of a father and offering to give her a screen test as soon as possible.

During filming, Wyler and Davis discussed the possibility of her starring in his planned film version of Wuthering Heights (1939). Unfortunately, Jack Warner wasn't interested in buying the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur script. When Wyler's boss, Samuel Goldwyn, decided to make the film himself, he saw it as a vehicle for his own contract star, Merle Oberon.

Davis hated the film's ad line, "She's meanest when she's lovin' most." When she complained about it to co-star George Brent, he quipped, "But ain't it the truth about you." Davis threw her drink in his face. A year later, they would have an affair.

Davis' competition at the Oscars® included co-star Fay Bainter, who had starred in White Banners (1938). Bainter was the first actress nominated for both a Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscar® in the same year and set a precedent by winning in the supporting category for Jezebel. That precedent held true for Teresa Wright, who won Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver (1942) the same year she was nominated for Best Actress for The Pride of the Yankees; Barry Fitzgerald, who won the supporting award for Going My Way (1944) while also nominated for Best Actor for the same film; and Jessica Lange, who lost her bid for Frances (1982) while winning for her supporting role in Tootsie. The precedent finally ended when Sigourney Weaver was nominated for both Gorillas in the Mist and Working Girls (both 1988) and lost in both categories.

The morning after Davis won the Oscar® for Jezebel, Miriam Hopkins celebrated with a temper tantrum during which she trashed the drawing room of her New York apartment.

Davis' Oscar® for Jezebel turned up on the auction block at Christie's in 2001. Director Steven Spielberg bought it for $578,000 and returned it to the Academy® to prevent its commercial exploitation. A year later he bought her first Oscar®, for Dangerous (1935), for the comparative bargain price of $207,500.

Famous Quotes from JEZEBEL

"Why do you treat me like a child?"
"Because you act like one. A spoiled one."
"You used to say you liked me like that once. You never wanted me to change. Remember?" -- Bette Davis, as Julie Marsden, quarreling with Henry Fonda, as Preston Dillard.

"Child, you're out of your mind. You know you can't wear red to the Olympus Ball."
"Can't I? I'm goin' to. This is 1852, dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married." -- Fay Bainter, as Aunt Belle, cautioning Davis, as Julie Marsden.

"You never saw an unmarried girl in anything but white."
"Then you're gonna see one tomorrow night." -- Fonda, as Preston Dillard, objecting to Davis, as Julie.

"I like my convictions like my whiskey, undiluted." -- George Brent as Buck Cantrell.

"Julie, child, I'm so sorry."
"For heaven's sakes, don't be gentle with me now. Do you think I wanna be wept over. I've got to think, to plan, to fight."
"But you can't fight marriage."
"Marriage, is it. To that washed-out little Yankee thing? Pres is mine. He's always been mine. And if I can't have him..." -- Bainter, as Aunt Belle, trying to comfort Davis about Fonda's marriage.

"How is Miss Julie?"
"Miss Julie? Why she's just Miss Julie."
"Just the same?"
"Well I reckon princesses, they just naturally grows up to be queens, that's all." -- Fonda, as Preston, returning home and questioning Lew Payton, as Uncle Cato.

"Pres, I can't believe it's you here. I've dreamed about it so long. A lifetime...No, longer than that. I put on this white dress for you. To help me tell ya how humbly I ask you to forgive me." -- Davis, greeting Fonda on his return.

"Nobody ever made me cry but you. And that was only twice. Do you remember?" -- Davis, trying to win back Fonda.

"I'm thinking about a woman called Jezebel, who did wrong in the sight of God." -- Bainter, chiding Davis for her behavior.
"Amy, of course it's your right to go, you're his wife. But are you fit to go? Lovin' him isn't enough. If you gave him all your strength, would it be enough?...Do you know the Creole word for fever powder -- for food and water?...His life and yours will hang on just things like that -- and you'll both surely die." -- Davis, begging to accompany Fonda into quarantine.

Compiled by Frank Miller

Trivia - Jezebel - Trivia & Fun Facts About JEZEBEL

Director William Wyler had seen Jezebel on stage and recommended it to his home studio at the time, Universal, as a vehicle for Margaret Sullavan. He also thought it might make a good musical. Stage actress Fay Bainter, who had only recently come to Hollywood, was paid $2,000 a week for playing Aunt Belle, the same fee Davis got for the film's starring role. For the red dress that scandalized New Orleans society, costume designer Orry-Kelly created a rust-colored gown that would look red in black and white. The yellow fever epidemic that struck New Orleans in 1853 claimed 8,000 victims. When Fonda and Wyler realized they were both signed with agent Leland Hayward, who had just married the ex-wife of both men, actress Margaret Sullavan, they decided to play a practical joke on him. Each called him demanding he come to the set. Separately, Fonda told him he wanted to quit the film because he couldn't work with Wyler, and Wyler told him he wanted to fire Fonda, even though almost all of his scenes had been completed. After much persuasion, Hayward got them both together on the set to talk out their problems, at which point a photographer snapped a quick picture of them they would label "The Maggie Sullavan Club." When Fonda's daughter, Jane, was born shortly after he finished his scenes for the film, he sent Wyler a telegram from the newborn Jane looking for acting work. Wyler wired back, offering his condolences on her poor choice of a father and offering to give her a screen test as soon as possible. During filming, Wyler and Davis discussed the possibility of her starring in his planned film version of Wuthering Heights (1939). Unfortunately, Jack Warner wasn't interested in buying the Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur script. When Wyler's boss, Samuel Goldwyn, decided to make the film himself, he saw it as a vehicle for his own contract star, Merle Oberon. Davis hated the film's ad line, "She's meanest when she's lovin' most." When she complained about it to co-star George Brent, he quipped, "But ain't it the truth about you." Davis threw her drink in his face. A year later, they would have an affair. Davis' competition at the Oscars® included co-star Fay Bainter, who had starred in White Banners (1938). Bainter was the first actress nominated for both a Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress Oscar® in the same year and set a precedent by winning in the supporting category for Jezebel. That precedent held true for Teresa Wright, who won Best Supporting Actress for Mrs. Miniver (1942) the same year she was nominated for Best Actress for The Pride of the Yankees; Barry Fitzgerald, who won the supporting award for Going My Way (1944) while also nominated for Best Actor for the same film; and Jessica Lange, who lost her bid for Frances (1982) while winning for her supporting role in Tootsie. The precedent finally ended when Sigourney Weaver was nominated for both Gorillas in the Mist and Working Girls (both 1988) and lost in both categories. The morning after Davis won the Oscar® for Jezebel, Miriam Hopkins celebrated with a temper tantrum during which she trashed the drawing room of her New York apartment. Davis' Oscar® for Jezebel turned up on the auction block at Christie's in 2001. Director Steven Spielberg bought it for $578,000 and returned it to the Academy® to prevent its commercial exploitation. A year later he bought her first Oscar®, for Dangerous (1935), for the comparative bargain price of $207,500. Famous Quotes from JEZEBEL "Why do you treat me like a child?" "Because you act like one. A spoiled one." "You used to say you liked me like that once. You never wanted me to change. Remember?" -- Bette Davis, as Julie Marsden, quarreling with Henry Fonda, as Preston Dillard. "Child, you're out of your mind. You know you can't wear red to the Olympus Ball." "Can't I? I'm goin' to. This is 1852, dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married." -- Fay Bainter, as Aunt Belle, cautioning Davis, as Julie Marsden. "You never saw an unmarried girl in anything but white." "Then you're gonna see one tomorrow night." -- Fonda, as Preston Dillard, objecting to Davis, as Julie. "I like my convictions like my whiskey, undiluted." -- George Brent as Buck Cantrell. "Julie, child, I'm so sorry." "For heaven's sakes, don't be gentle with me now. Do you think I wanna be wept over. I've got to think, to plan, to fight." "But you can't fight marriage." "Marriage, is it. To that washed-out little Yankee thing? Pres is mine. He's always been mine. And if I can't have him..." -- Bainter, as Aunt Belle, trying to comfort Davis about Fonda's marriage. "How is Miss Julie?" "Miss Julie? Why she's just Miss Julie." "Just the same?" "Well I reckon princesses, they just naturally grows up to be queens, that's all." -- Fonda, as Preston, returning home and questioning Lew Payton, as Uncle Cato. "Pres, I can't believe it's you here. I've dreamed about it so long. A lifetime...No, longer than that. I put on this white dress for you. To help me tell ya how humbly I ask you to forgive me." -- Davis, greeting Fonda on his return. "Nobody ever made me cry but you. And that was only twice. Do you remember?" -- Davis, trying to win back Fonda. "I'm thinking about a woman called Jezebel, who did wrong in the sight of God." -- Bainter, chiding Davis for her behavior. "Amy, of course it's your right to go, you're his wife. But are you fit to go? Lovin' him isn't enough. If you gave him all your strength, would it be enough?...Do you know the Creole word for fever powder -- for food and water?...His life and yours will hang on just things like that -- and you'll both surely die." -- Davis, begging to accompany Fonda into quarantine. Compiled by Frank Miller

The Big Idea - Jezebel


Jezebel had been a Broadway flop written by Owen Davis, Sr. (a Pulitzer Prize-winner for Icebound) for Tallulah Bankhead. When illness forced her to withdraw from rehearsals, Miriam Hopkins inherited the role and bought a half interest in the production from producer-director Guthrie McClintic. The show ran for just 32 performances in 1933.

Warner Bros. head of production Hal Wallis had considered a film version for Bette Davis as early as 1935, but decided against it after being advised that the leading role, a Southern belle who ruins her life by insisting on wearing a red dress to an all-white ball, was too unsympathetic to appeal to audiences.

To settle a contract dispute with Davis, Warner's finally bought the rights to Jezebel.

Making the thought of a film adaptation of Jezebel more attractive was the runaway success of Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind, which had created a renewed interest in the old South.

Studio head Jack Warner had optioned Gone with the Wind in 1936 as a possible vehicle for Bette Davis. That was during their most heated contract disputes. In one of their many arguments about her desire for better roles, he promised that if she filmed the latest bad script he had sent her, he had a great role in a yet-to-be-published book waiting for her. "I bet it's a pip," she said, storming out of his office. When she tried to walk out on her contract, he let his option on the book pass.

Independent producer David O. Selznick then picked up the rights to Gone with the Wind. When the novel became a best seller, fans started sending him their casting choices. Clark Gable was the runaway leader to play Rhett Butler. The field for Scarlett O'Hara was wider, but Davis was the clear winner, with 40 percent of the vote.

By this time, Davis had returned to Warner Bros. after a costly court case that had forced her to go back to work for them. Selznick wanted to borrow her for the role, but the deal fell through. Davis always claimed that Warner insisted that Errol Flynn be cast as Rhett. Knowing he wasn't good enough for the role, she refused the loan. Other sources suggest that Warner insisted on distributing the film himself if Davis starred, but Selznick had already signed a distribution deal with MGM.

Jezebel offered Jack Warner the perfect opportunity to give Davis a consolation prize for losing out on Gone with the Wind and take advantage of the publicity over the future Civil War epic. With a smaller-scale production, they would even beat Selznick's film to the screen by 20 months.

The only roadblock to Davis' staring in Jezebel was Miriam Hopkins, whose contract for the Broadway run gave her a claim on any film rights. Warner got her to sell her share for $12,000 and the promise that she would be the first actress considered for the role. She took this to mean the role was hers, only to learn that she had been considered and rejected almost immediately.

The studio gave Jezebel a budget of $800,000 (high for its time). This was the biggest budget ever for a Davis film, officially marking their recognition of her as a top star.

The first director assigned to Jezebel was Edmund Goulding, who had directed Davis in That Certain Woman (1937). He left the project after complaining that the leading character was too nasty to hold an audience. Next up was Michael Curtiz, who left the project to take over The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Warner's finally hired William Wyler to direct on loan from independent producer Samuel Goldwyn. His fee was $75,000 for 12 weeks work. He had proven very effective working with Miriam Hopkins on These Three and Ruth Chatterton on Dodsworth (both 1936).

When Wallis informed Davis he wanted to hire Wyler to direct the film, she hoped for a chance to get back at him for an earlier slight. During her first years in Hollywood, as a contract player at Universal, she had tested for his film A House Divided (1931). Rushed into an ill-fitting costume, she had shown up on the set with her bosom more exposed than she might have liked. Wyler took one look at her and cracked, "What do you think about these dames who show their chests and think they can get jobs?" Davis performed poorly in the test, and the role went to Helen Chandler. When they finally met to discuss Jezebel, with Davis in a position to reject him as a director, she mentioned that they had met before, but Wyler couldn't remember it. When she told him her story, all he could say was, "I'm a much nicer person now."

Since Wyler was still tied up finishing Dead End (1937) for Goldwyn, he asked Warners to assign an old friend of his, John Huston, to work on the screenplay and represent him in script development meetings. Huston had recently sold a story to Warners and signed a writing contract to develop it for the screen.

Actors considered for the male lead of Pres included Jeffrey Lynn and Franchot Tone.

Henry Fonda had already worked well with Davis on That Certain Woman and the two had known each other -- and even dated once -- during their days in the theatre. Wallis signed him to play Davis' fiancé, Pres Dillard, because Warner worked out a deal with independent producer Walter Wanger, who held Fonda's contract. With his wife pregnant, Fonda insisted on a clause freeing him from the film in December 1937, in time to be with his wife for the delivery of his first child, Jane.

by Frank Miller

The Big Idea - Jezebel

Jezebel had been a Broadway flop written by Owen Davis, Sr. (a Pulitzer Prize-winner for Icebound) for Tallulah Bankhead. When illness forced her to withdraw from rehearsals, Miriam Hopkins inherited the role and bought a half interest in the production from producer-director Guthrie McClintic. The show ran for just 32 performances in 1933. Warner Bros. head of production Hal Wallis had considered a film version for Bette Davis as early as 1935, but decided against it after being advised that the leading role, a Southern belle who ruins her life by insisting on wearing a red dress to an all-white ball, was too unsympathetic to appeal to audiences. To settle a contract dispute with Davis, Warner's finally bought the rights to Jezebel. Making the thought of a film adaptation of Jezebel more attractive was the runaway success of Margaret Mitchell's novel Gone with the Wind, which had created a renewed interest in the old South. Studio head Jack Warner had optioned Gone with the Wind in 1936 as a possible vehicle for Bette Davis. That was during their most heated contract disputes. In one of their many arguments about her desire for better roles, he promised that if she filmed the latest bad script he had sent her, he had a great role in a yet-to-be-published book waiting for her. "I bet it's a pip," she said, storming out of his office. When she tried to walk out on her contract, he let his option on the book pass. Independent producer David O. Selznick then picked up the rights to Gone with the Wind. When the novel became a best seller, fans started sending him their casting choices. Clark Gable was the runaway leader to play Rhett Butler. The field for Scarlett O'Hara was wider, but Davis was the clear winner, with 40 percent of the vote. By this time, Davis had returned to Warner Bros. after a costly court case that had forced her to go back to work for them. Selznick wanted to borrow her for the role, but the deal fell through. Davis always claimed that Warner insisted that Errol Flynn be cast as Rhett. Knowing he wasn't good enough for the role, she refused the loan. Other sources suggest that Warner insisted on distributing the film himself if Davis starred, but Selznick had already signed a distribution deal with MGM. Jezebel offered Jack Warner the perfect opportunity to give Davis a consolation prize for losing out on Gone with the Wind and take advantage of the publicity over the future Civil War epic. With a smaller-scale production, they would even beat Selznick's film to the screen by 20 months. The only roadblock to Davis' staring in Jezebel was Miriam Hopkins, whose contract for the Broadway run gave her a claim on any film rights. Warner got her to sell her share for $12,000 and the promise that she would be the first actress considered for the role. She took this to mean the role was hers, only to learn that she had been considered and rejected almost immediately. The studio gave Jezebel a budget of $800,000 (high for its time). This was the biggest budget ever for a Davis film, officially marking their recognition of her as a top star. The first director assigned to Jezebel was Edmund Goulding, who had directed Davis in That Certain Woman (1937). He left the project after complaining that the leading character was too nasty to hold an audience. Next up was Michael Curtiz, who left the project to take over The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Warner's finally hired William Wyler to direct on loan from independent producer Samuel Goldwyn. His fee was $75,000 for 12 weeks work. He had proven very effective working with Miriam Hopkins on These Three and Ruth Chatterton on Dodsworth (both 1936). When Wallis informed Davis he wanted to hire Wyler to direct the film, she hoped for a chance to get back at him for an earlier slight. During her first years in Hollywood, as a contract player at Universal, she had tested for his film A House Divided (1931). Rushed into an ill-fitting costume, she had shown up on the set with her bosom more exposed than she might have liked. Wyler took one look at her and cracked, "What do you think about these dames who show their chests and think they can get jobs?" Davis performed poorly in the test, and the role went to Helen Chandler. When they finally met to discuss Jezebel, with Davis in a position to reject him as a director, she mentioned that they had met before, but Wyler couldn't remember it. When she told him her story, all he could say was, "I'm a much nicer person now." Since Wyler was still tied up finishing Dead End (1937) for Goldwyn, he asked Warners to assign an old friend of his, John Huston, to work on the screenplay and represent him in script development meetings. Huston had recently sold a story to Warners and signed a writing contract to develop it for the screen. Actors considered for the male lead of Pres included Jeffrey Lynn and Franchot Tone. Henry Fonda had already worked well with Davis on That Certain Woman and the two had known each other -- and even dated once -- during their days in the theatre. Wallis signed him to play Davis' fiancé, Pres Dillard, because Warner worked out a deal with independent producer Walter Wanger, who held Fonda's contract. With his wife pregnant, Fonda insisted on a clause freeing him from the film in December 1937, in time to be with his wife for the delivery of his first child, Jane. by Frank Miller

Behind the Camera - Jezebel - Behind The Camera on JEZEBEL


Filming on Jezebel started on October 25, 1937.

Humphrey Bogart, who had just worked with director William Wyler on Dead End (1937), warned Davis that she would hate working with him because of his habit of doing extensive retakes without suggesting anything for the actors to change. On her first day of shooting, he took 28 takes to get one simple scene in the dress shop. She found the situation frustrating, but when she watched the rushes, she realized that her performance had gotten better with each successive take.

Wyler never said how he felt about a take after he printed it, which drove Davis mad with insecurity. When she finally told him she needed more approval from her director, Wyler started saying "Marvelous, Miss Davis, just marvelous!" after each take. Davis finally laughed and told him to go back to his usual ways.

Throughout filming Wyler kept at Davis to drop her nervous mannerisms, yelling at her for wiggling her hips or moving her head too much. At one point he even threatened to tie a chain around her neck to make her hold her head still. As a result, the gestures she kept in were much more powerful than in previous performances.

Eventually, Davis and Wyler embarked on an affair. Crew members often saw him leaving her dressing room with his face covered with lipstick. With her husband, Ham Nelson, working mostly in New York (their marriage was breaking up), Davis spent many nights at Wyler's home, cooking dinner, discussing the film and making love.

Wyler was torn between a contractual need to finish Fonda's scenes by December and his knowledge that Davis would give her best performance if he shot her role in sequence. As the film fell behind schedule, Wallis and Warner fumed that the director had spent two days on a scene with only Davis and co-star George Brent.

Following a quarrel with Wyler, Davis embarked on an affair with Fonda that greatly increased tensions on the set. After a phone call from Fonda's pregnant wife, she called things off.

Further slowing down the production was a pimple that erupted on Davis' nose in November, as Fonda's departure date neared. For a week and a half, Wyler couldn't shoot any close-ups of her. By the time it healed, the film was 13-1/2 days behind schedule.

The Olympus Ball scene was only a few sentences in the script, and the film's assistant director scheduled half a day of shooting. Wyler, however, developed it into one of the film's most important scenes, spending five days filming a series of long takes and camera moves.

Fonda finally finished his scenes a day before the final date stipulated in his contract. This left Davis playing close-ups without her leading man present, a situation that preyed on the high-strung actress' nerves.

Davis' father died on New Year's Day, 1938. With the production 24 days behind schedule, there was no question of her taking time off to attend the funeral.

Wallis and Warner considered replacing Wyler with William Dieterle. When Davis found out about this, she went to see Warner to convince him to keep Wyler on for the good of her performance. When he countered that it wouldn't do any good if the film was too expensive to break even, she offered to work until midnight every night and still show up ready to shoot at nine the next morning if he would just keep Wyler on, which he did.

Wyler was not very impressed with actress Margaret Lindsay, who played Fonda's wife. Feeling she couldn't convincingly convey strength in her final confrontation with Davis, he shot their scene on a staircase, keeping Lindsay a few steps higher than Davis the entire time so that she was visually dominant. In her memoirs, Davis claimed he also inserted a shot of Lindsay's hand on the banister, with the character's wedding ring prominently featured, but there is no such shot in the film.

To keep from falling further behind on schedule, writer John Huston was asked to direct the duel scene in Jezebel. It was his first time directing.

Shooting was scheduled to end on Saturday, January 15, 1938, but Davis was too ill to work (some have suggested she was upset that the end of production would mean the end of her affair with Wyler). They finally got the last shot on Monday, January 17, 29 days over schedule and about $400,000 over budget.

Davis cried for days after finishing Jezebel and with good reason. Not only had she finished one of the most rewarding artistic experiences in her career, but she was pregnant with Wyler's child.

After an advanced screening of the film, producer David O. Selznick wrote Warner complaining about the film's similarities to Gone with the Wind (1939), particularly citing Davis' pinching her cheeks to give them color, which Scarlett O'Hara does in the book, and a dining room scene in which the male characters discuss the differences between the North and the South and the possibility of war. Warner countered that the dining room scene was faithful to the scene in the original play, which had appeared a few years before Margaret Mitchell's novel.

by Frank Miller

Behind the Camera - Jezebel - Behind The Camera on JEZEBEL

Filming on Jezebel started on October 25, 1937. Humphrey Bogart, who had just worked with director William Wyler on Dead End (1937), warned Davis that she would hate working with him because of his habit of doing extensive retakes without suggesting anything for the actors to change. On her first day of shooting, he took 28 takes to get one simple scene in the dress shop. She found the situation frustrating, but when she watched the rushes, she realized that her performance had gotten better with each successive take. Wyler never said how he felt about a take after he printed it, which drove Davis mad with insecurity. When she finally told him she needed more approval from her director, Wyler started saying "Marvelous, Miss Davis, just marvelous!" after each take. Davis finally laughed and told him to go back to his usual ways. Throughout filming Wyler kept at Davis to drop her nervous mannerisms, yelling at her for wiggling her hips or moving her head too much. At one point he even threatened to tie a chain around her neck to make her hold her head still. As a result, the gestures she kept in were much more powerful than in previous performances. Eventually, Davis and Wyler embarked on an affair. Crew members often saw him leaving her dressing room with his face covered with lipstick. With her husband, Ham Nelson, working mostly in New York (their marriage was breaking up), Davis spent many nights at Wyler's home, cooking dinner, discussing the film and making love. Wyler was torn between a contractual need to finish Fonda's scenes by December and his knowledge that Davis would give her best performance if he shot her role in sequence. As the film fell behind schedule, Wallis and Warner fumed that the director had spent two days on a scene with only Davis and co-star George Brent. Following a quarrel with Wyler, Davis embarked on an affair with Fonda that greatly increased tensions on the set. After a phone call from Fonda's pregnant wife, she called things off. Further slowing down the production was a pimple that erupted on Davis' nose in November, as Fonda's departure date neared. For a week and a half, Wyler couldn't shoot any close-ups of her. By the time it healed, the film was 13-1/2 days behind schedule. The Olympus Ball scene was only a few sentences in the script, and the film's assistant director scheduled half a day of shooting. Wyler, however, developed it into one of the film's most important scenes, spending five days filming a series of long takes and camera moves. Fonda finally finished his scenes a day before the final date stipulated in his contract. This left Davis playing close-ups without her leading man present, a situation that preyed on the high-strung actress' nerves. Davis' father died on New Year's Day, 1938. With the production 24 days behind schedule, there was no question of her taking time off to attend the funeral. Wallis and Warner considered replacing Wyler with William Dieterle. When Davis found out about this, she went to see Warner to convince him to keep Wyler on for the good of her performance. When he countered that it wouldn't do any good if the film was too expensive to break even, she offered to work until midnight every night and still show up ready to shoot at nine the next morning if he would just keep Wyler on, which he did. Wyler was not very impressed with actress Margaret Lindsay, who played Fonda's wife. Feeling she couldn't convincingly convey strength in her final confrontation with Davis, he shot their scene on a staircase, keeping Lindsay a few steps higher than Davis the entire time so that she was visually dominant. In her memoirs, Davis claimed he also inserted a shot of Lindsay's hand on the banister, with the character's wedding ring prominently featured, but there is no such shot in the film. To keep from falling further behind on schedule, writer John Huston was asked to direct the duel scene in Jezebel. It was his first time directing. Shooting was scheduled to end on Saturday, January 15, 1938, but Davis was too ill to work (some have suggested she was upset that the end of production would mean the end of her affair with Wyler). They finally got the last shot on Monday, January 17, 29 days over schedule and about $400,000 over budget. Davis cried for days after finishing Jezebel and with good reason. Not only had she finished one of the most rewarding artistic experiences in her career, but she was pregnant with Wyler's child. After an advanced screening of the film, producer David O. Selznick wrote Warner complaining about the film's similarities to Gone with the Wind (1939), particularly citing Davis' pinching her cheeks to give them color, which Scarlett O'Hara does in the book, and a dining room scene in which the male characters discuss the differences between the North and the South and the possibility of war. Warner countered that the dining room scene was faithful to the scene in the original play, which had appeared a few years before Margaret Mitchell's novel. by Frank Miller

Jezebel - Jezebel


Red proved a fitting substitute for Scarlett when Warner Bros. presented diva-in-residence Bette Davis with a consolation prize for losing the lead in Gone With the Wind. As Julie Marston in Jezebel (1938), she gave the performance that made her a major box-office star, winning a well-deserved Oscar® in the process. In addition, the film introduced her to the director who would help her refine her screen acting technique and who became the great love of her life, William Wyler.

Warner Bros. had considered producing Jezebel as a vehicle for Davis as far back as 1935, before anybody had heard of Gone With the Wind. On the strength of her breakthrough performance as the vixenish Mildred in Of Human Bondage, the studio almost bought the rights to Owen Davis Sr.'s failed play about a southern belle whose scandalous decision to wear a red dress to New Orleans's Olympus Ball ruins her chances for happiness. But they decided the female lead was too unsympathetic and passed on it.

Jezebel looked a lot better after Gone With the Wind hit the bestseller lists. Davis was actually a front-runner to play Scarlett in the film version. But studio head Jack Warner insisted on a package deal that would have cast Errol Flynn as Rhett. Although she desperately wanted the role, Davis knew that Flynn could never carry off the male lead and refused the loan.

In an effort to find a vehicle that would move Davis into the top rank of film stars, the studio returned to Owen Davis's play. To complete the package, they cast Henry Fonda in the male lead and hired one of Hollywood's top directors, William Wyler.

Filming began in late October 1937, with perfectionist Wyler soon falling behind schedule as he demanded take after take. As December drew nearer, Warner executives panicked. Jack Warner considered replacing Wyler with William Dieterle. When Davis got wind of this, she stormed into Warner's office, stating that she couldn't possibly keep up her level of performance with another director. She offered to work until midnight to keep the film from falling further behind.

She was right about her performance. Wyler was the first really strong director she had worked with. He showed her how to pace herself, and he toned down her famous mannerisms by threatening to put a chain around her neck to keep her from moving her head.

He was doing her a great deal of good offscreen. Drawn together by their powerful personalities and dedication to filmmaking, director and star began an affair. Davis would later call Wyler the one great love of her life. When their romance burned out and he married starlet Margaret Tallichet (another Scarlett O'Hara hopeful), Davis was shattered.

Jezebel finished shooting in January 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule and almost $400,000 over budget. But the results were worth it. Davis won some of the best reviews of her career and landed on the cover of Time magazine. On Oscar® night, Davis was a shoo-in for Best Actress and happily credited Wyler for her performance. She was also happy to see costar Fay Bainter honored as Best Supporting Actress for her subtle, understated performance as the sympathetic Aunt Belle.

Producers: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis, William Wyler
Director: William Wyler
Screenplay: Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Robert Buckner (based on the play by Owen Davis, Sr.)
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Music: Max Steiner
Film Editing: Warren Low
Art Direction: Robert M. Haas
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Cast: Bette Davis (Julie Marsden), Henry Fonda (Preston Dillard), George Brent (Buck Cantrell), Margaret Lindsay (Amy Bradford Dillard), Donald Crisp (Dr. Livingstone), Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle Massey), Richard Cromwell (Ted Dillard), Henry O'Neill (General Bogardus), Spring Byington (Mrs. Kendrick).
BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video.

by Frank Miller

Jezebel - Jezebel

Red proved a fitting substitute for Scarlett when Warner Bros. presented diva-in-residence Bette Davis with a consolation prize for losing the lead in Gone With the Wind. As Julie Marston in Jezebel (1938), she gave the performance that made her a major box-office star, winning a well-deserved Oscar® in the process. In addition, the film introduced her to the director who would help her refine her screen acting technique and who became the great love of her life, William Wyler. Warner Bros. had considered producing Jezebel as a vehicle for Davis as far back as 1935, before anybody had heard of Gone With the Wind. On the strength of her breakthrough performance as the vixenish Mildred in Of Human Bondage, the studio almost bought the rights to Owen Davis Sr.'s failed play about a southern belle whose scandalous decision to wear a red dress to New Orleans's Olympus Ball ruins her chances for happiness. But they decided the female lead was too unsympathetic and passed on it. Jezebel looked a lot better after Gone With the Wind hit the bestseller lists. Davis was actually a front-runner to play Scarlett in the film version. But studio head Jack Warner insisted on a package deal that would have cast Errol Flynn as Rhett. Although she desperately wanted the role, Davis knew that Flynn could never carry off the male lead and refused the loan. In an effort to find a vehicle that would move Davis into the top rank of film stars, the studio returned to Owen Davis's play. To complete the package, they cast Henry Fonda in the male lead and hired one of Hollywood's top directors, William Wyler. Filming began in late October 1937, with perfectionist Wyler soon falling behind schedule as he demanded take after take. As December drew nearer, Warner executives panicked. Jack Warner considered replacing Wyler with William Dieterle. When Davis got wind of this, she stormed into Warner's office, stating that she couldn't possibly keep up her level of performance with another director. She offered to work until midnight to keep the film from falling further behind. She was right about her performance. Wyler was the first really strong director she had worked with. He showed her how to pace herself, and he toned down her famous mannerisms by threatening to put a chain around her neck to keep her from moving her head. He was doing her a great deal of good offscreen. Drawn together by their powerful personalities and dedication to filmmaking, director and star began an affair. Davis would later call Wyler the one great love of her life. When their romance burned out and he married starlet Margaret Tallichet (another Scarlett O'Hara hopeful), Davis was shattered. Jezebel finished shooting in January 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule and almost $400,000 over budget. But the results were worth it. Davis won some of the best reviews of her career and landed on the cover of Time magazine. On Oscar® night, Davis was a shoo-in for Best Actress and happily credited Wyler for her performance. She was also happy to see costar Fay Bainter honored as Best Supporting Actress for her subtle, understated performance as the sympathetic Aunt Belle. Producers: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis, William Wyler Director: William Wyler Screenplay: Clements Ripley, Abem Finkel, John Huston, Robert Buckner (based on the play by Owen Davis, Sr.) Cinematography: Ernest Haller Music: Max Steiner Film Editing: Warren Low Art Direction: Robert M. Haas Costume Design: Orry-Kelly Cast: Bette Davis (Julie Marsden), Henry Fonda (Preston Dillard), George Brent (Buck Cantrell), Margaret Lindsay (Amy Bradford Dillard), Donald Crisp (Dr. Livingstone), Fay Bainter (Aunt Belle Massey), Richard Cromwell (Ted Dillard), Henry O'Neill (General Bogardus), Spring Byington (Mrs. Kendrick). BW-105m. Closed captioning. Descriptive Video. by Frank Miller

The Critics' Corner - Jezebel


Jezebel brought Warner Bros. profits of over $400,000, an impressive figure for the time. Adjusted for inflation, it comes to more than $5.3 million.

"Jezebel is far from the usual romantic southern tale. It is a penetrating study of character in a setting whose conventional surface handsomeness does not nullify its essential truth and solidity. As in any good movie its excellences come from many sources -- good plotting and writing, a director and photographer who know how to make the thing flow along with dramatic pictorial effect, and a cast that makes its story a record of living people....At the center of it is Bette Davis, growing into an artistic maturity that is one of the wonders of Hollywood. The erratic and tempestuous career of this actress has saved her from playing sweet heroines and glamour girls and given her chances at parts that most players out for popularity would balk at -- the result is an experience that has made her unique, in a field of character creation that is practically empty. Her Julie is the peak of her accomplishments, so far, and what is ahead is unpredictable depending on her luck and on the wisdom of her producers." -- James Shelley Hamilton, National Board of Review magazine.

"The performance is Bette's decisive victory. She handles it as though, having brought her enemies to their knees, she has decided to be merciful. By the pure power of imaginative acting she gives a performance as vivid and inspiring as any star display of personality -- and on an infinitely deeper layer of truth. Never before has Bette so triumphantly proved her point that a woman's face can be appealing and moving even when not preserved in peach-like perfection. Never again can her claim be denied that it is possible on the screen for acting to transmute personality." -- Freda Bruce Lockhart, Film Weekly.

"It is Miss Davis' show, but she has valiant aid from other performers. Henry Fonda makes an adequately disgusted hero. No amount of sincere acting would turn Jezebel into a sincere tragedy, though. The story is still bad, even if it is persuasively enacted and resourcefully staged." -- Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune.

"It's hard to know which is Davis's 'big scene' in the movie -- the painful, flamboyant error of her appearance in red, or the breathtaking moment of her apology in white. The material was already dated but was brought out of mothballs and refurbished because of the popularity of the novel Gone with the Wind, which the production beat to the screen; without the zing Davis gave it, it would have looked very mossy indeed." -- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies.

"Jezebel is a masterpiece of emotional storytelling." - The Rough Guide to Cult Movies (Penguin).

"This just misses sock proportions. That's due to an anti-climactic development on the one hand, and a somewhat static character study of the Dixie vixen, on the other...Wyler's direction draws an engrossing cross-section of old southern manners and hospitality. It's undoubtedly faithful to a degree, and not without its charm. At times it's even completely captivating." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentice Hall).

"Picture suffers because of too much chit-chat about what's proper in southern society and the embarrassing portrayal of the black slaves (a happy-go-lucky, singing lot). But the large-eyed Davis is a joy to watch...Million-dollar production was directed by William Wyler with his customary attention to period detail." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic (Fireside) "Superb star melodrama...dealt with in high style by all concerned." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial).

AWARDS & HONORS

Bette Davis won her second Oscar® for Jezebel. Her first, for Dangerous (1935), was generally considered a consolation prize for her not having been nominated for Of Human Bondage the year before, but with her second win, she felt the voters truly had chosen to honor her performance.

Fay Bainter won the Oscar® for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as Aunt Belle. Jezebel also won nominations for Best Picture, Best Score and Best Cinematography. Although Davis complained in her acceptance speech that the only thing dimming the luster of her victory was William Wyler's failure to win the Best Director race, he wasn't even nominated.

Jezebel won a special recommendation from the Venice Film Festival, where it also was nominated for Best Film.

Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

The Critics' Corner - Jezebel

Jezebel brought Warner Bros. profits of over $400,000, an impressive figure for the time. Adjusted for inflation, it comes to more than $5.3 million. "Jezebel is far from the usual romantic southern tale. It is a penetrating study of character in a setting whose conventional surface handsomeness does not nullify its essential truth and solidity. As in any good movie its excellences come from many sources -- good plotting and writing, a director and photographer who know how to make the thing flow along with dramatic pictorial effect, and a cast that makes its story a record of living people....At the center of it is Bette Davis, growing into an artistic maturity that is one of the wonders of Hollywood. The erratic and tempestuous career of this actress has saved her from playing sweet heroines and glamour girls and given her chances at parts that most players out for popularity would balk at -- the result is an experience that has made her unique, in a field of character creation that is practically empty. Her Julie is the peak of her accomplishments, so far, and what is ahead is unpredictable depending on her luck and on the wisdom of her producers." -- James Shelley Hamilton, National Board of Review magazine. "The performance is Bette's decisive victory. She handles it as though, having brought her enemies to their knees, she has decided to be merciful. By the pure power of imaginative acting she gives a performance as vivid and inspiring as any star display of personality -- and on an infinitely deeper layer of truth. Never before has Bette so triumphantly proved her point that a woman's face can be appealing and moving even when not preserved in peach-like perfection. Never again can her claim be denied that it is possible on the screen for acting to transmute personality." -- Freda Bruce Lockhart, Film Weekly. "It is Miss Davis' show, but she has valiant aid from other performers. Henry Fonda makes an adequately disgusted hero. No amount of sincere acting would turn Jezebel into a sincere tragedy, though. The story is still bad, even if it is persuasively enacted and resourcefully staged." -- Howard Barnes, New York Herald Tribune. "It's hard to know which is Davis's 'big scene' in the movie -- the painful, flamboyant error of her appearance in red, or the breathtaking moment of her apology in white. The material was already dated but was brought out of mothballs and refurbished because of the popularity of the novel Gone with the Wind, which the production beat to the screen; without the zing Davis gave it, it would have looked very mossy indeed." -- Pauline Kael, 5,001 Nights at the Movies. "Jezebel is a masterpiece of emotional storytelling." - The Rough Guide to Cult Movies (Penguin). "This just misses sock proportions. That's due to an anti-climactic development on the one hand, and a somewhat static character study of the Dixie vixen, on the other...Wyler's direction draws an engrossing cross-section of old southern manners and hospitality. It's undoubtedly faithful to a degree, and not without its charm. At times it's even completely captivating." - Variety Movie Guide (Prentice Hall). "Picture suffers because of too much chit-chat about what's proper in southern society and the embarrassing portrayal of the black slaves (a happy-go-lucky, singing lot). But the large-eyed Davis is a joy to watch...Million-dollar production was directed by William Wyler with his customary attention to period detail." - Danny Peary, Guide For the Film Fanatic (Fireside) "Superb star melodrama...dealt with in high style by all concerned." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide (HarperPerennial). AWARDS & HONORS Bette Davis won her second Oscar® for Jezebel. Her first, for Dangerous (1935), was generally considered a consolation prize for her not having been nominated for Of Human Bondage the year before, but with her second win, she felt the voters truly had chosen to honor her performance. Fay Bainter won the Oscar® for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance as Aunt Belle. Jezebel also won nominations for Best Picture, Best Score and Best Cinematography. Although Davis complained in her acceptance speech that the only thing dimming the luster of her victory was William Wyler's failure to win the Best Director race, he wasn't even nominated. Jezebel won a special recommendation from the Venice Film Festival, where it also was nominated for Best Film. Compiled by Frank Miller & Jeff Stafford

Quotes

This is 1852 dumplin', 1852, not the Dark Ages. Girls don't have to simper around in white just because they're not married.
- Julie Marsden
Pres has always loved you in white... If he isn't simply bowled over by it, I won't know what to think.
- Aunt Belle
Wait a minute. Bring that over here. Saucy, isn't it?
- Julie
And vulgar.
- Aunt Belle
Yes, isn't it? Come on, get me out of this.
- Julie
Julie, what are you doing? If it fits me, I'm gonna wear it to the Olympus Ball.
- Aunt Belle
Child, you're out of your mind. You know you can't wear red to the Olympus Ball.
- Aunt Belle
Can't I? I'm goin' to. This is 1852, dumplin'. 1852, not the Dark Ages.
- Julie Marsden
To the very good health of the future Ms. Dillard.
- Buck Cantrell
Buck. Aren't you gonna wish me happiness too?
- Julie Marsden
What's the use? You won't get it. Marryin' a traitor and goin' up North.
- Buck Cantrell
Pres is a banker, not a traitor. I'll thank ya to remember that.
- Julie Marsden
Why do you treat me like a child?
- Julie Marsden
Because you act like one. A spoiled one.
- Preston Dillard
You used to say you liked me like that once. You never wanted me to change. Remember?
- Julie Marsden

Trivia

The role of the title character was offered as compensation to Bette Davis - her first major film role - when she lost the opportunity to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939).

The "red" dress in this black and white film was actually black.

Has been called a black-and-white version of "Gone with the Wind" which was in its pre-production stages at the time.

Some scenes had to filmed around Henry Fonda, as he had to be with his wife as she gave birth to their daughter Jane Fonda).

Originally a flop play on Broadway starring Davis's nemesis Miriam Hopkins. Hopkins assumed she was contractually set to star in the film adaptation, but the contract only specified she would be "considered" for the film version.

Notes

According to a Daily Variety pre-production news item, Warner Bros. began negotiations for the screen rights to Owen Davis' play in 1935, at which time Ruth Chatterton was considered for the female lead. Information contained in the Warner Bros. Collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicates that the rights to Owens' play were co-owed by Guthrie McClintic and actress Miriam Hopkins, who starred in the Broadway run of the play. Hopkins initially stipulated that she would only permit the sale of the rights to Warner Bros. if they cast her in the leading role. According to modern sources, Hopkins finally consented to the sale only after Walter McEwen of the Warner Bros. story department lied to her, promising her first crack at the part when the script was completed. In January 1937, the rights to Davis' play were purchased by the studio for $12,000.
       Following the completion of the first treatment of the film, Edmund Goulding, a well-known writer and director, wrote a memo to executive producer Hal Wallis, dated July 17, 1937, in which he gave his opinion of the story: "although it is quite possible to put a vivid picture upon the screen-that picture can only tell the story of the triumph of bitchery...[Bette Davis'] character, Julie, is rather like one of some naughty children writing obscene things on a wall-and, when the other runs away, she will stay there and tell you that she did it-and so what?" On July 22, 1937, Warner Bros. producer Lou Edelman sent Wallis a memo in which he stated that Goulding's suggestions to improve the story were a "combination of the elements of many old-fashioned stories and plays, and I am certain that out of it would come the biggest and most complicated bunch of tripe that has ever been put on the screen!...I beg of you to let us do our script. You liked the treatment-and I am sure you will like the script."
       The Warner Bros. Collection also contains a October 6, 1937 Warner Bros. inter-office memo detailing the studio's attempt to get Jeffrey Lynn (then known as Jeffrey Lind) to star opposite Davis. An April 1982 news item in Hollywood Studio Magazine notes that Lynn turned down the role because he "wasn't ready." A October 21, 1937 tentative cast list for Jezebel lists Ellen Clancy in the role of "Molly Allen." The Warner Bros. shooting schedule for the film indicates that Tony Paton played the role of "Huger" on the first day of production, but he was later replaced in that role by Irving Pichel. The Daily Production and Progress Reports on Jezebel indicate that the following tests were made: Tim Holt and Maurice Murphy for the role of "Ted Dillard"; Rosella Towne, Geraldine Spreckels and Mary Maguire for "Amy Bradford Dillard"; Rafael Corio, Jean De Briac, George Sorel and Paul Boyer for "Huger"; Brandon Tynan, Walter Kelly and Clarence Kolb for "General Bogardus"; Gordon Oliver, Dean Jagger, John King and Robert Whitney for "Buck" and "Pres"; Billie Fargo and Myrtle Anderson for "Zette"; and Onslow Stevens, Donald Briggs and John Arledge for unspecified roles. The production reports also note that Theresa Harris replaced Daisy Lee Mothershed in the role of "Zette." The film was budgeted at $1.25 million.
       The Warner Bros. Collection contains a series of inter-office memos sent from Wallis to associate producer Henry Blancke, written between November 1937 and January 1938, in which Wallis harshly criticized director William Wyler for shooting too many takes and putting the picture behind schedule. On November 4, 1937, Wallis wrote to Blancke: "Do you think Wyler is mad at Fonda or something because of their past. It seems that he is not content to okay anything with [Henry] Fonda until it has been done ten or eleven takes. After all, they have been divorced from the same girl [Margaret Sullavan], and by-gones should be by-gones....Possibly Wyler likes to see these big numbers on the slate, and maybe we could arrange to have them start with number "6" on each take, then it wouldn't take so long to get up to nine or ten." In January 1938, Wallis, still frustrated by Wyler's excessive takes, wrote Blanke to complain about a scene that was taken sixteen times, and asked, "What the hell is the matter with him anyhow-is he absolutely daffy?" Shooting on Jezebel was completed on January 17, 1938, twenty-eight days over schedule. A biography of Fonda suggests that he and Wyler were good friends, and that Fonda had only mild complaints about the many takes Wyler insisted on shooting.
       According to Warner Bros. publicity material, Wyler played the violin for the song "The Blue Danube," to which Bette Davis danced in the film. Studio publicity material also notes that Davis wore sixteeen different costumes, each with a cost of over $500, and that the now-famous red dress that she wore, which cost $850, was, in fact, bronze-colored because red appears as grey in black-and-white film. A total of $30,000 was spent on dresses for the film, and seventy-five seamstresses worked for a month making them. Davis reportedly received an injury during production when, while employing the Southern custom of reddening her cheeks by slapping them with the back of a hairbrush, she hit herself too hard and had to take three days off. Art director Robert Haas, according to studio publicity material, constructed a "complete set of miniature settings" for Wyler, who used them to plan each day's scenes. According to a contemporary New York Times article, Dalton S. Reymond "supervised the speech of the players in Jezebel." The New York Times article also notes that art director Robert Haas built a Louisiana plantation house on the Warner Bros. ranch, which was located approximately thirty miles from the California studio. According to modern sources, Fonda had an agreement with Warner Bros. that his work on the film would be finished by early December 1937 so that he could attend the birth of his child [Jane Fonda] in the East. As the production was behind schedule, Fonda had to leave before all his scenes with Davis were completed, leaving Davis to do the scenes in close-up without Fonda there to read his lines.
       The following quote appeared in the April 1938 issue of Redbook Magazine: "[Producer] David Selznick May yet have the last laugh, but if we are to believe the grapevine reports from Hollywood, Warner Brothers are likely to profit from the procrastination of the purchaser of Gone with the Wind []. Jezebel...may make 'Scarlett' appear pallid." In an March 8, 1938 telegram from Selznick to Jack Warner, reproduced in a modern source, Selznick accused Warner of making a film that "is permeated with characterizations, attitudes, and scenes which unfortunately resemble Gone with the Wind." Selznick went on to list specific scenes that he felt were too similar to those in Gone with the Wind, including one of a discussion around the dinner table of the "difference between the North and the South, the discussion of an imminent war, and the prediction by the Southerner that the North will win...." That scene was removed from the film prior to its release.
       According to modern sources, Selznick was so impressed with composer Max Steiner's music in Jezebel that he commissioned him to handle the score for Gone with the Wind. Davis won her second Oscar for Best Actress for her portrayal of Julie, and Fay Bainter won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Ernest Haller received a nomination for Best Cinematography. The National Board of Review named it the best English language film of the year. A Lux Video Theatre production of Jezebel, which was televised on the NBC network on November 8, 1956, starred Martha Hyer and Charles Drake. Davis and Bainter re-created their Jezebel roles in the late 1940s for the Academy Award Theatre radio program.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1938

Released in United States on Video April 5, 1988

Released in United States 1938

Released in United States on Video April 5, 1988