Wednesday, September 6, 2023

The Lonely Life of an Icon

Bette in Jezebel

I just finished reading Bette Davis' autobiography The Lonely Life and it was both fascinating and sad. Her first husband insisted she abort her first child and, when her mother backed him up, Bette complied. Here is an interview with Bette's personal assistant Kathryn Sermak:

She was the first person to receive 10 Academy Award nominations and she twice won for Best Actress. The first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute, and the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Bette Davis is engraved in history as one of the most accomplished female actresses of classic Hollywood history. Known for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, when she died from breast cancer in 1989, the world lost one of the last of the greats. Entering the living room of Kathryn Sermak, Bette Davis' personal assistant of 10 years, you are immediately transported back to old Hollywood. Dominating the room is the actress' striped chaise longue, like a long throne and draped in a fur wrap, as if Bette has only just left the room for a few minutes to light one of her 100-a-day cigarettes. The dresser holds her collection of crockery: winter serving dishes featuring animals; summer dishes, a welcoming house in blue. There are Thanksgiving dining plates on which a large turkey dominates, and a gravy boat big enough to serve a squadron.

The exquisite ruby water glasses are as big as vases and as heavy as small gym weights; the wine goblets are elegant creations of a bygone age. Bette's pride in the appearance of her dining table is not what one might expect from a woman who played an ageing former actress, holding her paraplegic sister captive in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. Kathryn Sermak's new book, Miss D & Me, reveals even more, with its anecdotes and insights into Bette Davis' life on the other side of the camera. It is also a tribute to the woman she acknowledges taught her everything when she started out as a naive Catholic 22-year-old working for one of the world's greatest movie stars. When we sit down to talk at Bette's dining table and sip rosé from the classic glasses, it's impossible not to feel a sense of her presence. (Read more.)
Bette with fourth husband Gary Merrill



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