As most people will tell you, there are a great many famous women that I look up to and admire. These include – Marilyn Monroe, Madonna, Bette Davis, Carole Lombard, Thelma Todd, Jean Harlow, and Clara Bow; along with writers such as Jackie Collins, Natalie Goldberg and Helene Hanff.
I am inspired by all of these ladies for different reasons, and reading about them most certainly spurs me on to create magic in my own career. I will write columns about all of them over the months ahead, but today the lady I’d like to talk about is Bette Davis. I have adored Bette ever since the moment I found out we shared the same birthday, which was probably when I was around 15 years old. As a teenager, I felt really special to have someone as fearless and extraordinary as Miss Davis, share my birthday, and over the years I have collected many books and memorabilia, including her own autobiographies.
People often ask me what my favourite Bette book is. Well, after her own works (The Lonely Life and This and That), I’d have to say that my personal faves are the ones written by Whitney Stine. Mother Goddam is a brilliant book, which came about because Stine wrote a manuscript and sent it to Bette for her approval. Not only did she tell him her thoughts, but she also wrote her own notes in the margins of the manuscript. It was then published with her notes included, and became something of an official biography. Confirming her fabulous sense of humour, Bette thought it was a delicious book and that the title was very fitting for her! I also very much like James Spada’s book, More Than A Woman, and would recommend this (and his Marilyn Monroe book) to anyone.
If you’re looking for a great Bette Davis photo book, there aren’t a huge amount out there. BUT there is an amazing one called Larger Than Life by Richard Schickel and George Perry, which tells Bette’s story through a vast amount of film stills and portraits. I bought my copy from my favourite book shop – Waterstones Piccadilly, and I literally jumped up and down when I saw it. I had no idea there was such a book, so it was one of those very exciting moments!
A funny Bette-related story comes from when I was a drama student aged nineteen or twenty. I had to prepare a reading to deliver in class, but I had forgotten all about it until the morning I was supposed to read. I grabbed a nearby Bette Davis book from the shelf and headed to class. My drama teacher (who I will tell you all about in another blog post) was a very stern woman with virtually no sense of humour whatsoever. When I opened the book to read, I just picked the first paragraph that my eyes happened upon. It started out quite tamely; just explaining a particular stage play that Bette had acted in. However, about two sentences in, I noticed that the story veered off into controversial territory, when it explained how the young men in the audience became – shall we say – a little too visibly excited when Bette walked onto the stage.
Now as I said, my drama teacher was not someone easily amused, and as my eyes fell upon the words ‘erection’ I knew there was no way I could read this aloud! I had to quickly change the whole paragraph – make it all up as I went along – so as to avoid her (and my) embarrassment. At the end, she told me she was not impressed with my reading, but considering I made most of it up on the spur of the moment, I think I did pretty well! As I stood there, face red and palms sweaty, clutching the embarrassing book in my hands, I’m sure the spirit of Bette Davis was having an almighty laugh about it!
To me, Bette Davis was probably the most fearless actress I’ve ever come across. She fought for everything she believed in and was even taken to court by the studio when she walked out on her contract. She loved her job but if there was something or someone she did not care for, well damn they were certainly going to hear about it. I once read that Bette loved Aries people and adored writers. I like to think that since I’m both, we’d have got along like a house on fire. I even gave my daughter Elizabeth as a middle name, in honour of Bette and in the hope that she will take inspiration from Bette’s courage and fire. Believe me, she is certainly living up to the name!
Alas I never got to meet the great woman myself, but I take strength from her life on a regular basis. She was one helluva woman and one day I would LOVE to write a book about her.
Until then, here are a few interviews to brighten your day:
Here she is on the Wogan show. My agent was looking after Bette that day, and says that she was told not to mention her book. Not only did she mention it, but she also held it straight up to the camera. That’s my girl!