Bette Davis: A Biography

Overview

Culled largely from the actress's private diaries, scrapbooks, and previously unpublished letters - as well as conversations with her friends, lovers, fellow actors, and family members - here is the full story of cinematic legend Bette Davis (1908-1989). Barbara Leaming chronicles the Academy Award-winner's work in such memorable films as Of Human Bondage, Jezebel, Dark Victory, All About Eve, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, as well as her four unhappy marriages, her notorious legal battles with Warner ...
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Overview

Culled largely from the actress's private diaries, scrapbooks, and previously unpublished letters - as well as conversations with her friends, lovers, fellow actors, and family members - here is the full story of cinematic legend Bette Davis (1908-1989). Barbara Leaming chronicles the Academy Award-winner's work in such memorable films as Of Human Bondage, Jezebel, Dark Victory, All About Eve, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, as well as her four unhappy marriages, her notorious legal battles with Warner Bros., and her struggles with both alcoholism and mental illness.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The author of biographies of Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles, Leaming offers a portrait of Bette Davis (1908-1989) that is both sympathetic to the actress and frank about her legendary bitchiness and horrible treatment of family and friends. The star of Jezebel and All About Eve , among other notable films, Davis's presentation of herself over the years in interviews and her two autobiographies was misleading at best, Leaming shows. Using material--including scrapbook-diaries kept by Davis throughout her life, letters and other documents--only recently released, Leaming demonstrates that Davis was deeply affected by her father's abandonment of the family when she was a young child. This, combined with her mother's pampering, created a self-assured, demanding person. Although marred by flat writing, the book is distinguished by its psychological understanding of the subject. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC featured alternate; Reader's Digest Condensed Book selection; author tour. (May)
Library Journal
In contrast to the high regard in which Davis is held as a movie actress, her offscreen stature has been steadily eroding in recent years. What seemed the harshest blow came several years ago with her daughter B.D. Hyman's cathartic memoir, My Mother's Keeper (Morrow, 1985), which portrayed Davis as mean, selfish, and a coward in the face of her abusive third husband, actor Gary Merrill. Now comes the first biography since Davis's death in 1989, which apportions the familiar praise for her screen performances with an exhaustively detailed portrait of a petty, insecure woman. Ultimately, claims Leaming, Davis was a rebel without a real cause when she fought the studio contract system in the 1930s; her rebellion was more of a movie-pose than a real struggle for independence. Ultimately, this is a very sad story. For popular collections.-- Thomas Wiener, formerly with ``American Film''
Kirkus Reviews
Strong, honest, vivid biography of a colossal egoist, by the author of distinguished lives of Rita Hayworth (If This Was Happiness, 1989), Orson Welles, and Roman Polanski. This is a rapid but rich full-dress portrait of a matchlessly magnetic actress whose chains of self-centeredness grew ever heavier as she aged and who finally withered into "the sorry spectacle of a great talent pigheadedly wasted." Knowledgeable readers will recognize that Leaming has not seen and does not weigh the individual value of every film Davis (1908-89) was involved in. When she focuses on the major works, however, she does so thoroughly and settles finely on the star's acting. Leaming does Davis the honor of seeking the heart of her work as avidly as she does the springs of a life made lonely by bottomless egoism and many adulteries and abortions. Davis's great character flaw apparently was inherited from a mother and grandmother who wanted to break into a male-dominated world and failed. Her self- sacrificing mother, who was deserted by her husband when Davis was seven, became a portrait photographer to support Davis and her addled younger sister. Young Davis was given to rages that seem both genetic and to stem from her fury at being imprisoned in apartment life while all her well-heeled friends lived in large houses with servants. These beginnings set the template from which Davis never wavered: She was a virago. A stage career led to films but she kept her temper in check until her role as the great bitch Mildred in Of Human Bondage released it and led her into endless battles with Warner Brothers, for which she made 51 pictures in 18 years. Leaming makes clear that Davis's battles were always formoney and power and sprang from quarrelsomeness. Excellent especially on Davis's tics and mannerisms and how they undermined her ferocious energy and greater possibilities. (Sixteen-page b&w photo insert—not seen.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345382726
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/1/1993
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.85 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet the Author

Known for her highly regarded biographies Mrs. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and Orson Welles, Barbara Leaming lives in Great River, New York.

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