While Bette Davis's fans in the 1930s thought of her as ``a bedrock of Christian values,'' off-camera the willful, temperamental actress experienced abortion, adultery and sexual blackmail. In the 1950s Davis (1908-1989) and fourth husband Gary Merrill publicly presented a picture of domestic bliss, but Spada's irresistible, revelatory biography depicts the actress as an emotional wreck who drank heavily, unleashed anger and vitriol on her two daughters, staged mock suicide attempts and goaded her husband into violent quarrels. Beneath the grande dame image of the later years, we meet a sad, lonely, confused woman who had dalliances with young homosexual men whom she deluded herself into believing were her ``suitors.'' Based on more than 150 interviews with friends, family and co-workers, this poignant bio bursts with film lore, gossip, countless affairs and family secrets. Spada, biographer of Peter Lawford and Grace Kelly, presents evidence suggesting that Davis accidentally pushed her alcoholic second husband Arthur Farnsworth to his death, then covered up the incident at the inquest. He limns a great actress while exposing the cruel, sadistic side of a woman ``frantic with insecurity.'' Photos. (Sept.)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This is a perfectly adequate biography of the complicated film star. It has enough sex and scandal to make it interesting and is even-handed enough to keep the reader balanced on the fence between despising Davis and admiring her. This well-researched effort includes recent interviews with many people involved in Davis's turbulent life. However, there is nothing new here, which is not surprising considering the quantity of material already published. This account does not have the ``Bette Dearest'' sleaze of B.D. Hyman's (Davis's daughter) book My Mother's Keeper (Morrow, 1985) nor the intimacy of Davis's memoirs. It is on par with Barbara Leaming's Bette Davis ( LJ 4/1/92), which has the benefit of a complete list of Davis's credits. Lawrence J. Quirk's Fasten Your Seatbelts ( LJ 2/1/90) still leads the pack. Purchase only where there is interest. Photos not seen. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/93.-- Sherle Abramson, Williamsburg Regional Lib., Va.
Another thorough and competent Hollywood biography by the author of "Peter Lawford: The Man Who Kept the Secrets" , this portrait of Bette Davis presents the great actress in all her bitchiness. Some of the most interesting anecdotes relate to Davis' unusually independent mother who defied convention by suing for divorce and working as a photographer to support her two daughters. She recognized Bette's talent early on and devoted herself to pushing the easily discouraged young actress to success, first on Broadway and then in Hollywood. Spada analyzes their somewhat bizarre relationship and sympathetically describes the hard times of Bette's unstable and overshadowed sister. Bette floundered in her early movie-making years, failing to fit Hollywood's narrow definition of glamour and refusing to put out to get parts. It's fitting, then, that her big breakthrough was "Of Human Bondage". As Mildred, Bette could eschew all attempts at commercial beauty and let her emotional intensity power her pioneering performance. Spada covers the arduous production of each of Davis' big pictures, but he really plumbs the depths when he discusses her messy marriages, sloppy affairs, and dismal relationship with her daughter, B. D. Davis was a fighter all right, mainly against herself, but also against such formidable foes as alcoholism, domestic violence, sexism, and, finally, cancer.