Last week I had the great pleasure of attending the above salute to Bette Davis at the Academy Theatre. It was a very well-done program, with Robert Osborne again handling the hosting chores. He outdid himself this time. What a wonderful, engaging person he is. The program was interspersed with film clips and onstage guests, including Joan Leslie, Gena Rowlands and Bette's son Michael (who flew in especially for the occasion), plus Bette's personal assistant, Kathy. All had wonderful anecdotes to tell and of course Robert had some really choice comments about going to dinner with Bette and being ignored until he finally cracked the ice, and also a story about flying to Paris with her.
The whole audience listened with rapt attention and were further rewarded with a surprise guest. At first, Robert mentioned that "Although Olivia de Havilland was a good friend of Bette's and would like to have been here, as you know she lives in Paris ... and then he paused, "but she is here. Ladies and gentleman -- Olivia de Havilland. Of course, the audience went berserk and gave her a standing ovation. Then she sat down to talk. Before the program, I had an inkling that she might show up because I knew she had been in town for Charleton Heston's funeral and also her daughter lives in L.A.
Note to Gloria: Sorry I was unable to ask Robert the Susan question we talked about months ago. Unfortunately, he did not show up in the lobby after the program, and I suspect he may have gone out to dinner with Olivia or at least accompanied her home. Maybe next time! He is such a nice, convivial person I can't imagine him not being open to conversation. Someone approached him when he was sitting in the audience before the program and he seemed very accommodating.
To those who wonder if his persona is the same as on TCM, they can rest assured he is even nicer in person. What a wonderful interviewer. Having interviewed people myself over the years, I know how difficult it can be and he does a fantastic job. I especially admire how he keeps the conversation going with great follow-up questions and there is never any dead air. I have seen some bad interviewers at these events, so I know the difference!
There was one mention of Susan and that only came when Robert rattled off the names of people Bette did not get on with, which also included Faye Dunaway.
Anyway, it was a wonderful night and I look forward to more of the Academy programs. If you are interested in hearing any more details of the evening, let me know. Don't know how many of you are Bette Davis fans.
Interesting account Jill - thanks for sharing that report, of what would have been a highly entertaining night.
Coincidentally, I am presently about halfway through a bio of La Davis, titled " More Than a Woman" by James Spada.
I thank you also Jill for a very interesting letter. Now I wonder how many of us will be arround after June 2017 when it will be Susan's turn? I will certainly book my plane ticket for that occasion (if I am able).
What a wonderful evening that occasion must have been. I have a special place in my heart for Bette, she was such a tremendous actress. Love all her old movies from the 40's one of my favorites is "The Old Maid" she always gave her best performance. I know there was gossip that Bette and Susan did not get along on the set of "Where Love Has Gone"...but that's Hollywood with all the glitter, gossip, and glamor. I really enjoyed your account of such a wonderful festival in honor of Bette.
Thanks so much.
Hello Ginger and all
It was a great pleasure to read your account of the Bette Davis tribute. She was my other favorite actress, besides Susan.
Having spent my entire life here in New England, I've been fortunate to have touched base with most of the New England spots where Bette spent some of her own childhood. I have also been to her former homesite along the Maine seacoast and her farmhouse in Sugarhill,NH. The farmhouse in NH still stands and is presently for sale. The Maine home was torn down several years back...when developers bought up the farmland there and put in hundreds of new homes. Sad to see just a cellerhole left where the house stood but I suppose that's progress. At least I got to see her view of the ocean from that spot. The late Gary Merrill had a home with attached lighthouse in the same town and it is still in excellent shape.
I count myself lucky to have enjoyed seeing these places and in living near her childhood haunts too. Long live Bette's memory in the public's consciousness !
A very Happy Springtime to everyone who comes to this Susan site !
Thank you for your wonderful account of a very special evening. And thanks, too, for remembering that question I hoped to someday have Robert Osborne answer. (Since you are in L.A., perhaps there will be another opportunity for you to ask him, which I would certainly appreciate.)
Sometimes you can tell if a person is sincere even if you never meet him or her. Osborne always impressed me as that kind of person, and it's good to know that he seemed that way to you, too.
I am a fan of Bette Davis, although not to the extent of my love for Susan Hayward. But I can admit that Bette seemed to have somewhat better judgment when it came to choosing her film roles! It's a shame both women chose "Where Love Has Gone," which should have been called "Where Has Good Writing Gone?" It's probably not surprising that they did not get along with each other. Like most actors, they had egos, and I imagine that Susan's top billing, and Bette's role playing her mother, were not conducive to becoming pals! But I do think Bette's remarks about Susan in one of the books written after Susan's death were petty.
I'm also happy to know that Olivia deHavilland was there and apparently in good health and spirits.
Thanks again for the update, Jill.
Re the obvious friction on the set of 'Where Love Has Gone' - I agree with you that because Susan was the top billed star of the film, and was playing the daughter as well, it would have been guaranteed to get Bette off on the wrong foot as far as amicable relations.
In addition, ( and I may be wrong here) but from recollection, Susan Hayward, ( at that time circa 1964) was only the fourth actress of equal stature to play opposite Bette in her long career. The others, -Miriam Hopkins, had a well publicised blood feud with Bette, and Joan Crawford - well their deep malice for each other was folklore. Only Anne Baxter of these three previous actresses, did not end up in a heated fight with Bette.
It is a shame that despite however well these women did or did not get along, both Davis and Hayward were titanic talents and the one chance we had to see them starring opposite each other when they were both Oscar winning stars at the top of their game, was a potboiler.
This adaptation of the Harold Robbins twist on the lurid Lana Turner case, was a diverting but ultimately trashy vehicle for our one opportunity to see two major stars of the Golden Age together in the one film.
( Actually, I think Susan had a bit role in 'The Sisters' with Bette and Errol Flynn ?? but I speak of 'equal stature' which by the time of the unfortunate endeavour of 'Where Love Has Gone", Susan certainly possessed.)
Thank you for your great account of your Bette Davis evening. She wasn't one of my favorites, but I say that, and then I always enjoy her films, so maybe it's just that I preferred her in films rather than in interviews where she seemed to be "herself". One can't discount her great talent, that's for sure.
Seeing Robert Osborne would have been a treat.. I mean, you know, that guy comes into my living room, and gently and kindly talks to me about films, movies, and times so long ago and far away. He always seemed like a gentleman through and through and you have just confirmed it. His knowledge of films is phenonmenal and his love of what he does really shows.
Olivia de Havilland must be over 90?...Of course, her being there must have thrilled the audience.
Thanks again, Jill, and please continue to share your experiences at these events. You live in a city where they are so accessible to you. Lucky lady!
Hi everyone - thanks for all your comments. I am glad you enjoyed my recap of the evening's events. I would like to respond individually to each of you but can't figure out how to do it or if it can be done. Anyhoo - to Ann -- thanks for giving me a rundown on Bette's homes. How great that you could visit those areas in person.
As it turns out, I have Bette Davis's bio "The Lonely Life," published in 1962 (which I believe is now out of print), and in it are two photos of the house and barn you mentioned. The house with the ocean view in Maine was in Cape Elizabeth and she named it "Witch-Way" and the barn was in Sugar Hill, NH and was called Butternut. I am sure you are very familiar with all these places. It is sad to think that beautiful house with such a great ocean view (which you can clearly see in the photo) is gone.
I thought it was interesting that she included these photos in the book -- shows how much she cared about them. I think she also mentioned Gary Merrill's house with the lighthouse. Will have to go back and check.
Bette said in her book the reason she named the house "Witch-Way" was because the owner didn't know which way she was going (or something like that) and besides, said she -- "A witch lived there." See, she had a sense of humor.
Ginger: As to your question about Olivia de Havilland's age -- Robert Osborne mentioned at the event that next month she would be celebrating her 92nd birthday. She is amazing -- very spry, lively and sharp as a tack. This is the third time I have seen her in person (actually I have probably seen her more than any member of my family! (ha). At the Academy tribute that was held for her a while ago (I think it was her 90th) we (the audience) all joined in to sing "Happy Birthday" to her. She was very elated by that, and it was a fun night.
It's so wonderful to see someone from the Golden Age still going strong and let's not forget Joan Leslie. She looks amazing too and still has a slim figure!
Yes, it's really great to be able to attend these events. Next up is a centennial salute to James Stewart. While I was not a big fan of his, I did respect his work and in fact over the years I have grown to appreciate his work more and more.
By the way, coinciding with the Bette Davis tribute evening, a retrospective of her work is being shown at another theater. I have already seen two films -- "The Letter" and "Beyond the Forest," the latter being a real campy hoot where she says the famous line, "What a dump!" The one thing I always liked about Bette was even with a lousy script, she sunk her teeth in and gave it her all.
Re the 'Witch-Way' reference. What is also interesting with that, is that on her FATHER'S side she was descended from a long line of staunch New Englanders ( James Davis, a Pilgrim sailed from Wales to the New World and helped found Haverhill, Massachusetts.)
Apparantly, James Davis became a selectman of his community and during the madness and hysteria that infected that era of religious persecution and witch mania, he accused a man of 'familiarity with the Devil'- the man was named John Godfrey I think. At the ensuing trials, 20 people, ( mostly women, surprise, surprise) were executed.
In a quirk of fate, one of those women was an ancestor of Bette's on her MOTHER'S side.
So it makes for interesting genetics - the father's ancestry being rock solid, stoic and stern, while her mother's ancestry ( the LeFievres) were French Huguenots, and numbered amongst those ancestors were some musicians, actors and even an early vaudeville star.
I ahve always thought that she ( Bette) was a mixture of those two natures.
Jill, keep your stories coming! That is amazing regarding Olivia de Havilland's age...very classy lady!
James Stewart - yes, please fill us in on that event.
I have a James Stewart story---Once when my family was visiting Californina (mid-80's).. you know.. the Hollywood deal--Universal studios, Grauman's Chinese Theater, etc... we were taking the tour of Hollywood homes. Along with me were my husband, Bob, my son, Scott, and my daughter, Kelly. The bus we were on was passing by Jimmy Stewart's house and about that same time, this little volvo passed the bus coming down the other side of the road. The bus driver said, "hey, there's Jimmy Stewart, now."...Everyone starting screeching and I had my old fashioned video camera with me. I yanked that out as fast as I could and was happy to get Jimmy Stewart pulling into the driveway of his home, getting out of his car, and waving to all of us. What a class act guy! My kids still talk about it, and we get the video out every once in a while a watch it.
"It's A Wonderful Life" is one of my all time favorite films. My daughter thinks it's so corny and won't watch it, but you know, I love it. It speaks volumes about what really is important in life. James Stewart brought to us so realistically and beautifully the absolute desperation that many of us feel at times and then in the end gave us this joyous hope and belief that life isn't so bad after all. I'm a sucker for warm and cuddly movies. I will always love Jimmy Stewart for this film alone, and I don't necessarily just watch it a Christmas!
That's a great story about Jimmy Stewart waving to you. I think that some celebrities would just as soon moon their fans as acknowledge them, LOL.
How lucky that you got to see a genuine movie star on your first trip to L.A. Most tourists are not so lucky! Good for you, and it must be wonderful to have that video on him. Your story reminds me of the time just before his death when he was released from the hospital after a fall in his home. On the local news he was seen returning home, and he waved to the cameras as he got out of his car. I thought that was such a nice gesture to acknowledge his fans.
I think you're due for another trip to L.A. How about it?
Thanks for the rundown on Bette's genealogy. I wouldn't be surprised if her ancestor did indeed influence the name of her house. And I agree with you that that combination of genes no doubt contributed to her feisty but contradictory personality.
BTW, I can see why Susan and Bette did not mesh together. When hearing both Olivia de Havilland and Gena Rowlands discuss their relationships with Bette, it seemed that these two women basically accepted the more passive role and were not a threat to her. It took time but they finally got her on their side. In Gena's case she said that no matter what Bette did, she loved her -- had loved her since she was a little girl and "nothing she could do would change that." I thought that was very sweet of her to say, and I could understand the admiration she felt. She told a funny story about Bette grousing that Gena "was too big" to portray her daughter in the TV movie they were making. Gena said that she thought that was funny because Bette's real-life daughter was 6 feet tall.
From all I've heard about Bette I think she was a person who tested you by making trouble and if you accepted the challenge, you were hers. I don't think Susan was equipped (personality wise) nor willing to do that. More's the pity because in a better vehicle I think they would have been a dynamite combination.
Jill, yes I'd love to bring my little video camera and come out to L.A...I'll let you know when I'm coming.. move over.. LOL
Actually, I might try to get that little video I have a Jimmy Stewart on youtube. I think that would be kind of cool.
I was going to suggest that you put the video online but I wasn't sure if it was feasible to do so. But since you are so good at those things...
I just found out that the Academy's Web site has posted a video with snippets from the Centennial, including Robert Osborne, Olivia de Havilland, Gena Rowlands and Bette's son. They've never done a video before so that is a real treat, especially for those who were not able to attend. Hope you all can check it out. Log on to oscars.org and you will see it on the left-hand side.