Frank McLynn

Witch, Bitch or Ingénue?

Bette Davis: The Girl Who Walked Home Alone

By

Simon & Schuster 348pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

The most written-about personality in twentieth-century Hollywood is Alfred Hitchcock, but of the stars themselves it is Bette Davis who has attracted the most attention, with at least a dozen biographies extant. In many ways this is appropriate, for Bette Davis is the greatest actress in the history of the movies. There are female actors more technically gifted and better suited to the theatre, but none has rivalled Davis’s ability to make that all-important magical connection with the camera. In this respect she might be regarded as the female James Cagney, for both of them are incapable of doing anything boring on screen, even if it is just picking up a telephone. Bette Davis has influenced every movie actress of any consequence, be it Meryl Streep, Liv Ullmann, or Jeanne Moreau. She was notoriously cross-grained, viperish and difficult, and the stories about her are legion. But, it may be asked, is there anything significant to add to the well-known hollow success story, the four husbands, the feuds (with, for example, Joan Crawford and Miriam Hopkins), the prima donna antics on set, the rows with Jack Warner, and all the rest of it? Charlotte Chandler elbows her way through a crowded field on the strength of her many interviews with the star, where we hear the authentic Davis voice on a variety of issues, but especially the problems women have with men. Although Davis’s pronouncements make it difficult to like her, she was undoubtedly shrewd and intelligent with, as one might have expected, a biting wit and a scalding line in sarcasm.

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