One of the best Bette Davis biographies written by Charlotte Chandler was titled The Girl Who Walked Home Alone. I have been walking home alone for many years now to Bloomsbury Towers. You know what? I’m living alone and I like it. Can I get an Amen in here? I do find domestic bliss is terribly overrated unless one lives in Blenheim Palace and has separate bedrooms and bathrooms. Who’s to say what works best for any couple? Now that I’m consciously uncoupled, I wonder whether I will live with another man ever again.
When I was a little boy, Marilyn Monroe was my idol. I still love Marilyn but find myself identifying so much more with Bette Davis these days. Bette played hardball. She didn’t take any s**** from the studios but far too much from her husbands. She had a bitch of an ungrateful daughter who couldn’t forgive her mother for being fabulous. As for the film career, I am quite simply breathless.
Is there another actress out there who showed such range? Bette’s favourite film was Dark Victory in which she played a society gal with a brain tumour. She like I took the news of illness in a gun-ho fashion and drank, smoked and danced the hoochy-cooch until she found redemption with a doctor who married her. I’m not going to spoil the end of the picture for you so rent it or download it as the children do these days.
My favourite – and my grandmother Hilda Sherwood’s – favourite Bette Davis film is Now Voyager. I adore Now Voyager because I identify with Bette’s character so, so much. She plays Charlotte Vale who is a middle-aged spinster with one eyebrow and a little too much weight on her haunches. Charlotte has a nervous breakdown and is sent to convalesce at Cascades. Shake hands! On recovering, Charlotte goes alone on a cruise. She is transformed: thin, elegant, chain-smoking and clad head-to-toe in couture.
Again, I won’t spoil it but Charlotte finds love. It’s complicated but what else is new? Bette’s most famous film is All About Eve in which she plays stage actress Margot Channing. Margot has an obsessive fan, Eve, who inveigles her way into her life and slowly but determinedly starts to steal Margot’s parts, her life and her husband. I know just how Margot feels but that’s another story.
What I love about Bette is that she wasn’t afraid to play bitches like Regina in The Little Foxes. Regina is truly wicked. She causes the death of her husband in the pursuit of money. She is a real Wicked Witch and could teach our own neighbourhood witch a lesson or two. Regina manipulates her family who are arrivistes. The picture is almost stolen by the actress who played alcoholic, aristocratic Miss Birdie. I love Aunt Birdie. She liked a few sips too…
Bette is the model of a remarkable woman. She gave an hour-long interview to Dick Cavett that was quite simply the definitive audience with a star. Bette chain-smoked the whole way through the interview and drank water. She proved herself to be brave, wise, resigned and honest. What else could one aspire to?
I was once questioned by an ex as to why I identify so strongly with Hollywood divas of old. Being homosexual might have something to do with it, no? What I admire about those gals is that they were supremely talented but didn’t necessarily look after their wellbeing too, um, well. Garland is one of my idols. I absolutely love that woman. She had the voice of the 20th century and I wish that I could have seen her play live.
Judy lived a rackety life as do I. She was on the edge of her nerves for most of her life and terrified that she wouldn’t be good enough in trying to please. I think a few of us suffer from that malady. I have always aimed to please but rarely hit the target. That’s what makes writing such a good career for me. You do it in private, send it out into the world and hope for the best. So far so good on James Sherwood’s Discriminating Guide to London. The reception so far has been kind.
I was thrilled to see that Hatchards had the book by the cash desk and that Waterstones Piccadilly had a table reserved just for me. Gratitude isn’t even in it. As you know, I’ve had some very rough times of late and it is only this year that I’ve started to get my mojo back. Be afraid. Be very afraid. Until next time…