BETTE: The Life of Bette Davis by Charles Higham

BETTE: The Life of Bette Davis

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hack-biographer Higham lost what little credibility he had with his recent overblown attempt to cast Errol Flynn (1980) as a Nazi spy. So few readers are going to get all hot and bothered about the small-potatoes pseudo-revelations here: there's Joan Crawford's supposed lesbian crush on Bette (unrequited); there's Bette's affair with Howard Hughes (""she managed to help him overcome his impotence"") and a well-known one with director William Wyler; plus some pathetically vague speculation about possible foul play in the death of Bette's second husband--and an attempt to sabotage Bette's eyewash. Otherwise, once father-abandoned, stage-mothered Bette moves from summer stock to Broadway to Hollywood, it's pretty much a movie-by-movie rundown: her four marriages are touched on, as is her mentally unstable sister and her retarded adopted daughter, but Higham has neither inside information nor particular insights on Bette's private life. As for the woman herself, Higham sees ""an almost-too-honest, stillunfulfilled woman, whose fierceness is a cover for terror, sadness and loneliness""; after alt, she's ""still fighting the battle against oblivion and infinity of darkness that she was fighting from the moment her father reluctantly penetrated her mother's body."" Talk about eyewash. And even on his own crude pseudo-psychological terms, Higham is inconsistent: by 1928, he says, her ""colossal, all-consuming ego"" had been formed; but later he says, circa 1936, that ""fame and success were. . . changing her from a pallid shy wren . . . into a powerhouse full of hatred and anger and drive."" Bette does get points, however, for her ""unselfishness toward other actors."" And there's material here on Bette's occasional stage work--including a recent, disaster-plagued musical version of The Corn is Green. But, like Whitney Stine's 1974 Mother Goddara (an annotated filmography with comments from Bette herself), this is a book only for the most undemanding, still-fascinated fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1981
Publisher: Macmillan