All about Bette, and then some.
Chandler follows her “personal biographies” of Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock with this one on Davis. Like its predecessors, the book consists largely of quotes taken from conversations the author had with Davis during the last nine years of the star’s life. From the evidence here, Miss Davis certainly carried a conversation—specially one about herself. She recalls her early years in Massachusetts, claiming she was the descendant of a Salem witch and was born between a bolt of lightning and a clap of thunder. Early on, she determined to become an actress, if only to win approval from her cold, absent father. Intense drive, shrewd decisions and great skill eventually led her to Warner Bros., which she helped to reach its peak. Her recollections of working on major hits—Jezebel, The Little Foxes, All About Eve—form the most fascinating part of the book, showing how she fought for perfection in every take. Insisting that she was not in life the characters she played on screen, Davis nevertheless fires off zingers worthy of Margot Channing. Of marriage to Gary Merrill, she says, “I thought [it] would be the frosting on the cake. . . . It was the crumbs.” And of her lonely final days, she observes, “. . . one’s second virginity is even more frustrating.” Indeed, Davis does go on about her failed personal relationships, her hard work, her indisputable success. Eventually, one longs for Chandler to shout “Cut! Print!” But the author, whose writing is only serviceable, brings little focus or insight into her subject. Barbara Leaming’s Bette Davis remains the fullest, most perceptive account of the star’s life.
A cocktail party that lasts too long.