A chronicle of the last years of a cinema legend as told by her personal assistant.
Would anyone familiar with Bette Davis’ reputation as headstrong and independent be surprised to learn that she yanked out the bushes of a Long Island beachfront property she rented for a weekend because she didn’t like the way they looked? Sermak, co-executor of Davis’ estate, was a 22-year-old Southern California native in 1979 when she jettisoned a plan to pursue a career in clinical psychology and took a job as the 71-year-old actress's personal assistant. This book covers the years in which Sermak was Davis’ live-in assistant, accompanying her to film sets, cooking her meals, and staying by Davis’ side during and after the star’s 1983 mastectomy and stroke. (The author movingly renders these scenes.) Davis was as much a mentor to Sermak as an employer. She told her to change the spelling of her first name because “one of the big battles in life is to stand out from the crowd,” gave her lessons on posture, and even hired a butler to teach her the protocol for a formal dinner. One might have expected this book to be a hagiography, but, refreshingly, the author shows not only Davis’ kindness, but also her cruelty, as when she rudely declined a dinner invitation from Sermak’s mother. The author gets bogged down in extraneous detail, with rambling accounts of conversations and long descriptions of the meals she and Davis enjoyed. However, the book is a poignant portrait of an aging screen icon reduced to taking her medicine with swigs of Ensure Plus and struggling to live her life with the grandeur to which she had become accustomed.
Sermak writes of Davis’ tutelage, “she was training me for a world that was fading from view.” The author ably documents Davis’ growing realization that, long before her death in 1989, her time was already passing.