MISS BETTE DAVIS
Eyes. Attitude. Talent. The "Benevolent Volcano" with the ever-present cigarette. These are lingering images we carry of the incomparable and truly legendary Bette Davis. Nominated for ten Oscars during her amazing career, Bette Davis both as an actress and force of nature pushed Hollywood to a new plateau. On screen she reinvented women's roles. Off screen she fought voraciously for good scripts, decent treatment of crew members and, especially, for the control of her own career. Bette Davis became the first woman president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1941, the same year she also joined forces with John Garfield to organize the Hollywood Canteen, a hospitality center in Los Angeles for our fighting US military men. From the mid-thirties to the close of World War II, she was the highest paid woman in America. The public adored her and never knew what to expect from her. She became so powerful at her home studio, she was often referred to as "The Fourth Warner Brother." Some critics considered her style abrasive but her work never less than innovative. To generations of women and aspiring actors, she became a true inspiration and role model. Even when her age caused movie roles to be fewer and less appealing, Bette Davis again took charge and did something no one had dared do before: she placed a full-page advertisement in the Hollywood Reporter to resemble a want ad saying "Situation Wanted: Mother of three, 30 years experience as an actress, more affable than rumor would have it, wants steady employment in Hollywood." Her career soon took off again with "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," a role which garnered her a tenth Academy Award nomination.
Unforgettable movie lines, delivered in her inimitable style, have long become part of our vernacular. "What a dump," "Fasten your seat belt, it's going to be a bumpy ride," "Let's not ask for the moon, we have the stars" and "I'd love to kiss ya but I just washed my hair" will forever remind us of Bette Davis. On February 23, 1939, her stellar performance in "Jezebel," directed by William Wyler, earned her Hollywood's highest accolade: The Oscar for Best Actress of 1938. This was the second time an Academy Award had been placed in the hands of the woman who three years earlier had reputedly given the statuette it's nickname. Miss Davis claimed that it reminded her of "the derriere of my husband (Harmon Oscar Nelson)!"
To continue her legacy, Michael Merrill, Miss Davis' son, and myself, as a longtime friend and associate of Bette Davis, decided in 1997 to create the Bette Davis Foundation. This nonprofit and tax exempt institution awards scholarships to outstanding college students who show promise in the craft that Miss Davis was, for many, the epitome of excellence. In conjunction with the scholarships, a Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award is presented to an actor or actress whose work exemplifies the high standards Miss Davis set forth.
Over the years, I was constantly impressed by Miss Davis' concern and respect for her fans. She would often say, "The fans are my bread and butter. They're the ones who pay to see my movies." She adored them! It is with these fans in mind and in keeping the Bette Davis spirit alive that a selection of Miss Davis' personal property is being auctioned here at Christie's. Michael and I have donated many personal items to the esteemed Mugar Library in Boston, other pieces are on loan at the Warner Bros. Museum in California. The items in this auction have been in my possession for many years. In the spirit of the Bette Davis Foundation, I feel the time is right to share Miss Davis' legacy with the fans who she loved so much.
Should anyone wish to make a further contribution to the ongoing work of The Bette Davis Foundation, please contact:
The Bette Davis Foundation, Inc.
c/o Merrill & McGeary
Six Beacon Street, Suite 920
Boston, MA 02108