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"They're Either Too Young or Too Old"

A Centennial Birthday Tribute to Bette Davis

"Today everyone is a star - they're all billed as 'starring' or 'also starring'.
In my day, we earned that recognition."

-- Bette Davis

 

Biography

Bette Davis was born Ruth Davis on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. Just before her tenth birthday, Bette's father, Harlow, left the family. Although she had little money, her mother, Ruthie, sent Bette and her sister to boarding school. Upon graduating Cushing Academy, Bette enrolled in John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School. In 1929, she made her Broadway debut in "Broken Dishes." She also landed a role in "Solid South."
In 1930, she moved to Hollywood to screen test for Universal.

"Hollywood always wanted me to be pretty, but I fought for realism."


Six small films later, Bette's contract with Universal was not renewed. She wanted to go back to Broadway, but a phone call from Warner Brothers quickly changed her mind. In 1932, she signed a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. The film,THE MAN WHO PLAYED GOD (1932), landed Bette on the path to stardom. She was a smash when she was lent out to RKO for the role of Mildred in "Of Human Bondage" (1934), her first critically acclaimed hit. Her role in "Dangerous" (1935) led to her nomination for a Best Actress Oscar. She became the first Warner Brothers actress to win the coveted award.

Despite her success, Warner Brothers continued to offer Bette unsatisfactory roles. In 1936, she challenged the studio by going to England to make pictures. Jack Warner sued her, and she was forced to honor her contract. Upon her return, however, Bette was offered a new contract and better roles. In 1939, Bette won her second Oscar for "Jezebel" (1938). She also received Oscar nominations the next five years in a row.

Although she earned a reputation for being difficult to work with, Bette set a new precedent for women. By 1942, she was the highest paid woman in America. Bette contributed to the war effort by helping to organize the Hollywood Canteen during World War II for soldiers passing through Los Angeles. Inspired by New York's Stage Door Canteen, Bette transformed a once-abandoned nightclub into an inspiring entertainment facility. "There are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them," Bette later commented. In 1980, she was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Department's highest civilian award, for running the Hollywood Canteen.

Bette made a roaring comeback with her role as Margo Channing in "All About Eve" (1950), and she received her eighth Academy Award nomination. Her career was resuscitated again in 1962 with "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" Soon after, Bette began her second career as a horror maven and continued to welcome new opportunities with television appearances. In 1987, Bette played a blind woman in "The Whales of August," co-starring Lillian Gish.

Davis's personal life was as dramatic as her acting. She was married four times. She had a daughter, B.D., with her third husband, William Grant Sherry. She adopted two children, Margot and Michael, while married to her fourth husband, Gary Merrill.

With a career total of more than 100 films, Bette changed the way Hollywood looked at actresses. In 1977, she was the first woman to be honored with the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award. She was also the first woman to be president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences. At the age of 75, Bette had a mastectomy due to breast cancer. Nine days later, she suffered a stroke. Despite her failing health, she continued to act until her death. Bette passed away October 6, 1989 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.

Michael Merrill, Bette's son, and Kathryn Sermak, Bette's personal assistant and friend, are now the executors of her estate. In her memory, they have created The Bette Davis Foundation, which provides financial assistance to promising young actors and actresses. Meryl Streep received the first Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award at Boston University in 1998.

"You know what I'm going to have on my gravestone?
'She did it the hard way.'"

-- Bette Davis

In addition to her exceptional acting ability, she also had an opportunity to sing
in the 1943 Warner Bros. musical, THANK YOU LUCKY STARS,
her wonderful song (music by Arthur Schwartz/ lyrics by Frank Loesser)
is shown on this sheet music cover...

 

Text reprinted from the official Bette Davis web site

Photos from A Tribute to Bette Davis and Google Images.

 


Recommended Soundtracks


Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis -- music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold,
Alfred Newman, Max Steiner, Franz Waxman

National Philharmonic Orchestra, Charles Gerhardt, conductor (RCA CD)

 

All About Eve/Leave Her to Heaven

ALL ABOUT EVE/ LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN -- music by Alfred Newman
Original soundtrack recordings (Film Score Monthly CD)

 

Editor's Choice - Best of the Month 

ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)/ LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945)

Total Time = 44:21

Music Composed and Conducted by Alfred Newman.  Album Produced by Nick Redman and Rick Victor.  Executive Producer: Lukas Kendall.  

Music Mixing, Editing and Assembly:  Rick Victor.  Digital Mastering: Dan Hersch.  Project Coordinator for Twentieth Century Fox:  Tom Cavanaugh.  CD Art Design: Joe Sikoryak.  Liner Notes by Doug Adams.

Film Score Monthly Golden Age Classics, Vol. 2 No. 7

Rating:  ****

Track Titles:

ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)

1.   Main Title (1:04)
2.   Prologue (3:24)
3.   The Award (1:13)
4.   Eve's Narration (2:43)
5.   The Friendship Begins (0:27)
6.   Margo (0:41)
7.   Exit Music (1:48)
8.   The Party (0:47)
9.   A Theme for Piano (0:48)
10.  Liebestraum/ Liebestraum 2 (Franz Liszt)(1:16)
11.  Eve's Dream (0:45)
12.  The Audition (0:22)
13.  Margo and Bill (0:29)
14.  Karen's Decision (1:51)
15.  Beau Soir (Claude Debussy)(2:02)
16.  Eve's Success (0:41)
17.  Karen's Guilt (0:32)
18.  Margo and Bill's Reconciliation (0:45)
19.  Karen's Resignation (1:21)
20.  The Real Eve (0:36)
21.  Eve's Photo (0:25)
22.  Phoebe's Arrival (1:00)
23.  All the Eves (1:38)
24.  Encore (0:46)
25.  All the Eves (stereo) (1:39)
26.  Encore (stereo)(0:46)

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN (1945)

27.  Prelude (1:20)
28.  Ash Ritual (2:41)
29.  Bar Harbor (2:06)
30.  Unrest (1:21)
31.  Homicide (2:49)
32.  Arsenic (1:40)
33.  Redemption (1:19)  

     Even though this CD has been available for awhile, I'm just now getting to review it. And it was worth the long wait.  These two 20th Century Fox scores by Alfred Newman demonstrate why he is still considered one of the best composers from the Golden Age between the 1930s and 1950s.  Let's look at each of his scores separately.

     ALL ABOUT EVE is a movie classic from 1950, starring Bette Davis (Margo), Anne Baxter (Eve), Celeste Holm (Karen), George Sanders, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe (Lloyd), and a smaller role for the then little known actress, Marilyn Monroe.  It received a record 14 Oscar nominations, including one for Alfred Newman's great score.  The film won 6 Oscars that year, including for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay (both by Joseph L. Mankiewicz).  

     The short Main Title sets the stage (this is about the theater, after all) with a brassy fanfare which exudes theatrical bravado.  The second track, "Prologue," is more expansive, introducing the three themes associated with the female characters.  The first theme is for Eve, full of ambitious yearning.  Second comes a more relaxed and refined theme for Karen.  Then the third one for Margo, with its upbeat character representing her star quality.  As Doug Adams points out in his excellent CD notes:  "Each of these themes begins with an arching octave leap (scored either for strings or solo winds) then proceeds down its own path - a device which at once connects and delineates the characters."  Naturally, these themes are heard whenever they are needed, such as track 4: "Eve's Narration"; track 13: "Margo and Bill;" and track 14: "Karen's Decision."  Besides these themes, there's also a few brief scene settings, such as "A Theme for Piano," with an Ellington jazz flavor to it.  Also, two versions (one for piano, the other for violin) of Franz Liszt's famous classical piece, "Liebestraum."   There's another classical piece too:  Debussy's "Beau Soir," heard on track 15.  These classical pieces are well suited as background pieces in this cultured environment of theater people.  As an added bonus, there are two tracks in  mono (tracks 23-24) and then the same tracks in dual channel (tracks 25-26) for  "All the Eves" and "Encore."  The dual channel tracks lets you really hear the famed Newman string sound.  The rest of the score is mono, but is well mastered to have good presence.

     LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN is another 20th Century Fox film, this one starring the beautiful Gene Tierney, Cornel Wilde, Jeanne Crain and Vincent Price.  It was directed by John M. Stahl.

     The opening Prelude gives the menacing quality which forms the background of this most bizarre story - at least for its time.  The film concerns an insanely jealous woman, Ellen (Gene Tierney), who destroys anyone who gets between her and her husband, Richard (Cornel Wilde).  The main theme makes heavy use of brass and solemn deathmarch timpani to suggest the evil nature of this jealous wife.  In his notes, Adams describes Newman's use of tritone chords, a device which has long repesented the devil in musical terms.   The dark and brooding quality of this score puts me in mind of Herrmann, who was working at 20th Century-Fox around that time.  After all the darkness in this score, and especially after Ellen commits suicide (track 32, "Arsenic"), there is "Redemption" (track 33) which ends with a more tranquil theme for strings, not unlike the themes used in ALL ABOUT EVE.  As Adams point out, even though Newman has composed a dark and menacing score, he never "allowed his black-as-pitch musical devices to adopt any sense of malice."  That's what sets it apart from today's nasty scores, such as ENEMY OF THE STATE.

     When writing about the CD, co-producer Rick Victor explains that "The reconstructions for this album were created from the original optical music negatives." This is a model of  film music restoration, with no tampering such as noise reduction or compression.  If only more original vintage soundtracks were restored this way.

     Even if you're not a Golden Age film lover, you owe it yourself to hear what one of the best film composers ever to work in Hollywood could do to serve the film, not overwhelm it.

       I highly recommend this excellent effort from Film Score Monthly and congratulate those involved in bringing it before us film music lovers.    

--review by Roger Hall, 8 August 2000

Note:  Alfred Newman has been chosen for the 1992 Lifetime Achievement Award.  
For more information, go to:  
The Sammy Awards

 

MR. SKEFFINGTON -- music by Franz Waxman
Moscow Symphony Orchestra, William T. Stromberg, conductor (Marco Polo CD)

MR. SKEFFINGTON (1944)

Total Time = 62:57

 Music composed by Franz Waxman.  Score reconstruction by John Morgan.  Moscow Symphony Orchestra, conducted by William T. Stromberg.  

Recorded at Mosfilm Studios, Moscow, Russia in October, 1997. Engineers: Edvard Shakhnazarian and Vitaly Ivanov. Music Editor: Lyubov Volosyuk. Music Notes:  Bill Whitaker.

Marco Polo CD 8.225037, 1999.  

Rating: ****

Track Titles:

1.   Main Title/ Suitors/ Fanny (4:08)
2.   Skeffington Arrives (3:16)
3.   Trippy (2:03)
4.   War Declared (1:50)
5.   The Painting (1:58)
6.   Trippy Drunk/ Dinner at Home (7:02)
7.   A Happy Event (4:25)
8.   Baby Montage (1:45)
9.   Another Suitor (0:29)
10.  Telegram (2:40)
11.  Fanny Meets People/ Raid (2:15)
12.  Restaurant Scene/ Fanny Alone (4:45)+
13.  Young Fanny/ Diphtheria Montage (5:27)
14.  Faded Beauty (4:29)
15.  The Dinner Party (5:06)+
16.  Forsaken (2:50)
17.  Finale (7:56)

+ = co-composed by Paul Dessau

     MR. SKEFFINGTON is another in the extremely well produced Marco Polo series of Golden Age scores by the team of John Morgan and William T. Stromberg. This one concerns the story of a woman's good and bad relationship with her husband over many years, starring two Warner Bros. repertory stars:  Bette Davis and Claude Rains.  The film score by Franz Waxman is top drawer all the way, filled with subtle changes of mood and orchestratal color.

    As often happened with Golden Age scores, the opening track presents the themes for both Fanny (Bette Davis) and Job Skeffington (Claude Rains).  Fanny's theme is the more prominent of the two, played briefly by a solo violin at the end of the Main Title section.  Job's theme is a more direct theme.  The next section features a delightful series of "Suitors" who are cleverly treated by Waxman with a series of variations, including one (Ed Morrison) portrayed by a solo saxophone.  The third section of the opening track is a more developed treatment of Fanny's theme played by violins and woodwinds.  A most satisfying opening where Waxman manages to ably set the stage for this grand old soap opera.

     There are many wonderful moments in this score.  One of the most inspired tracks is "A Happy Event," depicting Fanny's new baby.  It's very delicately scored and opens with Job's theme played on celeste.   Then there are darker sounds from violas and cellos representing Fanny's reluctant motherhood.  As Bill Whitaker writes in his excellent notes: "the cue convey's love's long and winding journey and fate's role in so much that happens."  That quote pretty much sums the remainder of the film.

     Several other tracks near the end are especially important to the story.  "Faded Beauty" is another beautifully scored version of Fanny's theme, this time a very slow, halting waltz, which Bill Whitaker points out is like Bernard Herrmann's masterful "Miser's Waltz" in his 1941 Oscar-winning score, THE DEVIL AND DANIEL WEBSTER.  The last two tracks bring out the most emotional impact.  "Forsaken" was Waxman's favorite cue and features Job's theme on electric violin and Fanny's utter depressed state over her loss of attractiveness represented by a l blast of the brass section.  This one track was featured in the pioneering Classic Film Series on RCA with Charles Gerhardt conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra on the album, Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis.  As good as that recording was, this one is equally as good.  That's appropriate since this CD is dedicated to the memory of Charles Gerhardt, 1927-1999.

     The long Finale is wonderfully expressive and accompanies Fanny long walk out of her room and down the staircase to greet her estranged husband, recently returned from Europe.  The use of the bass clarinet to depict the realization of her husband's blindness is particularly chilling.  Then the mood shifts somewhat with a solo trumpet signaling Fanny's happiness and concern for her blind husband.  This finale has been compared to Waxman's later classic score for SUNSET BOULEVARD.  But I believe that MR. SKEFFINGTON is warmer and more intensely romantic in its scoring.  Franz Waxman's son, John, has said that his father was paying homage to the great German Late Romantic composer, Richard Strauss, in SKEFFINGTON. Herr Strauss should have been proud of such a masterful score composed in his honor.  

     The 36 page booklet is filled with rare black & white photos (many from John W. Waxman's collection), including a score page from the Finale and a photo of William Stromberg, John Morgan and Bill Whitaker.  This talented trio of conductor, composer, and music notes writer are to be congratulated for producing such an exemplary CD.   The trio have continued the pioneering work done by Charles Gerhardt, George Korngold, Christopher Palmer, Tony Thomas, and John Waxman.  Hopefully the Marco Polo threesome will continue to produce many more great score CDs for years to come.

    Highly recommended for any Golden Age film lover, especially those who appreciate the quality work done at Warner Bros. during the 1940s.  Let's have more of them, please!   

--review by Roger Hall, 12 March 1999                          

Note:  Franz Waxman has been chosen for the 1999 Lifetime Achievement Award.  
For more information, go to:  
The Sammy Awards

 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame/All About Eve/Beau Geste

The Classic Film Music of Alfred Newman
(ALL ABOUT EVE, BEAU GESTE, THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME)

Moscow Symphony Orchestra and Chorus,
William T. Stromberg, conductor (Marco Polo CD)

 

 


 

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