My Latest Book

My Latest Book
By Jim Manago, Biographer (Shirley Booth, Huntz Hall, and Kay Aldridge)

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Bette Davis' Handlers Kept Us From Getting That Autograph!

Some Anniversaries:

April 4, 1913: Singer/radio performer Frances Langford was born on this day. She died on July 11, 2005. She recorded one of the best duets with Bing Crosby: "I'm Fallin' In Love With Someone."  

April 4, 1921: Actress Elizabeth Wilson was born on this day. Liz has been in countless stage, film and television productions; my favorites include the small but memorable roles in The Birds, The GraduateNine to Five, and so on. More important to me is that she offered fascinating information on Shirley Booth in my conversations with her.  She died on May 9, 2015.

April 5, 1908: Actress  Bette Davis was born.  She died on October 6, 1989.


Bette Davis' Handlers Kept Us From Getting That Autograph!

Shirley Booth's career crossed paths with Bette Davis several times. I described in my biography of Shirley Booth of how Bette Davis turned down the part of Lola in Come Back, Little Sheba. Movie co-star Burt Lancaster revealed that, "Bette told me years later, around 1964 or so, that no matter what story I'd heard (and there had been many) that she felt strongly that only Shirley could do the role justice. She would have accepted only if Shirley had declined, so that she felt Wallis might give the role to Barbara Stanwyck. Davis wouldn't have liked that at all..."

Shirley had her turn at refusing a part that Bette Davis got. In the 1961 remake of Pocketful of Miracles, Shirley allowed Bette to play the part that was offered to her because she felt that she could not top May Robson from the original 1933 version Lady for a Day. Both versions were directed by Frank Capra.

Bette Davis stands on her own unique level of achievement and greatness for her inimitable style of taking a part and making it her own. Her success came from staying in movies with her talent, just as Shirley Booth stayed on the stage, avoiding the movies as much as she could. Both ladies excelled at what they did, and were probably among the 20th century's finest actresses.

I found most interesting a brief note that Bette sent Shirley that I quoted in my biography of Shirley. That note Shirley saved in her scrapbook. It revealed Bette's appreciation and respect for Shirley's considerable talent. She signed it "Bette D." 

Back in 1978 I had the pleasure of meeting Bette at a fashion show inside New York's Bloomingdale's store promoting the release of Death on the Nile. My mother brought along a song sheet featuring Bette on the cover. Before this show began, the store was darkened. Bette was carefully escorted in and sat about ten feet opposite from where we were.

As my mother went over to greet Bette Davis in the shadowy store, her two "handlers" interrupted and quickly turned down the autograph request. One of them advised her, saying "No Miss Davis, no autographs please!" We were both obviously disappointed as Miss Davis had already taken the sheet in her lap and greeted us, and took the pen to sign. She seemed delighted to be appreciated and indicated no displeasure at signing it. Immediately we were thereby moved away from her presence since the show was to begin...

This was my first contact with the upper-crust of New York City. Afterward, without Miss Davis being present, guests to the event had the opportunity of refreshments. For me, this involved mingling with the well-dressed snobs and watching them rave over the caviar! Their shallowness, including their over-concern with appearances made it clear to me then that having plenty of money and fame does not necessarily make people smarter or classy!

The one souvenir I have from that evening is a picture of Bette Davis & my mother which I quickly snapped in those darkened seconds. We also got to meet and take a photo of Broadway musical Annie star Andrea McArdle with her mother.

I will always treasure that moment of seeing Bette Davis in the flesh and shaking her hand. She was indeed a small-framed woman of 5'3."

Finally, I will always love watching Bette Davis in so many memorable classics, including Now, VoyagerDark Victory, Of Human Bondage, The LetterA Stolen Life, Jezebel, and so forth! She remains always one of my favorite actresses!





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