I recently had the pleasure of conducting an interview on Bette Davis with long time fan Jennifer Johnson, who resides in Bakersfield, California. Jennifer is a highly noted and dedicated Bette fan. She is the host of the Facebook page titled “The Bette Davis Page”, which was created as a loving tribute in honor of Bette Davis. The page attracts thousands of Bette fans worldwide, and is the most recognized Bette page on Facebook. She is also the host of the website “Bette Davis Online”, which as well as the website also has a Facebook group, which has drawn popular acclaim in recent weeks. Jennifer explains in this interview how she has been enamored by Bette from a young age, and to this day she remains one of Bette’s most ardent supporters and is known within the Bette Davis community and estate.
Q: You have been a Bette fan for quite sometime. When did you first discover Bette and what made you become passionate about her?
A: I first discovered Bette when I was around 7 or 8 years old. I heard the song Bette Davis eyes and I was not sure who Kim Carnes was talking about so I asked my mom, I don’t get it, who is Bette Davis? My mom told me that she was an actress from the 40’s and that she was a legend. I asked her if she was still alive and she said yes. She said she was very outspoken and was a fantasic actress. She told me one night when she was on Carson to come check it out. I watched that interview and that is when I started to really like her. She was funny, and real. It was much later though, when I was a teenager when I would start to discover her movies thanks to my mother and my late grandmother. ; )
Q: Bette is an inspiration to many people of all ages. What inspires you most about Bette?
A: What inspires me most about her is that she never gave up. She was incredibly strong. She stood up for what she believed in and worked very hard not only in her career as an actress, but in her personal life as well. I believe she inherited her work ethic from her mother Ruthie, which she later worked to take care of in life along with her sister Bobby. Her later years inspired me too, when she battled cancer and numerous strokes. She still worked, and travelled to recieve awards no matter how frail or sick she was. Also dealing with the nasty book her daughter B.D. came out with, My Mother’s Keeper, which hurt her very deeply. She still fought hard to keep going. It showed remarkable courage.
Q: Bette is largely popular among young audiences of today. Many young people are starting to discover Bette and admiring her. What do you think attracts the young audiences to Bette?
A: I think it is her overall appearance as an actress. Bette was larger than life. There was, and still is no one else like her. She was always very real. She didn’t care if her peers liked her. She was not about that. She was about being herself. I think she attracts a younger generation of people because so many entertainers of todays generation are so unrealistic in their demeanor and with their acting. There is so much phoniness in Hollywood today. Not as many entertainers work as hard as she did. Many of these entertainers today seek so much attention for their notoriety that Bette never seeked. She was a REAL actress from a generation that busted their ass to earn their legend. I think people of our current generation can really respect and appreciate that.
Q: Bette has starred in many films and has played many diverse roles and always delivered a fine performance. She could portray many different characters, and whatever role she played she always made that character shine. Even though Bette has appeared in so many successful films, everyone has a favorite Bette movie or a film that remains vivid in their memory. What is your favorite Bette movie?
A: I really do not have just one so I will name the favorites that I like most. They are listed in no order, because I just can’t list any in a particular order. ; ) Some may find my list surprising because not a lot of her big named movies are listed. I guess because some of her most memorable roles to me, were not always her biggest hits. A Stolen Life, Now, Voyager, Dark Victory, The Letter, Old Acquainteince, Of Human Bondage, All This and Heaven Too, and of course, All About Eve. ; )
Q: Bette has so many unforgettable moments, whether it’s in a film, an interview etc, but everybody has their favorite Bette moment. A moment that really shines in their memory. What is your favorite Bette moment?
A: The Dick Cavett Interview in 1971 was fantastic. She was always great on Carson and Letterman too in her later years. Another appearance that I loved with her was the Jack Parr Show from 1962. And another is Andy Williams where she sang Whatever Happend To Baby Jane?. She was just the ultimate star and was just so genuine in real in every appearance and interview she did. She was very professional, but yet, fun, witty, and extremely entertaining. You could tell the interviewers of these shows just enjoyed having her which was delightful to see.
Q: Bette passed away in October 1989. What was your first reaction upon hearing about her death. How did it affect you?
A: I was a teenager when she died, I was 15. I was very much saddened because although at that time, I was not as big of a fan of hers as I am now, I still appreciated her and admired her. I knew that we lost a legend that no one will ever fill the shoes of. It was a huge magnitude of a loss that will never be replaced.
Q: Bette has a huge impact on a lot of people. What impact does Bette have on you?
A: Bette has a large impact on me. She shows me that you can have whatever you want in life if you work hard for it. If you believe in yourself, anything can become possible. She never gave up on her goals and her dreams. Also, by fighting hard in life, battling and illness, which I have myself, to show that still living life to the very fullest is the biggest blessing ever. Her spirit still lives very strongly on this earth. Her spirit still lives on, and for that it continues to inspire so many.
Q: No matter what decade, Bette always remained the star of her own pictures. Even in her later years when her pictures began to decline, she always made her character highly notable. What is your favorite Bette period. 30′s, 40′s, 50′s, 60′s, 70′s or 80′s?
A: This is a hard one because she made so many great films during many of those periods. I would have to say the 30’s and 40’s. That is when she was in her strongest hayday as an actress and where some of her best work was born and vivid on the movie screens. Those two periods were when she was at her very best in her craft.
Q: Every fan has a certain Bette item that they cherish the most. What Bette possession do you most cherish?
A: I have a large collection, and there are so many things that I cherish. So it would be very hard to say what is my absolute favorite. One thing would be the AFI program, because only those who attended got to receive it, I bought it from one of the producers of the show. Also, the very many rare photographs I have obtained, and the movie press books are awesome as well. ; ) I have some of her owned items, like one of her scarves, a purse, a cig case and handkerchief. You just cant put a price tag on those kinds of things and you really cant choose a favorite from them either.
Q: Many people have had the rare opportunity to meet Bette, or others have written to her and have been fortunate enough to attain her autograph. Have you ever had any dealings with Bette. Have you ever sent her a fan letter & she replied, or have you been lucky enough to meet her? You have had correspondence with Michael and Kathryn Sermak?. Tell us about that experience?
A: I never had any chance to meet her when she was alive. I was a teenager when she passed and very young when she was in her later years. I never had the opportunity to write her. Although at that time in my life I spent it writing fan letters to soap stars. I never thought of writing her and if I would get a response from her. I have been in contact with Mike Merrill and Kathyrn Sermak. Both are very nice people and view Bette’s legacy as the highest of importance. They are both very grateful and amazed at the legions of adoring fans Bette still has throughout the world. ; )
Q: If you had to introduce Bette to a young person, what films would you recommend?
A: I have done this, actually. The movies I have recommended are Of Human Bondage, Now, Voyager, Dark Victory, and All About Eve. I believe those films are some of her most iconic, and some of her best work. These films are the ones I would recommend so any new fan I would recommend her to, could see her powerful nature as an actress and how she can portray so many different characters in various roles.
Q: Bette was a very beautiful person with unique attractiveness. She had the appeal, charm and charisma like any of the well noted Hollywood beauties. In which movie do you think Bette appears the most glamorous?
A: I would have to say All About Eve. She possessed herself as a big star. And she was. She just looked so radiant in that film. She demonstrated how a big star was to be portrayed and how one is to act.
Q: Bette is known for playing a lot of unsympathetic characters. Characters that are mean and evil. Out of all the characters that Bette has portrayed, which character do you think is the most evil?
A: I would have to say its a toss between Regina Giddens from The Little Foxes, and Mildred Rodgers from Of Human Bondage. Both of them were just so manipulative and nasty you just had no sympathy for them. Another would be Stanley Timberlake from In This Our Life, who was another rotten woman who you just despised and had no sympathy for.
Q: In your own words how would you best describe Bette Davis?
A: Bette was real. While many stars of her generation, and todays as well, possessed a certain amount of phoniness to protect an image, Bette didn’t much care about that. She said what was on her mind. She didn’t care what others thought of her. She worked extremely hard. She stood the test of time. No matter how old this world gets, or whenever it comes to an end, Bette Davis has made her mark for millions of lifetimes. Her footprints have left a permanent imprint that will never be removed or replaced.
Thank you Jennifer for taking the time to be interviewed. It was a real delight being able to grant this interview with you.
By Crystal Kalyana Crawford.
Here’s the link to Jennifer’s Bette Davis Online Website.