I had the pleasure of conducting another interview on Bette Davis, this time with Lara Gabrielle, a classic film scholar, who currently resides in Oakland, California. Lara is a well noted blogger, and is the host of the blog “Backlots”, a blog which is dedicated to classic film and it’s stars. Lara has been a Judy Garland fan for as long as she can remember, and while she was still in high school she started to pursue an interest in classic Hollywood in general, and discovered Bette Davis, and instantly became a fan. Her appreciation of the stars of the silver screen remain a strong presence in her life today. Her enthusiastic approach to the golden era has led her to attending tours of Hollywood and it’s movie studios for her blog, and meeting stars like Olivia de Havilland. In this interview Lara explains that Bette has always been a favorite of hers. Other stars that appear among her favorites are, Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, who she recently conducted an interview with for her blog.
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 in high school. I had been a Judy Garland fan for years and was just starting to branch out into a love of classic Hollywood in general. I was drawn in by Bette’s intelligence, assertiveness and no-nonsense attitude, coupled with an incredible versatility that allowed her to be gentle and sweet onscreen when the role called for it. That, to me, is a mark of a great actress, to be able to play the hardest of characters (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) and the softest of characters (All This and Heaven, Too) with equal aplomb.
Q: Bette is an inspiration to many people of all ages. What inspires you most about Bette?
A: On several occasions I have thought “What would Bette do in this situation?” I have a personality that tends toward trying to appease other people and put their needs before my own, and sometimes it gets me into trouble. In those cases, I try to channel Bette and think about what she would do if she were in my shoes, and it helps me to be more assertive in stating my needs. Bette knew how to get what she needed, and that was a big part in the success of her career.
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 young audiences are attracted to Bette because of her uniqueness. Her unusual looks make her stand out and be noticed, and then you think “Wow, she can REALLY act!” Young audiences who are just getting into classic film tend to notice Bette more than many actresses with conventional, perfect beauty because her looks (and her beauty, because she really was beautiful despite what she thought) are so unique. And after they notice her, they notice what she can do.
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: My favorite Bette movie is “Dark Victory.” I think the plot is so riveting, and Bette gives one of the performances of her career. How she goes from this sort of self-involved bon vivant at the beginning of the movie to a selfless wife at the end, shows Bette’s range as an actress. I think the chemistry in that movie is wonderful as well, Bette’s chemistry with every member of the cast is one of the things that makes the movie what it is. It’s a real team effort.
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: I love the moment in the Dick Cavett interview where she tells him that she’ll tell him about her wedding night and she’ll have him on the floor for 3 hours. When the audience starts laughing Bette sees the innuendo, she says “No, I did not mean THAT! NOOOO! I meant LAUGHING on the floor, LAUGHING!” It shows her humanity, and her sense of humor.
Q: Bette passed away in October 1989. What was your first reaction upon hearing about her death. How did it affect you?
A: I wasn’t aware of Bette Davis when she died, I was 4 years old. When I became a Bette fan, I was surprised to learn that she died during my lifetime, even if I was still a toddler.
Q: Bette has a huge impact on a lot of people. What impact does Bette have on you?
A: Again, I think Bette helps me to be more assertive in my dealings with people. The fact that she alone took on Warner Bros. inspires me–and I say “Well, if Bette can take on Warner Bros., I can assert my needs in this situation!” It really helps.
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: I think I like Bette in the 1930s, mostly because my favorite decade in Hollywood is the 1930s. Also I think she was still just getting started in Hollywood, Warner Bros. was still experimenting with her and she was still learning. I think she did some of her best acting in the 1930s–with Jezebel, Of Human Bondage, Dark Victory…and I think a lot of that was due to to the fact that she was still young and fresh. By the time 1940 came around, she was already a veteran Hollywood actress.
Q: Every fan has a certain Bette item that they cherish the most. What Bette possession do you most cherish?
A: I have a beautiful magazine ad from “The Letter.” I got it at Cinecon last year and it is displayed on my wall–Bette looks very shocked!
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?
A: I never met Bette, I was so young when she died, but I know people who have. A man who works at an antique shop down the street from me met her several times, and he speaks very highly of her. He says that she was staggeringly intelligent–she could converse on any topic from the film industry to politics to literature to history. He was very taken with her and talks to me about Bette every time I come in.
Q: If you had to introduce Bette to a young person, what films would you recommend?
A: I would definitely recommend Jezebel, and probably Now, Voyager. Bette is so beautiful in both of those movies, and gives very strong performances that are indicative of her persona.
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: In terms of classic beauty, Jezebel, for sure. Those costumes! But honestly there are many movies where Bette looks glamorous, in her own way. As I mentioned before, her beauty is unique and glamor has a bit of a different meaning for her. She’s beautiful in “The Letter,” she’s beautiful in “Mr. Skeffington,” she’s beautiful in “All This and Heaven, Too.”
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: Oh, I think Baby Jane Hudson is the meanest! But in both of the movies where she plays twins, Dead Ringer and A Stolen Life, there is one REALLY mean twin!
Q: In your own words how would you best describe Bette Davis?
A: I would describe her as a witty, intelligent, tell-it-like-it-is woman with phenomenal acting gifts who made huge waves in Hollywood and paved the way for many actresses to come, both in her acting and in her dealings with the authorities. Bette was not to be confined by rules, and that was the hallmark of her persona and the reason behind her great success.
Thank you Lara for taking the time to be interviewed. It was a real delight, and I look forward to conducting the Barbara Stanwyck interview with you.
By Crystal Kalyana Crawford.