Just some thoughts and ideas going around in my head while trying to figure out where I am and where everyone else is going.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Many Faces of Bette

As part of what is known as the TV generation, that is the generation before cable, MTV and the 24hour news networks, I grew up watching lots and lots of television.

Television was there when I came home from school and my parents weren’t. Television was there on the weekends when my friends were unavailable to play with and I needed some sort of interaction with something, lame as it was. Television marked the Rights of Passage, the older you grew the later you were allowed to stay up and watch.

As a consequence, I grew up watching many old shows that I can remember today, at least partly; Star Trek, Julia, I Spy and the Flying Nun to name only a few. And then I remember the movies.

Now many of these movies would be considered as classics today. In fact you can only see them broadcast on Turner Classics, AMC or the occasional 6 movies that they show over and over again on your local PBS station. I learned and grew to love the old stars like Bogey and Bacall, Tracy and Hepburn, Gable and Lombard, Crawford and Davis. Not that Joan Crawford and Bette Davis were ever really a team. They only made one movie together, “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” and from all accounts they couldn't stand each other so they never worked together again.

So imagine my astonishment when applying for a teller’s job at the now defunct Chemical Bank on Water Street in NYC when in a crowd of about 300 applicants, one of the interviewers shouted out the name "Betty Davis." The entire room or I should say warehouse of people turned to see if the Hollywood legend was indeed there. I mean I don’t think that she had worked in a while and who really knows about other people’s finances. This was the time when people were trying to figure out who shot JR and anything was possible. Anyway it turned out to be someone else, whose sister I worked with for about 2 weeks and told me that Betty had been plagued by that name all her life and was trying to live it down. So let’s advance a few years to the mid eighties.

I was walking down Christopher Street towards the Piers, the Promised Land back in the day, on an early Saturday evening when I noticed a moderately sized crowd standing outside a theatre. I closed in and saw a tall grey haired man looking very distinguished and very important enclosed by the crowd and one or two television cameras. Former Governor Hugh Carey of the great State of New York I thought? (Well not in those words, but you know what I mean.) I wasn’t sure who he was so I got in closer. That was when I looked down.

There she was, somewhere between belly button and nipple level stood Bette Davis. She was wearing some Willi Smith monstrosity that was about 50 years too young for her. She looked old and shriveled, like death warmed over actually, but she still looked feisty. She smiled at some of the crowd with that sneer that she had developed after surviving her mastectomy and stroke and signed one or two autographs.

The women next to me screamed out, “We love you Miss Davis,” as Bette, propped up by the grey haired man was escorted to her stretch limousine. They drove off and I thought, I should jump onto the trunk of the car and then she would let me in, talk to me and take me away from the dirt and drab of New York to the sunny, happy climes of Hollywood and I would become a star. Dreams.

I learned later on that she had been to see the play, Steel Magnolias and was thinking of taking one of the parts in the upcoming filming of the story. She never did of course. I can only imagine that it would have been either the Shirley MacLaine or Olympia Dukakis role. She was physically too frail to both work and continue smoking after having a stroke. And so I never got to Hollywood and I never became as well known as I thought I might have done when I was a child. But I don’t think the story or movie of my life is over just yet. There’s still time.


  1. Fantastic post - I only recently discovered Baby Jane and was, of course, gripped by it.

    Yoru Bette Davis story is quite poignant... And the Chemical Bank? Lol... I thought that was a Seinfeld invention...

  2. ka=os - Chemical Bank used to be a big New York institution back in the day. In fact Chemical Bank was New York City back then.


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