The best of Betty Davis to my mind was in the 1930s and 40s when she exuded both glamour and grit simultaneously. It has been said of her that she was an actress on camera but very real when off.
Apparently the opposite was true of Joan Crawford who was real on screen but a total prima donna in every day life. The two absolutely loathed each other.
Miriam Hopkins, on the other hand, was pure theatre at all times and was also a rival in the acting stakes especially to Bette.
Davis and Hopkins would make to films together ‘ The Old Maid’ in the thirties and ‘ Old Aquaintance’ in the forties. Funny that both should have the word ‘old’ in the titles. Both films dealt with enduring friendships, love triangles and betrayals of trust. Brilliant fodder for great drama. Something both actresses relished.
Joan Crawford and Bette Davis made only one film together long after their careers had lost momentum. ‘ Whatever Happened To Baby Jane’ was a horror film in which both excelled playing charicatures of themselves. The electric chemistry between them on screen was largely due to their off screen enmity.
Of the three Joan Crawford was the most glamorous and was the complete movie star with every fibre of her being. Like Davis, Crawford, commanded the screen and did not give up without a fight. Their careers endured for decades. It was, however, Bette who outlasted them all. Even after a stroke which left her paralysed down one side she continued. Such stamina is extremely rare nowadays when a woman’s career is deemed over once she hits 40. How many female ‘stars’ go on to parody themselves or are prepared to play mothers,aunties or grandmothers?
Not many. Now it’s surgery or mega amounts of botox so that they can go on playing ingenues way into their fifties. It’s not their fault though. It’s the fault of a youth obsessed film industry that is not really interested anymore in portraying the perils of the human condition. So long as there are plenty of action sequences and one dimensional stock characters there is money to be made at the box office. Crawford, Davis and Hopkins could never have played stock characters.
They knew their craft and their portrayals of real women , down trodden, riddled with jealousies, consumed with passions of the heart or with conflicts between mind and soul were mesmerising to audiences of their day and still are to those of us lucky enough to have been exposed to the glories of classic cinema. And like you I wasn’t even born when black and white films were all the rage. Back then it was all class and these three will forever shine.
© Renee Dallow ( Hybiscus Bloom ) 29/7/2013