Bette Davis

The Performances That Made Her Great


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About the Book

Bette Davis, whose career spanned almost 50 years and covered theatre, radio, TV and motion pictures, was at one time the first lady of the big screen. Working with such storied performers as Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, and Joan Crawford, and directors Edmund Goulding, William Wyler and Robert Aldrich, Bette Davis provided some of the most memorable performances in movie history.
This volume contains detailed analyses of Bette Davis’ top twelve films spanning 1938 to 1987 and including The Letter, All About Eve, The Little Foxes, Jezebel, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and The Whales of August. Each film is discussed in depth, with an examination of its script, direction, camerawork and performances, particularly as they relate to Davis’s work. A second group of films, memorable largely for Davis’s performance rather than the overall success of the work, are also examined. Special emphasis is placed on the way Davis viewed her own work as well as the detrimental effect her devotion to her career had on her personal life. Appendices contain a list of her marriages and children; her Oscar nominations; a discussion of Davis’s missed opportunities; and a partial chronology of her films.

About the Author(s)

Retired educator Peter McNally lives in Buffalo, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Peter McNally

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 263
Bibliographic Info: 36 photos, filmography, appendices, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2008
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3499-2
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Preface      1
Introduction      3

The First Tier
1. The Letter (1940), A TALE OF A LIAR      9
2. All About Eve (1950), BEST PERFORMANCE      22
3. Dark Victory (1939), ACTING VICTORY      38
4. The Little Foxes (1941), STAR VERSUS DIRECTOR      51
5. Now, Voyager (1942), A WOMAN OF INDEPENDENCE      63
6. What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), HOLLYWOOD HORROR IN KABUKI      78
7. A Piano for Mrs. Cimino (1982), A CONCERTO FOR DAVIS      91
8. The Old Maid (1939), THE 19TH CENTURY AND ILLEGITIMACY      102
9. The Virgin Queen (1955), AGAIN, A QUEEN      114
10. The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), FIRST AND FOREVER A QUEEN      123
11. The Whales of August (1987), THE GREATEST STAR AND THE GREATEST STAR      131
12. Jezebel (1938), THE LEGEND BEGUN      140

The Second Tier
14. In the Final Analysis      221

Afterword      231
Appendix I: Personal Data      233
Appendix II: Nominations and Awards      235
Appendix III: The “Woman’s Picture” Factor      237
Appendix IV: Missed Opportunities      239
Appendix V: Film Chronology      241
Chapter Notes      243
Bibliography      247
Index      249

Book Reviews & Awards

“In light of the myriad books about Bette Davis that are out there, one might question the need for another look at the grande dame of the big screen and her body of work. But author Peter McNally would rightly disagree, having written an exhaustive and even original book about the legendary actress’s most memorable turns…a lively film biography and a necessary acquisition for diehard Davis fans”—The Gay & Lesbian Review.