Oh! Those Eyes!

The Incomparable Bette Davis

"To look back is to relax one's vigil."

~ Bette Davis

Who among us has not been mesmerized by those eyes?

Whether fans for or detractors from this amazing actor, we must admit that she left her mark on The Movies and many, many aspects of the 20th Century itself!

How many a young girl didn't see her smoking in every movie and think that must be a requirement for fame, success - even for everyday life' satisfaction? Thus was the powerful influence of the "MOVIE STARS" -- the icons of those early years of the movie industry.

Bette Davis rose to the pinnacle of that genre, where she reigned from 1932 till her death in 1989.

She arrived in Hollywood for a screen test in 1930. She'd done a little Broadway and Hollywood was transitioning from Silent to Talkies. It was frantically searching for actors with compelling voices. She had few other attributes to recommend her, - except those haunting eyes! She didn't look at all like other Hollywood glamour girls. She quickly earned the nickname, "Little Brown Wren".

In her own words, describing the screen test, her self portrait was "I was the most Yankee-est, most modest virgin who ever walked the earth."

When the screen test required 15 different men to mount and kiss her passionately, she said "I just thought I would die! - I would just die!"

Not surprisingly, it was her eyes that got her her first part as "The Bad Sister" - in which she was anything but sexy. She gravitated to 'unsympathetic' roles, those no glamour girl would touch. After 6 dismal films, a break came with the female role in "The Man Who Played God."

Suddenly she was considered beautiful and charming. But in one of her great films, "Of Human Bondage", she insisted that when her character was dying of "consumption, poverty and neglect" - that she had to look just as that description suggests - horrid. The role was to be heralded as one of the best performances by an actress ever recorded on U.S. screens.

Bette Davis ~ Don't Let's Ask For The Moon(Now Voyager 1942)

Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in one of the great romantic films of all time; the clip above - an especially tender moment; the movie's theme music playing softly in the background; the inevitable double-cigarette-lighting ritual.

This has become one of my all time favourite classic films. Click the link to view the full scene. It is on par with "Casablanca", though its setting is quite different.

The Storyline of the film:

Charlotte Vale suffers under domination of her Boston matron mother until Dr. Jaquith gets her to visit his sanitarium where she is transformed from frump to elegant, independent lady. When she goes off on a South American cruise she falls in love with Jerry, already married.

Back home she confronts her mother who dies of a heart attack. Charlotte, guilt-ridden, returns to the sanitarium where she finds Jerry's depressed daughter Tina. Tina achieves happiness through her attachment to Charlotte and the two move back to Boston. When Jerry sees how happy his daughter is, he leaves her with Charlotte. What about marriage for Charlotte and Jerry? "Don't ask for the moon when we have the stars." Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

The movie came out when I was 10, surely too young for it, but my sister, Ruth, was grown and she loved it.

She had the sheet music of the song from it, "It Can't Be Wrong", and stored it in my piano bench. I always played her sheet music, so I played this song on the piano and loved the way it sounded. (I just searched for it here, because I knew that, among others, I still had it!) I wonder how much 'bad' influence the words to that song had on my impressionable mind!


So, from whence did this phenome arise, you ask?

Born in Lowell, Massachusetts on April 5, 1908 to Ruth and Harlow Davis. Harlow plainly disliked children, especially little Ruth Elizabeth Davis, always called Betty.

On the other hand, her mother doted on her. Out of this contrary mix of rejection and overindulgence came a contradictory personality with racing egocentricity on one hand, cowering insecurity on the other. When her father left the family in dire straits when she was 10, their mother managed to send her two girls to boarding school.

After graduating Cushing Academy, Bette enrolled in John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School; and in 1929, she debuted in "Broken Dishes" on Broadway, followed by a role in "Solid South", putting her in the right place at the right time for Hollywood's search for vocally-adept actors! She was on her way to Hollywood in 1930 - a poor little ugly duckling with amazing eyes and a distinctive speaking voice!

Bette Davis was a confrontational figure. She was married 4 times, widowed once. She had more than 100 outstanding roles in her career; many were remembered for their ruthlessness, their fierce strength, and their raw honesty.

Her demeanor, her voice, the turn of her mouth - all suggest a personage, a woman to be respected. Yet she was a tiny little woman, delicate as a flower.

It was the authenticity which she always favored over glamour which gave her 'edge'. She was alway willing to play characters much older than herself, so her transition into work as an older actor was smooth. She played negative emotions with gusto and played a person of substance with the substance of which she was made.


As Mildred in "Of Human Bondage"
As Mildred in "Of Human Bondage"




Dangerous Bette Davis?

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Comments 27 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 4 years ago from Deep South, USA

What a treat! I love all the Bette Davis movies I've seen, and those number quite a lot. NOW, VOYAGER is one of my favorites. Bette certainly wasn't a "cookie cutter" actress, but a true original! You could not hear that voice with your eyes closed and think of anyone else but her....


arb profile image

arb 4 years ago from oregon

Perhaps, dear Nellianna, you are a kindred spirit. She was, in time fiercely independent, a trait with which you are well acquainted. She was indeed, authentic, another trait you share. Diminutive and confident. Another familiar trait. A butterfly, undaunted by hollywood and its illusory luster. Yes, a kindred spirit.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Jaye - another thing we have in common! Your description is exact: - she was NO COOKIE CUTTER!

I did see some of her very early movies in the late 1930s, when my family still lived in Del Rio. The movie house (only one in town) on Main St. was a destination for my friend, Dorothy, and me on Saturday mornings when the shoot-em-up serials were aired for kids. Admission was a dime. I had to make a quilt-block to earn my dime. (oft-told story of mine) But the thing was that we didn't have to vacate the theater after the kids' stuff was over. Sure, the theater lights came on, but we could sit tight till they lowered again for the early matinee! These were the juicy, somewhat racy, frolicking romantic comedies of the 30s - designed to lift adult spirits from drab realities of the Depression still in force. Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Constance Bennett, Joan Crawford, Astaire and Rogers, Olivia de Havilland, music by Cole Porter, stories by Noel Coward - - - the list goes on and on.

My little friend (2 years older than I) and I saw lots of them! In those days, kids went to play with other kids and didn't always show back up at home till supper was on the table. Moms knew that other Moms were on the job keeping an eye on them. Dorothy & I were adept at diverting Mommas' attention to the 'other' Momma's domain, for various reasons, including their religious concepts. My mother saw nothing wrong with movies on Sunday but sewing on Sunday was taboo. The opposite with Dorothy's mom. So we planned our activities accordingly.

Anyway - When "Now Voyager" came out, my family had moved to San Angelo when I was 10 and Dorothy's, to San Antonio - she was 12. We visited each other in the summertimes - (by bus) - but our ventures, oddly, were less risky during these forays. For one thing - we were limited to the house at which the visiting was taking place! As it turned out, I didn't see as many racy movies as in my childhood!

(But once, when she was visiting, my folks took us back to Del Rio when they needed to tend to some business; we decided to impress the old town and sat in Walgreens trying to smoke! I was 12 - she was 14. I was so sick, hated it and never tried it again in my life. Sadly, she kept trying.)

One of the actors in "Now Voyager" - who plays one of Charlotte Vale's sisters, Ilka Chase, was the author of books my eldest sister, Harriet, loved and of which I sneaked 'reads'. They WERE fairly racy for the times. The author's mother was the editor of "Vogue" magazine and the stories were always about New York folks involved with fashion in some manner. Their roadsters eating up highway @ 35 mph, en route to glamourous weekends at the Hamptons, impressed my mind, along with the clothes & sophisticated chatter & attitudes. In fact, it set my vision on becoming a fashion designer, a goal I was well on my way to accomplishing before Harriet's death and my unwise marriage.

Ah - the steps we take en route to 'becoming'!! I think what a stinker I might have become on that path! (more than happened, that is)

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Alan - Thank you, my dear! I am awed by such a compliment - or set of them! I prize independence (to an absurd point at times); authenticity is the ONLY standard I value, though I am able to discern its presence in others - or not - and am able to keep my discernment to myself (unless asked for an opinion :-) I've always been diminutive but not always confident in a usual sense. I knew - but I figured it might be wrong, since it didn't seem to be the consensus. haha - again - I kept ti to myself. Bette differed in that!

But you're probably right in those respects that matter. If you happen to read that lengthy reply I just wrote t Jaye, you may detect some clues to any kindredness between Bette and me. But at least both my parents liked me and neither doted on me. haha. Maybe she had more to which to rebel and to be audacious.

I had physical limits, though, which brought me a modicum of overprotection. Bad eyesight and fragile bones which broke very easily caused my parents to try to curtail some of my adventures when a kid. But our whole lifestyle as a family was adventurous, really: - the ranch, the general freedom kids enjoyed back then when decency was the rule, rather than the exception. George has related similar free-rein wanderings over the countryside alone as a kid and his folks didn't worry, as long as he was home for supper. My siblings had great freedom too. Perhaps things began to chance with WWII. Many things did . . .

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Splendid hub, Nellieanna. I love the way you can incorporate family reminiscences and histories into a grand depiction of a great actress, but the lines don't blur... they carry the action along.

I never realised she had so many faces... almost a different character many times over.

drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

Betty was a remarkable actress and one of her talents was the ability, almost like a chameleon, to become a different-looking. different- acting person with each film role. This is a lovely tribute, Nellieanna, and she would be most pleased by it.

One of my favorite films was 'All About Eve' where Betty played the older actress that Ann Baxter (Eve) was trying to supplant. Great acting, great film. And this is a great hub!

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Ian, sweetie! How lovely to see you! I've been so involved in The Journey collaboration, I'm just starting to get my regular hubs up and going. The Journey is still in progress but my responsibility is eased. Now I'm more able to sit back and enjoy all the Chapters. Tomorrow the 12th of the 16 will be published. Mine is Chapter 1.

Yes, Bette Davis was such a versatile character, both in her roles and in her real life. After all these years following her work, I'm only now really getting "to know her" more as a person. Fascinating.

Thank you, my dear for coming! Hugs!

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

DRBJ -Thank you! Yes, truly remarkable - and didn't just step into an easy path. I felt she'd be pleased with this, too. My heart was truly thinking 'with' her.

I loved "All About Eve" too - one of my favorite of her roles. I rather focused on the earlier years, though. With such a long acting life, it would take much more than this short tribute to do a bigger hunk of it justice! And I figured that "Now Voyager" might be a 'find' for some of the readers. I don't feel it's received the attention it deserves. . .

Mhatter99 profile image

Mhatter99 4 years ago from San Francisco

I should have seen this one coming. this is a truly well written article on a great actress. congratulations.

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Nellieanna, I have missed you, my dear.

I'll certainly read Chapter 1


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Mhatter - Thank you! That is a most kind compliment! I wrote it sort of from the heart.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Ian - I miss you too, and think of you often! Hope you're doing well.

What about the furore for the Olympics there? Must be something!

Thank you - hope you enjoy my Chapter, and know that the series is ALL good. I was honored to be asked to write the kick-off.

Mwhaaa back atcha!

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

The Olympics looks as if it could be a disaster about to take place... on a Grand Scale.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

um - could be. I hope not! Seems to be fraught with problems, though.


Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Hello again. I have at last published a little bit of 'The Potter' on HP.

It's only going to be up for a week or so, but it's to "test the water".

If I ever publish, I want you to show me how to make a decent cover. TTLC was OK, as it looks a bit like a "Brochure for an Old People's Home" but the real ebook needs the expertise that only the wonderful You can guide me through.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

I'll go see! I feel a bit underqualified to help with your book cover, but who knows what might emerge? You know I'm with you and for you forever! (I probably could beat a "Brochure for an Old People's Home', at least!) Hugs!

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Ha ha!

I'll be there to welcome you.

Not in the Old people's Home... in the cirty that was the wonder of the world.

Twilight Lawns profile image

Twilight Lawns 4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

Nellieanna, send me the URL for chapter 1 of The Journey, if you could. I don't know where to look.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Yes -- for sure that is the city!

The link to Chapter 1 is literally all over the place! I'll send it - but it's among my 'latest hubs' (until later ones crowd it out) - but it's also on my profile in a Table of Contents so it won't get buried in other later hubs.

It's at http://hubpages.com/health/The-Journey--Chapter-1...

Hug you!

mckbirdbks profile image

mckbirdbks 4 years ago from Emerald Wells, Just off the crossroads,Texas

This is so different from what I am used to finding and apropos. Not surprising that an artist like you would choose such a large than life character to present to us. Very nice.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Ah - and so often, when one peeks beneath the surface of the acclamation and fame at the celebrity, one finds a timid soul or at least, a soul who has known intimidation at some time and bears its scars. Marilyn, Bette, Rita - many a star had an explosive beginning.

I think she chose, me, Mike. She's often the subject of articles. Mine is not so much biographical, but a little peek beneath the surface - an interesting perspective.

Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

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Vincent Moore 4 years ago

I've always enjoyed BetteDavis movies. She was fearless, outgoing, no nonsense type of gal. She was a beauty in her own right, those eyes, those eyes could melt any sailors heart and they did quite often. Susan Sarandin has similar eyes as Bette. Sweet Baby Jane was terrific. Not only could she play in musicals and dance and sing, she could scare the heck out of you in her scary movies.

Yes indeed Bette was priceless and I admire her still today. Your tribute to her was brilliant and I enjoyed it very much Nellieanna. The music and pictures were priceless as well.

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Yes, Vincent, she was all that! She was never namby-pamby! I think I'll watch "Now Voyager" again tonight.

Your mention of another of my favorites, Susan Sarandon - yes! She is such a special actor.

Thank you for your special views!

Deborah Brooks profile image

Deborah Brooks 4 years ago from Brownsville,TX

This is a wonderful hub. I love Betty Davis.. she was a beautiful woman..and a great actress.. thank you for sharing


Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Dear Debbie - Thank you for visiting and commenting! Glad you share my admiration for Bette Davis!

I see we are both Texans; - and I was a Mary Kay Director back in the early 1980s! Are you here in Dallas at the Convention now in progress?

Faith Reaper profile image

Faith Reaper 4 years ago from southern USA

Bette Davis is one of my all time favorite actresses. Growing up, I was so very young and I can remember watching that chilling movie, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane." I will never forget her performance in that movie to this date. This is a great tribute dear one to a fascinating woman. Voted Way up. God bless. In His Love, Faith Reaper

Nellieanna profile image

Nellieanna 4 years ago from TEXAS Author

Dear Faith - this is such a pleasure to read your comment! I can feel your strong impression and affinity to Miss Davis. I felt it too, but many years before you did, of course. She was such a dominating personality. She began her movie career about the year I was born, in fact, so it was as though she'd always been there, like one's parents are! haha. Her spectacular acting career is truly one of the major ones of the 20th century. Indeed, as you say - a fascinating woman! Thank you for the visit & comments!

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