Posted: 05/26/2008


Bette Davis Centennial

by Alan Rode

Exclusive: The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science and L.A. County Museum of Art feted this legendary actress.

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The AMPAS presented a centennial tribute to Bette Davis on May 1st at the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Hollywood. The tribute also was the kickoff for a month long retrospective of Davis’ career at LACMA.

Impeccably hosted by TCM eminence Robert Osborne, the evening was structured around celluloid highlights of Bette Davis’ legendary career leavened by the host’s commentary and the reminiscences of guests including Gena Rowlands, Joan Leslie, Michael Merrill (Davis’ son with actor Gary Merrill), and Kathryn Sermak.

The evening was rich in anecdote, particularly by Osborne, a Davis intimate who interspersed the retrospective film clips—from The Cabin in the Cotton (1932) to The Whales of August (1987)—with commentary on the films along with his personal remembrances of his friendship with the great star during the final two decades of her life.

After reveling in the appearance of Davis’ co-star from Hollywood Canteen (1944) and 2008 Noir City guest, Joan Leslie, the sellout crowd at the Goldwyn Theatre was bowled over when Osborne introduced a surprise guest at the supposed end of the fete: Olivia De Havilland.

Miss De Havilland, closing in on her 92nd birthday, waltzed across the stage to buss Bob Osborne and launched into a series of dramatically personal recollections about her friend and co-star of whom she averred, “…one didn’t meet Bette Davis, one encountered her.”

After poignantly relating how she eventually thawed the initial Davis chill by sharing the knowledge of her love affair with John Huston during the filming of In This Our Life (1942), the ageless De Havilland exited to a standing ovation.

Robert Osborne summed it up perfectly before the classic Davis denouement from Now Voyager (1942) provided the tribute finale: “The movies wouldn’t be the same without Bette Davis.”

Alan Rode is a senior staff writer for Film Monthly and a founding director of The Film Noir Foundation. His first book, Charles McGraw, Biography of a Film Noir Tough Guy, was recently released by McFarland. Please visit his website here.

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