Stardust: The Bette Davis Story
by Anna Keizer
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It was when she caught on fire during a school play that Ruth Elizabeth Davis realized she wanted to be an actor. As she was rolled into a carpet to avoid burning to death, Bette flailed her arms in dramatic fashion to make the moment last, for the attention that she was receiving gave her a thrill like nothing she had ever felt before. And hence the beginning of a wildly successful and long-lasting career.
Stardust: The Bette Davis Story is a documentary for those fans that truly are interested in passionate drive of this woman, and not necessarily her passionate love affairs. Oh, there is mention of Davis’ private life, but this is no E! True Hollywood Story. Written and directed by Peter Jones, the film remains dedicated to Davis’ stardom and storied acting career, refusing to compromise itself with the more sensationalized details of her personal entanglements. Jones is a man who knows how to give serious Hollywood fans what they want: an in-depth look at how Bette Davis came to be one of our most celebrated and beloved stars.
Davis never had the conventional Hollywood glamour look, nor did it interest her to cultivate one. As mentioned, she did indeed thrive on the attention received from her high-profiled career, but her drive and determination stemmed first and foremost from a pure love of the craft. She didn’t care how she looked for any part, just so long as she was true to her character. Moreover, she never backed down from a confrontation when it came to matters of either her career or merely a single film. She battled mogul Jack Warner several times during her eighteen years at his famed studio, fighting for both greater creative control over her films and the ability to play more diverse roles. And although she greatly admired and for a short time had a love affair with the accomplished filmmaker William Wyler, that didn’t stop Bette from objecting to his directorial style on The Little Foxes. So great was their falling out that they never worked together again.
Perhaps some would think that Davis was just another spoiled Hollywood actress who pouted when she didn’t get her way. Rather, what Stardust makes unmistakably clear is that Davis was simply a woman ahead of her time. She started out her career during a period when Hollywood manufactured starlets like they were coming off an assembly line. Yet Davis refused to blend into the background. Once she had cemented her status as one of film’s greatest stars, she then had to fight the discrimination and stigma attached to the “aging” actress. She even went so far as to post an ad in the trade papers to offer her services once the work started to dwindle. And into her final years, she battled both multiple strokes and cancer in order to save her very life. Yes, Davis will always be defined by her defiant and sometimes dramatic ways, but without that spirit and iron will, we may not have ever had the absolute pleasure and gift that is her astounding canon of films.
A documentary not to be missed, Stardust: The Bette Davis Story will premiere on TCM this coming May 3rd at 8 pm ET/PT. Peppered with excerpts from her many movies, stock footage from her numerous television interviews and clips of other famed actors expressing their adoration for this talented woman, Stardust is for all of us who treasure classic Hollywood and the celebrated stars that embody it. It doesn’t get any better than Bette.
Anna Keizer is a film critic and screenwriter living in Los Angeles.
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