Feb 13, 2012

Autobiography: Bette Davis

By Jeehan Fayyaz

As the curtain went up in Broadway’s Royale Theatre in the evening of December 28, 1961 I felt ecstatic. I swaggered onstage, heard the eruption of cheers and applause even before I had uttered the first word. I knew that I would respond to it later, work came first, and after the play ended they would love me even more if that were possible. The set complimented me, I was meant to be Maxine Faulk in Tennessee William’s The Night of the Iguana. I had stood up and taken what I deserved.
My mother, Ruthie Favor Davis was my greatest inspiration. She gave me the disciplined, tough upbringing that served as a stabilizer throughout my career. Her aspirations to be an actress made me seize my chanced. It takes a lot of sweat to make your place in this business, and stay in it. I started off doing theatre plays. I was short, and not the prettiest actress in the game, but I was honest. I knew what I wanted. My work gave me pleasure, I enjoyed it, and I think that is truly the best incentive for anyone to do better. I could especially relate to Dark Victory and Now, Voyage when I started doing movies.
I waited for the deafening cheers to end before I began my dialogue. The satisfaction I felt at that moment was overwhelming. However, I knew that I had to maintain my character. I was Maxine, not Bette. I heard a loud, echoing cry, ‘Bette!’ and I slipped out of Maxine. It just happened. I had to respond. I looked at the crowd for the first time and it was pure instinct that made me clasp my hands together and wave them towards the audience.
I have always been very passionate about my fans. I think the thrill of people crowding to take a look at me never gets old and boring. It is what we actors work for, it is our reward. This staggering appreciation made me aim for movies. This moment defined who I was and what I was going to do.
Patrick O’Neal, the actor who was playing Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, was waiting behind the scene. The director was worried that I would simply walk off stage, but that didn’t matter. I think that the affection I get from my supporters is the most satisfying thing about my career. Directors and producers do not give compliments. A shocking lack of gratitude came from the people I worked for. I deserved to accept it from the people who were watching. Directors usually appreciated my honesty and the fact that I couldn’t stand to be second best. Critics said that made me arrogant and stubborn and I do not deny that. I stood up to all the men to do what I wanted, what I deserved. I was never one to follow advice. I was always my own person and I do not regret it. I know that the critics won’t be remembered as a legend, I will.
“Shannon,” I called out then, effectively ending the applause to welcome the silence as people listened, and watched.


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