The Magazine

Miss Davis's Life

Fasten your seat belts, it was a bumpy ride.

Aug 7, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 44 • By RACHEL DICARLO
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In the early 1980s illness sidelined Davis after she had a stroke, and then a mastectomy. She had no idea that during this time her daughter, whom she had described to Chandler as "the person in the whole world I know I can trust," was at work on a Mommie Dearest-style memoir. In My Mother's Keeper, B.D. Hyman portrays her mother as an overbearing tyrant, who imposed her own ambition on her, showered her with presents to buy her love, and used her as a traveling companion. The daughter offered reconciliation, but only on her own terms, which involved Bette finding religion. The book devastated Bette and she disinherited her daughter and her two grandsons. They never spoke again. When Bette's own memoir came out, it included a nasty letter to her daughter and several negative reviews of My Mother's Keeper.

She held out hope almost until the end for another All About Eve, which had revived her career in 1950 when she thought it was over at age 42. She died in France in 1989.

Chandler shows that Bette Davis had meditated long and well on her life. But some of the passages could easily have been excised: "Yes, I dearly love potatoes. Still do. I even love potato skins. Yummm. If all other foods disappeared and they left me only potatoes I could live forever. French fries are the ones I like least." And so on. Or: "Do you want to know the secret of my success? Easy. Brown mascara." But it's clear that she really knew the real secret of her success: irrepressibility, and nonstop work. For Bette Davis, nothing else mattered.

Rachel DiCarlo is a Phillips Foundation fellow.