How did I go my whole, Bette Davis-loving life without having seen this clip?!
It’s Bette Davis at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival, sans co-star Joan Crawford, for the festival screening of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?. It’s worth putting into context: it was at the Cannes Film Festival where her eldest daughter B.D. met future husband Jeremy Hyman, whose influence over B.D. was cited by Bette as a reason for her daughter’s eventual betrayal. But don’t let that spoil anything, for this is Miss Davis at her absolute best: flamboyant yet humble, intelligent yet unpretentious, regal yet professional. She’s bursting with her trademark New England energy, but still manages to take us all to Old Hollywood with two of her most dramatic cigarette lightings EVER!
Bette Davis was of French and English/Welsh descent, and she seemed to credit her (maternal) French ancestry with her passionate, romantic side in her trio of autobiographies. No doubt she gave much credit to her French side for her great appreciation of the arts, and in 1986 she was awarded by the French Minister of Culture for her contribution to the art of cinema. On May 22nd of that year, she brought her medal to The Tonight Show for her first sit-down with Johnny Carson since a catastrophic string of ailments coincided with her 75th birthday: a double mastectomy, a stroke, a broken hip, and, most devastating of all, the publication of a vicious tell-all-lies book by her beloved (and evil?) daughter, B.D. Hyman. Although she never let go of the pain of what her (yes, evil) daughter did to her, she wrote in her bestselling 1987 memoir This ‘N That that she was “having a ball” with Johnny Carson on this night. And boy do we have a ball watching her! (The interview is divided over several clips, but at 1:58 you'll see the award—and how honored she was to receive it!)
This was the era when I first fell in love with Bette Davis. She had a grand resurgence in the 1980s due to her films, her book, her talk show appearances, and, most especially, the famous indomitability on display in the wake of public heartbreak. I loved Bette Davis before I loved Madonna, and I’m not gonna lie—Madonna is a VERY close second, but this slice of TV heaven speaks to why Miss Davis will always get my vote for THE greatest star of all.
Bette Davis at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival (via Google Images)
Bette Davis’s powerful relationship with France came to a profoundly sad yet beautiful end when she died in an American hospital in France on October 6th, 1989. She ultimately succumbed to the reemergence of breast cancer, which had also been the cause of death of her mother and sister. No one knew when eighty year old Bette was in the final days of her life except for she and her doctors. This is pretty shocking in theory, yet easily believed when one watches this 1988 clip, supposedly the last TV interview that Miss Davis ever gave for French television. Despite the dubbing, her distinctly recognizable voice is as strong and commanding as ever while she promotes the French paperback edition of This ‘N That. Despite her ongoing battle, and even after her massive stroke, Miss Davis remained as witty and intelligent as ever. But I think that the REAL shocker in this interview is that Bette, one of Hollywood’s most ardent lifelong Democrats, cast her last ballot for George H.W. Bush! We’ll never get to know what she thought of his lone term, but my respect for “Bush 1” went up when I learned he had been good enough for my beloved Bette.