erik lundegaard


Sunday April 18, 2021

Bette Davis' First Days in Hollywood

An excerpt from “The Lonely Life: An Autobiography,” by Bette Davis, published in 1962. The book began slowly but I skipped ahead to the NY theater years and it's been interesting ever since. The voice is definitely hers. This is from her first days at Universal Studio lot.†

On Monday I drove to the studio. I was whisked through the gates. Word had spread that the “Davis girl” had arrived and one by one studio executives found reasons for wandering in and out of the reception room to get a glimpse of the “find.” I waited and waited and, at last, Mr. Laemmle opened his door and I was ushered into his office. I was wearing no makeup except lipstick. I had never plucked an eyebrow. I had never even seen the inside of a beauty parlor. My hair was worn simply, with a knot in back. Mr. Laemmle's face was a study. He was immediately convinced that I was not right for Strictly Dishonorable. That was apparent to me. Mr. Laemmle later said, “She has as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville!” ...

After a tour of the lot, I was photographed in the still gallery, introduced to officials and one actress, Genevieve Tobin, and saw a few others I recognized. I was told the studio would call me tomorrow and arrange for some tests. It was rumored on the lot that Bette Davis was “a little brown wren.” I think Mr. Werner [the man who signed her] was sent to Siberia. The rest of the week was spent making what they called photographic tests. They supposedly found out your good angles and your bad angles. All I wanted to do was act!

The following week I was sent for and told I was being tested for a part in a picture. I was not given a script for the test, which I thought odd. I was simply asked to lie on a couch. Vague doubts assailed me as one male after another bent over me whispering, “You gorgeous, divine darling. I adore you. I worship you. I must possess you.” He would then make ardent love to me and end lying on top of me. “O.K. Cut!” I would hear the director say. “Fine. Who's next? Who's next?”


The most compulsively dedicated harlot never had a morning like mine. No less than fifteen menóall of them well-known namesórepeated the scene. Only Gilbert Roland had the sensitivity to see how shocked I was. Before he started that awful monologue, he whispered, “Don't be upset. This is the picture business. We've all gone through it. Just relax!”

I didn't understand. Was it like going across the equator the first time? Was it an initiation? Relax? My ancestors were revolving in their graves.

And thus began the career of the woman who wound up with more best actress nominations than anyone not named Meryl or Kathrarine. At this point, she and Humphrey Bogart are at Universal, so i'm curious how they wound up with Warners. And can you imagine signing both Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart and losing them? That's worse than Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock. It's the Sox selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees.†

Posted at 07:57 AM on Sunday April 18, 2021 in category Books