erik lundegaard

Sunday May 10, 2020

Bette Davis by Walter Bernstein

Merrill (left) and Davis, about to have a bumpier night than the night they arrived in the cabin in Maine for their honeymoon.

“The cabin [in Maine where I was staying during the blacklist] was owned by an old Communist who owned another primitive cabin just across the creek. This came in handy when I received a telegram from an actor friend, Gary Merrill. We had been together, he as actor, I as publicist, in This Is the Army, when he introduced me to boilermakers. Gary liked to drink more than he liked to act, but he was a good actor who had scored a success on Broadway in Born Yesterday and had then gone to Hollywood with a contract at Twentieth Century-Fox. He had recently been in a movie called All About Eve, playing opposite Bette Davis. They had fallen in love and now they were married and on their honeymoon, driving East from California. The telegram asked if I could find them a place to stay for a week or two. They were both New Englanders and used to discomfort and any place would do so long as it was on water. I wired back that I had found the perfect place for them. The landlord was amenable and I rowed over to check out the other cabin. It was just like mine, with the same lack of amenities, but it also had a bookcase full of the collected works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. I decided this was not exactly movie star reading, at least not in that day and age, and stuck the books in a closet and stacked firewood in front so they wouldn't be seen.

”Gary and Bette arrived in a large Cadillac convertible packed high with suitcases. They loved the cabin. Bette immediately sat down to make a shopping list. She seemed utterly familiar to me. It was as if I were finally meeting in person an old pen pal. After all, she had been part of my life since Cabin in the Cotton. I found myself searching her face for the scar from Marked Woman. She was smaller than I had imagined but formidable. Her manner was at the same time friendly and imperious. She was not stuck up, merely regal. She was a star. When she finished her list, she handed it to Gary and he and I went down to my boat and rowed across to the tiny village at the head of the creek. At the general store we bought most of what Bette had ordered. At the bottom of her list, after milk, bread and eggs, she had simply written ‘boat,’ but none was available for rental and Gary didn't think she wanted him actually to buy a boat, so we took our staples and rowed back to the cabin. We had been gone about two hours. We came back to find Bette in an apron, feeding wood to the stove. On a table were the makings for martinis and a plate of canapés she had made. A fire burned in the fireplace. I had tidied up the cabin for their arrival, but she had swept it again and polished the few pieces of furniture. She had found doilies to put on the couch. Everything gleamed. And back in the bookcase were the collected works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin. ‘Guess what I found!’ she shouted at us. ‘The most wonderful books!’“

— from Walter Bernstein's “Inside Out: A Memoir of the Blacklist.” I finished the book about two weeks ago and missed Bernstein's voice immediately. It was such a joy to read. It was like having a smart, fun, dry friend stop by every evening. 

Posted at 08:49 AM on Sunday May 10, 2020 in category Books  
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