Posts Tagged ‘Bette Davis’

The night after this welcomed itself into my house and found a spot on my bookshelf, I had a dream that Bette Davis came to a family gathering (perhaps posing as my grandmother; that part is still fuzzy) and autographed my copy of her book. Instead of a see-you-next-fall yearbook type of signature, Davis went to town and filled the front page with kind words, bringing a bit of sass at the end by telling me that she loves me almost as much as I love her.

I’ll take it!



“I don’t wanna talk about it! Every time I think about something nice, you remind me of all the bad things! I only wanna talk about the nice things.”

Nearing the climax of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette Davis (Jane) covers her ears and shrieks these words at Blanche, played by a suffering, bound and gagged but nevertheless buxom Joan Crawford. Let it be known here and now that on this, the last day of the last month of 2016, I agree with Jane completely, and not just because I will always favor Davis over Crawford. We have already seen lists of the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad crises that occurred in the last 365 days. If you have Internet in any of its forms, likely you will see photos and captions capturing the year’s events and bundling them into a neat little list that makes us believe, just for a second, that these events are still within our control. The phenomenally awful and the terribly wonderful experiences would strike within hours of one another, forming a year that is now rusted in deep inside the vaults of our memory.

In September, I saw Mom dance and laugh and jump around when we both saw Dolly Parton perform live for the first time. Dedicating “Coat of Many Colors” to all the good mothers out there, Dolly knew that Mom needed some love around that time. In early December, I took a mini road trip with one of my best friends, on which we discovered what we know to be the world’s largest crane – apparently they’re building a second Grand Canyon near Corpus Christi. Barbra Streisand sang “Happy Days Are Here Again” live just for me, and I bought tickets to see her only because of the fear that was telling me not to right after the Orlando nightclub shooting. And that other shooting. And the other one. And the other one. Trying desperately not to live in fear of performance venues, I was singled out of the audience not once but twice by the main stars of different musicals (Cabaret and Hedwig) for a few seconds of special treatment and attention. Jennifer Saunders delivered Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie and providing me with enough confidence to continue my search for the perfect job that involves heavy drinking and very little work. Those and other interviews went extremely well, all to be followed either by radio silence or rejection. The Nice truck attack intensified the disgusting threesome that Fear, Anger, and Sadness seem to be having this year, another news story that left before it arrived. The Stanley Kubrick Exhibition brought me face to face with the fifth Oscar that I’ve ever seen in person. The year gave me clients whose books made it on to New York Times bestseller lists, a new parent company with better benefits, accurate drug tests, and new databases that helped to automate manual work, improve efficiency, and eliminate jobs.

A devastating fire in Oakland took the lives of those who were trying perhaps to deal with the devastation that they felt over the election, leaving the rest of us speechless, guilty for surviving, frightened, and once again out of control. For the first time in history, we had a presidential election that actually affected every single person on the planet, and for first time in history, I permitted and even considered crying at work the next day. Like the T-word that I can’t bring myself to write, the word “hope” has become almost as painful to hear. And yet a breathtaking walk through Muir Woods followed a Thanksgiving dinner that, due to a turkey snafu, was completely refunded by Whole Foods, bless its gizzard.


Springtime brought me to the front door of KitTea, a cat café where I have volunteered and gathered enough love on the weekends to disperse like fairy dust on those around me. During the week, I rub the itty-bitty cat scratches and bite marks on my arms as a form of meditation, trusting that the cat gods will provide me with the strength to get through the week and its horrid news cycle. I had a biopsy that turned out to be a common, no-need-to-worry form of skin cancer, and in a few weeks, I’ll have a manly scar on my left arm where that ugly little scab is right now. When she sang “Islands in the Stream” for us, I held hands with one of my best friends when I saw Dolly for the second time this year, a cherished friend who knew without my telling her exactly what happened in my brain after I heard the nurse use the word “biopsy.” My birthday brought me a second Dolly pillow, solidifying the choice for “Woman of the Year” in my book and paving the way for every single dirty joke one could make about two Dolly pillows.

Another perfect December trip to Seattle brought me to the fireplace at my B&B in Capitol Hill, a few seconds of snow, a wine bar around the corner where I scored oodles of free drinks due to my Christmas Eve birthday, a drag show called “Homo for the Holidays,” and beautiful walks through Volunteer Park but no sight of Dan Savage or his delicious husband. Too many to count . . . we lost Elie Wiesel, Edward Albee, Gene, Leonard, Merle, Ali, Carrie, Debbie, George, Prince, and Bowie. Not enough to bless . . . the planet still has claim to Carol Channing and Betty White. Heklina’s Golden Girls drag show kicked off my vacation with its annual Christmas performance. The book A Little Life changed mine, and I have 12-Stepped my way through a scarf addition, only to realize that it was a gateway drug to jackets, and now the closet doors won’t close. Despite what the country’s political climate tries to sell or tell us, my closet door WILL STAY OPEN.

I only want to talk about the nice things, too, which is why I haven’t watched any of the regular news shows since November 9th. We’re all exhausted, and I keep thinking of a line from President Josiah Bartlet on The West Wing: “[It] reminds me of that old joke about the optimist and the pessimist – the pessimist says ‘everything’s terrible, it can’t get any worse.’ The optimist says ‘oh, yes it can.’”

So when we need them, we hug our Dolly pillows and find a lost smile, holding dear those people who loved us enough to make sure that we go through the next year with a full set.



Until Jessica Lange emerged as the Supreme in American Horror Story: Coven, my life had lacked the presence of modern witchcraft, and admittedly this had gone unnoticed. For decades I have surrounded myself with my own coven of crafty conjurers, and it’s been quite some time since I have initiated any new members. Lange’s Fiona Goode is blessed with style, wit, and absolutely zero patience for those who attempt, unsuccessfully, to outsass her. Your welcoming to The Ticket Booth’s coven is long overdue, Fiona . . . please come meet the rest of the girls.


Jennifer, I Married a Witch (1942):


Bolts of lightning probably followed Veronica Lake wherever she went, and Samantha Stephens can’t hog all the attention – I think we need more blond witches out there.


Endora, Bewitched (1964–1972):


If Endora ever lost her powers in some freak curse or power outage, undoubtedly the fashion house that she would open to function as a mortal would lead her to world domination. Ah, Agnes Moorehead and her eyeshadow for days . . . the show hinted at some interesting points about prejudices that American Horror Story: Coven would violently incorporate decades later.


Carrie White, Carrie (1976):


Since the late 1930s, witches tend to joke about the whole “dumping buckets of liquid on them” situation, but Carrie has no sense of humor when it comes to that kind of thing.


Princess Mombi, Return to Oz (1985):


A blond witch at times, I guess . . . Jean Marsh’s demonic portrayal of Mombi and her habitual head swapping had children of the 80s hitting the fast-forward button just to make it end. I, instead, elected to rewind. A dear friend of Alice’s Queen of Hearts, this one.


Alex, Jane, and Sukie, The Witches of Eastwick (1987):


With Pfeiffer popping up in here, maybe the list is filled with Goldilockses! The film that either ruined or enchanted the act of eating cherries also reminds me that, in fact, Cher is not a foot taller than Jack Nicholson. Why do I have that idea in my head as an uncontested truth?


Ursula the Sea Witch, The Little Mermaid (1989):


It’s never easy to select only one villain from Disney’s powder room, but let’s go with the one who has “witch” on her birth certificate. I will never forget sitting in the movie theatre during a friend’s ninth birthday and thinking, “This isn’t how the story goes.” The 1975 Japanese anime film was “Mermaid truth” to me, and its Sea Witch had no motive other than to cause pain and heartbreak. Yes, when Ursula started singing, the truth was rewritten for me and coven admission was granted, but we all know that she stole her color scheme from her predecessor.


Miranda, Wicked Stepmother (1989):


Because she’s Bette Davis, so shut up about it.


Miss Ernst/The Grand High Witch, The Witches (1990):


Aside from yours truly, writers are a stubborn, picky, unyielding squad of artists who refuse to have their visions tampered with by any mortal, mere or miraculous. Therefore it thaws out our hearts to hear that Roald Dahl fully supported the casting of Anjelica Huston as his Grand High Witch. An offensive Oscar snub for both the actress and her makeup team.


Lisle Von Rhuman, Death Becomes Her (1992):


She is the one who understands; she is the one who knows your secret. What we will never understand is the spell that she used to keep those beads in place for a PG-13 rating. Clearly the witchcraft of Miss Isabella Rossellini is one of our coven’s most advanced and mysterious. Maybe it’s genetic . . .


The Sanderson Sisters, Hocus Pocus (1993):


The Internet machines have teased us with rumors of sequels and musicals, but alas, nothing. Damn, damn, double damn! Now if only I could find truth to the other rumors I’m hearing (or did I start them?) about Bette Midler and a biopic of Mae West.


Then, of course, there’s the original Supreme. I believe you’ve been introduced . . .


Happy Halloween!


The month of September makes us think about New York City, and New York City makes me think about movies. To be fair, carpet samples make me think about movies, so our autumn leap from the Big Apple to the silver screen is one to be expected. This year I mulled over all of those films whose characters force me to my rooftop where I shout, “I’m moving to New York so I can live just like . . . !” I can bellow my fantasy to the world only for so long before the family of crack heads living across the street asks me to keep it down.

Based on the dollars and cents needed for San Francisco housing these days, shouting from a Manhattan rooftop may be a cheaper option for us nontechies, so until I load up the car and head east, I’ll stick with what I have. I’m moving to New York City so I can live just like . . .


Gregory Peck in Gentleman’s Agreement (1947):


A heroic writer sets out to expose anti-Semitism in New York City, looking more handsome than any writer one could possibly hope to meet – I could think of worse role models.


The three sailors in On the Town (1949):


Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin visit New York only for 24 hours, but in that time they destroy a dinosaur exhibit at a museum, get seduced by cab drivers, sing and dance on the Empire State Building, and finish the night by dressing in drag as cooch dancers on Coney Island. Yes, fine, I did most of those things on my last trip to the island, too.


Bette Davis in All About Eve (1950):


Always in the running as one of my all-time favorite films, I would put up with anything Eve had to throw at me, if only I could have Margo Channing’s sunken living room, golden staircase, and Thelma Ritter as my personal assistant.


Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960):


Because of Lemmon’s brilliance (culinary and otherwise), I keep a tennis racket in my kitchen as a backup colander. Not to mention the fact that he’s thrilled beyond belief when he almost gets to watch Grand Hotel (1932) from the very beginning. What the heck, Miss MacClaine? I would marry C. C. Baxter in the first ten minutes.


Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961):


You know that pastry in the opening scene is the most exquisite treat prepared in the early hours of some exquisite New York bakery. Of course Holly Golightly ate carbs; don’t start with me.


Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl (1968):


Primarily for the matching leopard coat and hat . . . and the name of her manicurist.


Dianne Wiest in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986):


Some love him; some hate him, but no one makes New York City look more desirable than Woody Allen does in his films. After disastrous attempts at becoming an actress and a hilarious bout with cocaine, eventually Wiest’s character, Holly, finds her calling as a writer, and Wiest found herself with her first Academy Award.


Bette Midler in Big Business (1988):


Do I really have to explain this one? Two Midlers, two Tomlins, a “usual suite” at the Plaza, and special effects at their absolute finest! For most of my childhood I was convinced that I had an identical twin brother . . . sadly I had no clear route to Manhattan for our tearful and polka-dotted reunion.

Cheers and tipped hats to all of New York’s characters, then and now.


While working her way through the novel for the first time, my dear friend advocated strongly to host a little To Kill a Mockingbird evening. She would provide dinner for me and a few others; in exchange I would provide one life’s practically perfect pairings – a bottle of wine and Gregory Peck on DVD. Although I had seen the film years ago but remember enjoying it, my memory of the Finch family wasn’t as sharp as I’d have liked. Regardless of their quality, once again I’m guilty of remembering very little when it comes to the books I was forced to read. Stubborn little bugger, I was.

I was well aware of Mr. Peck’s Academy Award-winning performance of Atticus Finch, every film list’s number-one hero, but when it came to the 1963 Oscar race, I was more familiar with the ladies of 1962. From the Coke versus Pepsi battles on the set of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? blossomed equally enticing rumors about Joan Crawford’s “Anybody but Bette Davis” Oscar campaign. As a morphine-addicted matriarch withstanding the judgments of her alcoholic husbands and sons, Katharine Hepburn reached unbelievably new highs and lows in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Eventually on Oscar night Anne Bancroft’s name was announced for The Miracle Worker, an award that Miss Crawford graciously accepted on her behalf while those famous Bette Davis eyes threw daggers. While the world celebrated Mr. Peck and Mrs. Bancroft-Brooks, toasting the good-hearted lawyer Atticus Finch and Anne Sullivan, the strong-willed tutor of Helen Keller, the remaining drug addicts and alcoholics on the Oscar ballot gathered together their empty bottles and went home with nothing.

According to a few sources, Gregory Peck did not expect to win for his performance in To Kill a Mockingbird. His money was on his good friend Jack Lemmon for his chillingly stunning performance of an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses. Always the shrinking violet, Bette “Baby Jane” Davis expected to be the first woman ever to win three Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role but admitted, “Miss Remick’s performance astonished me, and I thought, if I lose the Oscar, it will be to her.” Lee Remick joined the above women on the list of nominees for Best Actress for her portrayal of Jack Lemmon’s wife; a woman who matches and eventually surpasses her husband’s drinking habits. Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer were awarded golden statues for their song of the same name, but the Days of Wine and Roses couple, who gave two exhausting performances that caused me to reflect on more than I cared to, were forced to drown their Oscar sorrows.


Do we all have the capacity for alcoholism?  Is there a “potato chip factor” we should factor in during a first round of happy hour cocktails? Along with scrunchies, slap bracelets, and eventually flannel shirts, my Thanksgiving tables were made up of mostly passive drinkers who passed out on the couch after dessert every year. You can only sell that “turkey makes them sleepy” jazz to a kid for so long, but truthfully I was relieved to see some of the more unpleasant members of the extended family settle into unconsciousness. Perhaps they weren’t particularly kind people, but as far as I remember, they weren’t angry drunks. Anger, it seemed, was reserved for the sober; the drinkers just figured out how to get away from it. Watching Lemmon and Remick dive into the roles of two alcoholics who spiral out of control, together and separately, implored me to consider my own youthful days of adulthood when life’s vices were everywhere, our bodies were indestructible, and no one gave a second thought to opening another bottle. Physical and emotional consequences were for old people who had lost some sort of battle with life’s hourglass, a battle we were winning during our days of wine of roses.

Strolling through North Beach with a bottle of Coppola Chardonnay and Gregory Peck in my bag, I made a point to walk by an old theatre where I used to work as an usher. Often I’m able to catch a few old friends between or after shows for a quick hi-there-and-hello hug and a few drinks. I ran into one old buddy that evening and bragged about the fact that I was on my way up the hill for a To Kill a Mockingbird party. His face lit up (at first I wondered if he thought I said “Tequila Mockingbird”), but then he started asking if I remembered “this part” or “that part” of that glorious film. Unfortunately I was running a bit behind schedule and still had three uphill blocks of North Beach to conquer, so I had to leave behind what may have been a wonderful chit-chat. Next time, my friend. Yes, I was on my way up that hill to a dignified, adult dinner party followed by a relaxed viewing of a classic black-and-white film. I continued down the block, and before I started hoofing it up that hill, I had a quick glimpse into my own days of wine and roses and beer and Jägermeister – a blessed little bar next to the theatre was a clubhouse to us all, and yes, there was wine. Lots of wine. And Rose was servin’ it.

When she wasn’t swamped with customers who were crazed with thirst, Rose and I had some pretty gratifying discussions. The two of us had a little five-minute book club that would meet immediately after my shift but before the bar filled up with audience members, cast, and crew from the show. Although we never had the same book on our nightstands at the same time, we were able to catch each other up quickly on what each of us was reading. When Rose was working, magically a glass of Sangiovese would appear on the bar without my ordering it . . . and when I say “glass,” I mean that thing was filled to the brim. If I hadn’t been such a gentleman, I’d have leaned down on the bar and slurped up the first few sips just to keep from spilling. Eventually the bar would fill up with new and old friends, we’d all drink until we fell off our stools and before anyone had time to pass out, we’d hop in cabs and go dancing. It was splendid; it was simple; it was a wonderful year in the toddler years of adulthood . . . and if I hadn’t left when I did, I think I may have died in the bathroom of that bar.


Days of Wine and Roses is a dark and emotionally draining view into the world of alcoholics, addiction, love, and survival. When Joe Clay (Lemmon) meets Kirsten Arnesen (Remick) at the beginning of Days of Wine and Roses, he’s as boozy as they come, while the only addiction she reveals is one of the chocolate variety. A harmless Brandy Alexander ushers Kirsten into more and more binge drinking with her new husband, and the two begin to create a life free from the perils of sobriety. If that one cocktail could unleash a beast of an alcoholic in Kirsten, is it possible we all go through an alcoholic phase in life, a time when we could all benefit from a Step or Twelve? The dangerous edge of that cliff – Mount Mid-20s, let’s call it – was treacherous, and I was eager to peer(-pressure) over it. When you’re a happy drunk and choose to drink yourself up to that edge, nothing can touch you, nothing can hurt you, and everyone loves you, whether they do or not. Somewhere in my mind, the immortality that I felt I had been promised would allow me to fly if ever I did leap off that blasted edge. But poor Kirsten . . . she hadn’t been promised a thing, and it turns out, neither had I.

Like Dad always says, everything in moderation. I loved my time at the bottom of that hill, and I had a wonderful evening when finally I made it up those three steep San Francisco blocks with Gregory Peck in tow. Last time I checked, Rose was still going strong, pouring generous glasses only to those who deserved them. My days of wine and Rose and roses may not be behind me completely, but they have certainly mellowed out over the years. My edge was at the bottom of that hill, not the top, but today I’m able to look both down and back without regret. Cheers!


Academy Award for Days of Wine and Roses (1963): Best Music, Original Song

Add Days of Wine and Roses to your queue.


“You look like you have a cry on deck.”

It was an overcast summer evening after an astonishingly demanding workday, but still I was stunned at this observation’s proximity to hitting the bull’s-eye. Unsettling but curiously comforting are the moments when someone sneaks behind my face and sees the frustrations that I try so desperately to leave at the office. That damn dam behind my eyes has thickened its walls over the years, and few can sense when the water pressure crashing up against it is gathering strength. A cry was on deck. Someone saw it. The mask was slipping. “So many people know me. I wish I did. I wish someone would tell me about me.” It was time for a vacation.

Breathing in the “bad” and exhaling the “good” never really worked for me, so the alternative was finding strength in these emotional walls and dams that sectioned off threats of danger or fear. Cracks in emotional infrastructure are extremely rare, not unheard of, but always surprising. Two pieces of entertainment can get the waterworks flowing for me – one is the final story line in the final season of Six Feet Under (2005). I remember clutching my knees the night I watched this for the first time, positive that my gasping sobs had woken my roommates. The other is when dearly devoted mermaid Daryl Hannah dives off a New York pier at the end of Splash (1984), per the loving “Go!” coming from a heartbroken Tom Hanks. Seriously, pass the Kleenex and the Visine. But this week a new tear slipped through a small crack in the dam; one of happiness, relief, relaxation, and yes, a bit of Chardonnay.

I’ve been vacationing in Seattle for a few years now, seeking refuge from the San Francisconess of San Francisco. No matter how much I agree with the protest fad of the moment; no matter how excited I am about an upcoming street fair/excuse to drink outside among the vegans wearing leather thongs, sometimes I just need a break. I’m aware that Seattle is certainly no stranger to its own liberal shenanigans, but I find its caffeinated pace leisurely and relaxing. My usual B&B was booked solid for the season, so I found a new one in the same neighborhood. Instinct told me this new B&B and its mermaid logo would provide sanctuary for those of us who understand the complexities of Splash.

For weeks I had worn the San Francisco summer wardrobe of scarves and my fuzzy alpaca hat, so I was delighted to find the Seattle climate positioned somewhere between the 70s and 80s (much like the songs in my “On Vacation” playlist). Along with plenty of shorts, T-shirts, and various Burt’s Bees products, wrapped up safely in my one jacket were three cherished DVDs. Last-minute packing will result in impulse items: The Sting (1973), A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), and All About Eve (1950). Walking up the back stairs to my new temporary residence upon arrival, I passed an outdoor deck that was roped off. A dangling gold sign politely read “Private,” but fortunately that word printed in beautiful loopy cursive quickly took on new definition. It turns out that “Private” meant “mine.” After a delicious breakfast of French toast and, oh, a thousand cups of Seattle coffee, I fluttered around the neighborhood in search of the perfect afternoon accessories – bread, cheese, and wine. Clearly I was in a French mood, as the morning’s toast paved the way for an afternoon baguette, along with some aged cheddar and a chilled Chardonnay. The plan was flawless: I would sit on that sunny, private balcony, eat my bread ‘n’ cheese, enjoy my wine with gusto, and continue my life’s goal of setting the world record for the number of times one person has watched All About Eve


Always the careful traveler, I was prepared for anything. It’s a tragic, thunder-clapping moment of despair when we hold in our hands a bottle of wine but have no tool to open it. Have no fear, the B&B’s kitchen had everything I needed – the cork was popped; the bread and cheese were sliced with no harm done to my fingers; the charger for my laptop ran from inside outlet to outdoor table with length to spare; the flies that were interested in my food didn’t seem to linger (even the flies are nicer in Seattle); and this particularly overused DVD played without error. Decked out in my shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, I settled in to enjoy the perfect afternoon. The birds were chirping, the sky was blue-ing, the sun was shining, and the sun was shining . . . the sun was shining . . . everywhere. The sun was shining absolutely everywhere.

Ever try to use a laptop outdoors on a sunny day with very little shade? I rearranged the furniture on that deck into every position imaginable, but Mother Nature was working the spotlight that day. There was no angle that would allow me to see the black-and-white world of Margo, Eve, Bill, Birdie, Addison, or their theatre, but I was not to be defeated by the well-rested Seattle sun. Mentally projected was the 20th Century Fox logo as soon as I heard the opening musical score, but my computer screen remained a pearly white. Fortunately the instincts of primitive man kicked in immediately, and I treated myself to a 138-minute radio show performance of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s masterpiece. A blessed version of the gift of memory allows me to visualize each scene with little effort, and I venturing through film exclusively with sound. Calm as a man in a hammock, I leaned back – glass in one hand, tiny cheese sandwich in the other – and mouthed a few snippy lines along with Bette Davis and George Sanders, hoping and fearing that the neighbors were watching me. Hey, what did I care? At 32, I can see that parts of my life work perfectly, while others still remain closed for maintenance. But I was 32, and I looked 32. I looked it five years ago, and I’ll look it 20 years from now – I was having a ball!

Wine, bread, cheese, sun, Seattle, Davis. I glanced around at the moment where life had taken me, and that afternoon, there was no contest in either category – I was devouring life’s greatest meal while listening to life’s greatest film, and suddenly I felt a laugh on deck. I laughed at my determination to make All About Eve a part of my vacation. I laughed at the young Marilyn Monroe who must have been terrified of the domineering Bette Davis. I laughed at how Bette Davis must have loved terrifying Marilyn Monroe. I laughed at all the scenes I had the ability to visualize, Eve and others. I laughed at my laughter, for I had enjoyed only two glasses of wine on a stomach filled with carbs and dairy. I couldn’t say with certainly whether the bottle was half empty or half full, but I laughed until I cried . . . it turns out that neither the giggles nor the tears can remain on deck forever.


Academy Awards for All About Eve (1951): Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording (2)

Add All About Eve to your queue.


Evidently I have committed Bible verses to memory for (what some would say) all the wrong reasons. It may pain the religious figures of my childhood to know I can recite entire passages from the Book of Revelation only because a certain pop star goddess used it in the opening act of her Re-Invention Tour. From the Song of Solomon comes another memorable verse and the title of Lillian Hellman’s play: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.” This is my religion.

I’m tickled pink when someone recommends an old film I never seen. As anticipated, my movie queue is extensively extensive, and I’m unable to get to everything as soon as I’d like. Yes, the line is long, time is precious, and I have only television, so I decided long ago to ignore the “I can’t believe you haven’t seen that” jabs that accompany recommendations from time to time. Those of us whose paychecks force us to choose between two discs at a time and that necessary bottle of rosé often settle for a one-disc-one-bottle combination. Some companies have yoga studios and mediation rooms; mine took away our Kleenex to cut costs. Money isn’t everything . . . but I’ve always been lucky, and I’ll be lucky again.

Since I’m unable to get to everything right away, suggestions are always appreciated. When multiple people recommend the same movie to me in a matter of weeks, I make it a point to listen. From three separate corners of my life, endorsements were sent for The Shop around the Corner (1940), but I imagine the Christmas season had something to do with these coinciding recommendations. A cute one, yes, and Jimmy Stewart’s voice has a soothing quality that should be bottled and sold at day spas, but I’m not prepared to place this one of my list of favorites.


I’m tickled a brighter shade of pink when someone recommends an old movie that I happen to know and love. There’s a specific level of excitement that I can hear in a voice, an email, or yes, even a text message that reminds me of why I choose to write what I write – to me, the shared love of a film can allow people who live far from one another enjoy something of a shared experience. A recent email with the subject line of “The Little Foxes with Bette Davis” did just that. The story of a greedy trio of siblings who would never settle for one disc at a time is led by Miss Davis in one of her tremendously nasty roles. Nominated for nine Oscars but winning not a single one, The Little Foxes (1941) has been with me since the early stages of my growing film addiction.

Adapted from Hellman’s original stage play starring Tallulah Bankhead, The Little Foxes follows Regina Hubbard (Davis) and her two brothers in their conniving schemes to open a cotton mill by any means necessary. Born into a time period when men were the only true heirs to fortune, Regina must rely on the dollars of her husband, a man of poor health whose death would be highly profitable for the Hubbard siblings. A fierce, difficult, and perhaps misunderstood woman fighting for success in a man’s world? Well, I guess Bette Davis could pull it off . . . at one point she turns to the group of people in her living room and bellows without a question mark, “Why don’t you all go home. Good night!” My hero.

The success of films today seem to rely on the gossip and controversies that surround it, so once again, Bette Davis proves to be ahead of her time. Any time I present rumors, I present them as nothing more, for we will never truly know which cast member or director walked off the set, for how long they were gone, and what it took to get them back. It’s reported that, despite a good working relationship on previous films, Bette Davis and director William Wyler argued constantly during production. According to some sources, Davis provided Regina with an evil ruthlessness that was not present in Tallulah Bankhead’s stage portrayal of a victimized woman swallowed by the greed of her male relatives.

There’s more than one way to skin a fox, and Bette Davis’s Regina manages just fine with the raise of an eyebrow.


Add The Little Foxes to your queue.

A pinch of powder and a touch lipstick can go a very long way . . .

Some family members were amused by the creative little boy who never waited for Halloween to sport his magnificent costumes; others looked down and sneered at those of any age who behaved even slightly outside the tedious norm. I dreaded those family functions at which I knew I’d be asked, “So, who are you today?” I never understood it — I couldn’t wait to pull out of my hat all these fabulously fascinating personalities and try them all on, and yet somehow those around me were content simply to be themselves. Very confusing to a curious young mind, especially when I didn’t find particularly likable the one personality each of these adults were choosing to keep. If indeed any judgment was thrown at my childhood self, I can only assume it was wrapped in a layer of jealousy . . . hey, at least I was having a good time!

A happy Halloween to all, particularly to that little boy out there who’s having an absolutely wonderful time in his first witch costume. But take it from me, buddy: next year just ask for some green makeup — magic marker is a bitch to scrub off.

I opened my fortune cookie in the dark
My eyes, grander than most, waited to adjust
To words that never appeared

I act
I act and I perform
And they remember my eyes
That see dark fortunes and futures and victories
Maudlin and full of self-pity
Magnificent, he called me
They witness the destruction of myself
Punishing my body for its age
Aged in Wood

The futures all surrounded me tonight
Snakes at home in the grass of the theatre
As talentless beauty still succeeds
Girls of material and ambition
Blonde and ageless
Evil in their love

“Swift as a shadow, short as any dream;
Brief as the lightning in the collied night.”

I still remember…

The flawless line of a playwright
Dead for 300 years
Tonight a situation pregnant with possibilities
And all he could think of is everybody
Go to bed

They’ll rest
That material girls
Try to learn so adamantly
For the sphere of the stage
My stage

And Eve
I creak as I bow yet
She hands me weights
Wrapped in well-wishes
They too read their
Fortunes in the dark

“Lovers, to bed, ’tis almost fairy time”

I still




Academy Awards for All About Eve (1951): Best Picture; Best Director; Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Writing, Screenplay; Best Costume Design, Black-and-White; Best Sound, Recording (2)

Add All About Eve to your queue.

In the darkness two white lights travel slowly up the three black screens on stage. The sound of a single click-and-flash of the paparazzi is joined by a second, then a third, as together male and female models trickle on to the stage. Each is in a black-and-white outfit that suits his or her body to perfection, regardless of the gender for which the outfit may have been intended. As the two white lights brighten and merge into one before splitting again, a platform emerges above the models, delivering unto us once again a woman with a redesigned but very familiar pointed bust. Once again she demanded to know, “What are you lookin’ at?”

“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted.”
— Margo Channing, All About Eve (1950)

In November of 2008, I saw Madonna perform “Vogue” live for the first time, and for a brief moment, Bette Davis stole her thunder. At that time I had just begun my journey into classic films and was working my way through each of Bette’s 11 Academy Award-nominated roles. As Madonna strutted down her catwalk and away from the audience, reciting all those names that I was beginning to know quite well, I could feel my voice was already beginning to go. Her back was to us all the way through this wonderful roll call, but suddenly she turned around and pointed (right at me, I know it!), as she said “Bette Davis, we love you.” And still, somehow, the night continued to improve.

I even made poor Louis take me on Crusade. How’s that for blasphemy? I dressed my maids as Amazons and rode bare-breasted halfway to Damascus. Louis had a seizure, and I damn near died of windburn . . . but the troops were dazzled.”
— Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, The Lion in Winter (1968)

An early week in October of 2012 brought Madonna back to me, as it did the loss of control I have over the majority of my body when I see her. The Masculine/Feminine portion of the show began with a performance of “Vogue,” and this time for me, it was all about Hepburn. When she got to the name-dropping that starts with Greta Garbo and Monroe (two other loves of mine, not to be sniffed at!), I felt a “hurry up and get to Katharine!” rise up in that old soul of mine. Dash it all, I couldn’t wait to say Katharine Hepburn’s name along with . . . yes WITH . . . Madonna. Right there between Lauren and Lana too was my beloved Katharine, whose name came out of me in one respectful syllable. Up went my hands, with or without the go-ahead from my brain; I watched my arms do their thing as both Hepburn and Madonna took complete control, as they tend to do.

Am I too much sometimes?

Nope, I’m just lucky that something as simple as hearing a first name can fill me with an unbelievable, lose-control-of-myself sense of joy; a joy that most of us don’t feel often enough. May you all have equal luck and know a place where you can get away . . .

Just how blissful is ignorance? From day one we’re pumped full of should-be useful slogans and general guidance — knowledge is power, stay in school, graduate, get a job, make money, go back to school, make more money, change the world . . . the more knowledge we absorb, the happier we’ll become. While that may be the case, the flipside of that shiny penny reveals that, at times, with great knowledge comes great stress. If it’s true that the more you know, the more you worry, is there a happy medium for happiness? Feh, okay enough of that analytical fiddle-faddle . . . too much talking spoils the movie.

Based on the 1946 play by Garson Kanin, Born Yesterday stars Judy Holliday as Billie Dawn, the role she originated earlier on the Broadway stage. With hilarious one-liners and a killer wardrobe, Billie is straight out of the How to Make a Ditzy Blonde cookbook. In a predictable, Pygmalionesque storyline, Paul (a witty Washington, D.C. reporter played by William Holden) is brought in by Billie’s boorish boyfriend to smarten her up. “I’m stupid, and I like it,” she tells Paul with a smile. Although she gets whatever she wants (two mink coats, everything!), she has a yen for the fortuneless Paul immediately and makes no secret of it. Paul gets Billie reading books and newspapers (the front part: the not-so-funnies), takes her around D.C., and slowly introduces her to our country’s history. As her education continues, Billie and her teacher start to fall for each other. No, really they do!

It’s unfair, I know — my indirect anger towards Judy Holliday is nowhere near justified. An incredibly talented actress who perfected the art of comedic timing, she also comes with the Katharine Hepburn stamp of approval, in part due to their work together in Adam’s Rib (1949). Miss Hepburn was certainly not one to give those stamps away and became a vocal supporter of casting Holliday in Born Yesterday. That certainly paid off! The race of 1951 placed not one but two women from All About Eve in the Oscar ring, facing off against Gloria Swanson’s tour de fabulous in Sunset Boulevard, and of course, Judy Holliday. This had to be one of the most exciting and unfair competitions in history; if ever a tie were needed, it was the year Margo Channing, Eve Harrington, Norma Desmond, and Billie Dawn faced off in a battle for the gold. The lawyer part of my brain has prepared cases in which each actress deserved a win (à la Oscar ballot counting that must have occurred in Florida, that sort of thing). Despite overwhelming evidence from all parties concerned, the only decision I can arrive at is a tie that does not include the wonderful Judy Holliday.

Although I would have handed an Oscar to both Bette Davis and Gloria Swanson, I do have to gush a bit over Miss Holliday. She makes me chuckle all the way through, bringing an innocent, and often wordless, humor to something as simple as a card game. My favorite scene puts her at a table with her boyfriend (played by the husky Broderick Crawford) and involves very little dialogue as the two play a little gin rummy. The way Holliday shuffles the deck, deals, and wins every game is delightful to watch, and I’m hardly aware of how much she’s making me smile. As Billie continues to win, she also starts to hum preciously the right tune to drive her man up the wall, and eventually her sore loser of opponent explodes with a “Do you mind?!?!” Much more enjoyable than the love affair between Holliday and Holden was the chemistry between Holliday and Crawford . . . not to be missed.

To this day it’s true that many remain content as long as they have their two mink coats, but blissful ignorance didn’t work for Billie. I look around at the Billies of today who seem happy and stress-free as long as they don’t have to think or worry too much, and I begin to think too much about them, sometimes with a twinge of jealousy. But I realized that these people tend to be the very same folks who, well, talk endlessly during a movie and spoil the experience. When that dawned on me, instantly I became grateful for the mind and the life that I have. So if you need the Cliffs Notes version, Born Yesterday is one of those easy ones I start while dinner is cooking and finish off with a bowl of Oreo ice cream later that night. But remember, nothing brings out the flavor of a simple bowl of ice cream better than a good, informative hour with Rachel Maddow.

Now that’s a happy medium . . .

Academy Award for Born Yesterday (1951): Best Actress in a Leading Role

Add Born Yesterday to your queue.

Happy Fourth of July!