"Bette Davis: Larger Than Life"
by Richard Schickel and George Perry
Running Press, 264 pp., $35 (oversize)
Reviewed by David Marshall James
No cinema actress has ever topped Bette Davis, who became an international sensation with her performance in "Of Human Bondage" (1934).
She won her first Academy Award the following year, for "Dangerous," although most film historians concur that it was a bit of a consolation prize for not even being nominated for her unsympathetic role in "Of Human Bondage."
In any event, the die was cast, and Davis was poised to commence an incredible run of brilliant performances in many films that have since become classics.
From 1938 to 1942, she received Best Actress nominations every year, winning at the outset for "Jezebel." She ought to have won again at least once during those golden years, particularly for "Now, Voyager" (1942).
However, she had earned a reputation in Hollywood for being "difficult" (an adjective she wore as a badge of honor), beginning with a well-publicized walkout on her Warner Bros. studio contract-- a protest for better roles, instead of one assembly-line programmer picture after another-- in 1936.
There would be four more Best Actress nominations over the '40s, '50s, and '60s. It is an everlasting boo-boo of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that she lost for "All About Eve" (1950).
Nevertheless, she kept acting (on stage and in TV series, as well as in made-for-TV movies) until her death in 1989. Last year, she was honored with a U.S. postage stamp on the centennial of her birthday.
The ace drawing card of this oversize volume is its lush graphic design, its scores of portraits and behind-the-scenes photographs, many of them in color, showing off the star in all her drama and glamour, clothed in beautifully designed gowns and outfits by Orry-Kelly and made up in incomparable Hollywood style by Perc Westmore.
The text, by film critic and author Richard Schickel, along with George Perry, offers a lengthy introduction by Schickel, with some biographical passages on the subject, as well as an extended gallery of her film work. However, those who truly wish to read in-depth on Davis would do well to consult the bibliography compiled herein.
The wonderful pictures far outshine the words accompanying them, the images alone speaking volumes on why Bette Davis was-- and remains-- larger than life.
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