The Marvelous Miss Davis

My mom was never impressed by status or fame (maybe because both came so naturally to her?) and she would get more excited about meeting a hedgehog then a president of a state, but whenever she told me about her meeting Bette Davis it was with pride and excitement. I wonder how much this had to do with me becoming a fan very early on – I saw All About Eve as a teenager and it’s still my favorite movie. If I were allowed to watch only one movie for the rest of my life, it would definitely be All About Eve. It always moves me to the core - there is something deeply archaic in it about womanhood, about female power and aging, and Bette Davis’ performance gives it candor and piercing energy.

Can you imagine how exited I was when Gloria asked me to interview Ms Kathryn Sermak, who wrote a book about the ten years she spent as Bette Davis’ personal assistant? Not only a beautiful but also an endlessly sweet person, Kathryn spreads joy and love around her. It’s no wonder she quickly became more then an assistant – she turned into a friend and part of Davis’ family, accompanying Ms Davis on her deathbed.

Kathryn invited me to interview her at her house and I was so giddy with excitement to be in a space filled with Bette Davis’ things that I flew into her apartment and landed on the couch. We had an incredible conversation and, as crazy as it sounds, I felt like Bette and mama Jagoda – who would have been fantastic friends had they had time to get to know each other - were enjoying our time together just as much as we did.

„Miss D and Me“ is a wonderful read not only for fans of Bette Davis but everyone hungry for lessons from lives of strong women. I was so fascinated about what I’ve learned from this book that I immediately started reading Davis’ autobiography „The Lonely Life“ – a definitive must read.

Both books left a deep mark on me. Not only because Davis reminded me of my mother, as different as the two women are, but because her story immersed me so deeply into thoughts about what it means to be a woman and what really matters in life. Her life is a story about the immense strength women carry, about the curse of the hunger for love, about value of hard work and honesty, about choices women have to make, about passion for life, about fighting for yourself, about the inevitable betrayal by some of the closest people in your life. And most importantly about how crucial it is for a woman to be independent.

What I didn’t know before I read the books is how much more Bette Davis was then the greatest actress of all times – she was a pioneer continuously opening new paths, a fighter for quality, for truth and justice. She was the first Hollywood star to prove that classic beauty isn’t necessary for success, the first actor with ten Oscar nominations and the first female President of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. On top of that, she was the first actor who dared to sue her studio (Warner Brothers) and ask for a higher pay, better scripts and right to refuse roles - which soon resulted in actors gaining more power, money and control over their careers (I wonder if today’s stars sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars know this). Always strong and independent Davis worked for 60 years, leaving behind 100 movies, two Oscars, four marriages and three children. Aged 75 she won a battle with breast cancer and numerous strokes – all while dealing with the incredible betrayal by her own daughter who at that moment published a book claiming Davis was a monster mother. She worked hard to recover both physically and emotionally and went back to making movies, which she did until she passed away at the age 81. What a strength, what a life! Read and learn ladies!

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