SHEENA BARNETT: More Bette Davises, please

By Sheena Barnett/NEMS Daily Journal

“I will never be below the title.”
– Bette Davis

My hero, Bette Davis, would’ve turned 103 on Tuesday. Since seeing her films like “Dark Victory” and “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte” a few years ago, I’ve nearly worshiped the actress.
I’ve tried to see as many of her films as possible, I’ve read books written about her – and by her – and I’ve put her likeness on my walls.
I’ve truly enjoyed all of her movies that I’ve seen, but what made me love the woman behind characters like Margot Channing, Judith Traherne and Julie Marsden, were her autobiographies, “The Lonely Life” and “This ’n That.”
The most fascinating part of these books, especially “The Lonely Life,” is her discussion of her suit against Warner Bros.
Davis started her career under contract with Warner Bros. After a string of unchallenging roles in disappointing films, Davis sued Warner Bros. in 1936. She wanted out of her contract so she could choose more demanding roles. Davis lost her suit, but her suit paved the way for Olivia de Havilland’s victory in a similar case in ’43.
Davis wanted better roles, not just for herself, but for her fellow female actors.
The fight was a classic one: this tiny woman against this huge, male-dominated company.
It had to have been terrifying. She did it anyway.
She may have lost, but her roles improved.
A few years after her case came the roles of Julie in “Jezebel,” Judith in “Dark Victory,” Charlotte in “Now, Voyager,” Margot in “All About Eve” and so many others.
I wish someone of Davis’ caliber were around today to continue to make the fight for women in Hollywood. She took charge. She did what she wanted. Even when she was defeated, she came back stronger and slayed her competition.
If it hadn’t been for Bette Davis, where would female actors be today?

Contact Daily Journal writer Sheena Barnett at 678-1580 or sheena.barnett@journalinc .com.