Bette Davis was not apologetic. In a world that values surface over substance, frivolity over soul and youth over age, Ms. Bette Davis flipped a figurative bird to anyone who thought they could be her boss and rode roughshod over them all. And often looked mighty adorable while doing so!
She was, like all great stars, unique. Nobody looked like her, sounded like her, or moved like her. Her early roles sometimes called upon her to be nothing more than a blonde cutie, but even then she seemed like a bundle of pre-lit dynamite rather than the babe-next-door. She might not have been the most beautiful gal in the room, but she made you believe she was. Bette was always highly impressed with herself and probably the least convincing of her characters were the demure ones (except when they later morphed into a chic tigress with a spine of steel). In "Fashions of 1934 " her part could have been played by any number of ingénues on the Warner Brothers payroll, but once she appears you find yourself asking "where did she come from?" or "how did this seemingly intelligent, educated, and clever gal get mixed up with this bunch of dopes?"
Though Bette sometimes played low-class women, she never had that "regular Jill" way about her like Barbara Stanwyck or Joan Blondell. Her trashy tearoom waitress, Mildred, in "Of Human Bondage" was not always believable, but her barely controlled wildness put it across. She seethed.
At the height of her powers no one could touch her. She got the right scripts and the right directors and she flourished. Beneath the good breeding and upright Yankee background simmered a woman of passion. "Jezebel", "The Letter", "Dark Victory" and "Now Voyager" showcased her range, her passion, her sex appeal and her strength and produced portraits of unforgettable screen heroines.
Starting with the 1950s, no longer young by Hollywood standards, Bette soldiered on and gave us a gallery of women fighting to be noticed in a society where they have become invisible. "All About Eve" gave us an aging star eclipsed by youth (and treachery). Her sophistication and wit were on display, but she made you feel the pain. "What Ever Happened To Baby Jane" and "Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte" gave us women who flamboyantly demanded that the world pay attention. Behind the aging facade were individuals who were vulnerable and whose feelings mattered.
What is an independent woman? To our modern sensibilities, it is a woman who makes her own way in this man's world. To movie audiences in the 20s through, let's face it, the present, that vision of an independent woman is often flirted with, but love is always the goal. Bette's roles were no different. Her strong personality ideally fit those roles of either career women or women whose passionate desires were repressed by society, but she succumbed to love willingly and beautifully. What made her unique was that her independence was organic. Her personality seemed to need no one. She was enough for her self by herself.
Of course, the fact that she was a slam-bang great dramatic actress helped! Like a great prize-fighter she was canny, light on her feet and, above all, courageous.She was, and is, an inspiration to all who admire great acting by a great individual with the heart of a lion.