Bette Davis

  1. Kay Francis, Raffles, 1929.        The legend starts badly.  Fired by director George Cukor from her first stage company, she then failed a test  with Ronald Colman for producer Samuel Goldwyn. “Ghastly experience.” Poor costume, make-up, lighting and, above all, direction earned Goldwyn’s retort: “Who wasted my time with that one?”
  2. Mae Clarke, Frankenstein, 1930.      “It’s alive! It’s alive!” Before losing the director’s chair, Robert Florey had wanted Davis for Elizabeth, the mad doctor’s sweet fiancee. His successor, James Whale, selected Mae Clarke – getting a grapefruit pushed into her face by Public Enemy James Cagney and the horror classic all in the same twelvemonth.
  3. Sidney Fox, Strictly Dishonorable, 1931.      Next, she lost her first film offer. After successfully testing (in her own make-up and clothes) to join Carl Laemmle’s “faemmles” (to quote Ogden Nash) at Universal.  He  paid her $300 a week, tried to change her name to Bettina Dawes (“I refused to be called Between The Drawers all my life), and felt she would be finely dishonorable – until meeting… “the little brown wren.”
  4. Sidney Fox, Bad Sister, 1931.        Re-cast as the virtuous sister, she lost again to the wren of a Fox, who Bette suspected was Carl Laemmle Jr’s very personal  faemmle and not talented enough for such spirited roles. Carl felt Bette had as much sex appeal as rustic comic Slim Somerville!  From then on, Davis fought against saccharine characters. “Give me a vixen and I’m happy!”
  5. Helen Chandler, A House Divided, 1931.        First meeting of future lovers – Davis and William Wyler –  as she auditioned for this  copy of Desire Under The Elms in a tight, low-cut cocktail dress. Wyler  (a cousin of Carl Laemmle) took one look and snapped, loudly: “Whaddyer think of these dancers who show their tits and think they can get jobs!”   When he was assigned to her Jezebel  at Warners, Bette planned to reject him but… “adored Willie, he was the only male strong enough to control me. The sexual sparks were there from the beginning.”  He made it clear, though. He’d never leave his wife.
  6. Loretta Young, They Call It Sin, 1931.      So early in the Davis career, she was to be a Kansas virgin battling the wicked New York guys. She passed, realising that Una Merkel had the best role. As dancer Dixie Dare, Una stole everything but the footlights.
  7. Sidney Fox, Murders in the Rue Morgue, 1932.        The tiny wren flew in  again. Ten years and nine films later, Fox killed herself with sleeping pills at age 31.
  8. Margaret Lindsay, From Headquarters, 1932.      Director Michael Curtiz had been ready to go with Davis and Glenda Farrell suspected of murder by homicide cop (and Bette’s guy) George E Stone. However, William Dieterle preferred Lindsay (and Dorothy Burgess) grilled by George Brent.
  9. Myrna Loy, The Prizefighter and The Lady, 1933.       Before MGM snapped it up, “I wanted to make  it with Bogart.”  In a  manner of speaking.   Joan Blondell on Davis: “I just love that feisty gal – she fought her way up, a real Miss Gutsy.”
  10. Kay Francis, Wonder Bar, 1933.      Davis, Ann Dvorak and Barbara Stanwyck were in  contention for another of the  Warner musicals that broke every rule in  the book –  before the book, the Will  Hays Productin Code, was writ.  From a Busby Berkeley S&M (and murder) dance routine to called ‘Going To Heaven On A Mule’ performed by Al Jolson, St Peter and angels in black-face.

  11. Margaret Lindsay, From Headquarters,1933.  Michael Curtiz was first due to helm the whodunnit with Davis, Glenda Farrell and George E Stone, suspected, like everyone else in the cast, of knocking off the blackmailer, drug addict and  double-crossing swine  played by Kenneth Thomsen.  William Dieterle helmed.  Davis fled. She didn’t like mug-shots?
  12. Patricia Ellis, Hold ‘Em Yale, 1934.  The choice for the top-billed, sploit heiress Clarice Van Cleve was said to be a “toss up:” between Davies and Frances Dee. The suits  must have tossed another coin because Ellis won her – and Buster Crabbe.
  13. Olivia de Havilland,  A Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1934.    Davis was among the short list for Hermia. But after seeing her in a Saratoga production of the Shakespeare play,  director Max Reinhardt kept the role for Olivia in his Hollywood Bowl production.
  14. Claudette Colbert, It Happened One Night, 1934.        Bette rejected Capra to be  Mildred in Of Human Bondage. Both Actresses won Oscar nominations – first of ten nods for Davis. Colbert won – and later gave Davis her finest role in 1949. All About Eve.
  15. Helen Trenholme, The Case of the Howling Dog, 1934.        Having just given, according to Life, “probably the best performance ever recorded on screen by a US actress” in Of Human Bondage, she obviously wanted something better at Warners than Della Street in a Perry Mason quickie… and Jack Warner’s memo about making sure “she has her bulbs wrapped up.”  What a dump, indeed!  Her refusal won the first of many suspensions.  Two weeks later she started the “maudlin, mawkish” Dangerous  – and won her first Oscar.  Better deserved, she admitted, by Katharine Hepburn in Alice Adams.
  16. Florence Eldridge, Mary of Scotland, 1935.  Fredric March co-starred with all the ladies from Clara Bow to Sophia Loren. With one exception: Bette Davis! “Because I got to play Queen Elizabeth,” said his wife Florence.  With Katharine Hepburn’s Mary trying to win back the Scottish throne, Bette, Tallulah Bankhead and even Ginger Rogers (!) tried to win her nemesis,  Elizabeth I of England. March was playing  Earl of Bothwell – actuallly related to Kate and all the Hepburns. John Ford was quickly bored with playwright Maxwell Anderson’s blank verse and when time came for Kates’ love scene with March,  Ford quit early, telling her: “Here, you direct this scene.”   And she did.  Mary was first of two characters Hepurn abhorred; the second being Montgomery Clift’s evil  mother in Suddenly Last Summer in 1959. Like Cate Blanchett some 70 years on, Bette played Bess twice: The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex, 1939, and her colour debut was The Virgin Queen, 1955).
  17. Olivia De Havilland, Anthony Adverse, 1936.     She asked to be Angela, a mistress of Napoleon and the mother of the titular hero’s son. “Every once in  a while,” she wrote Jack Warner, “a part comes along peculiarly suited to me….  Mentally – a change does me good – makes me do better work, I like working with new directors, new casts, etc.  I also am ambitious to become known as a great actress – I might be, who can  tell?”  However, Warners wanted her for…
  18. Olivia De Havilland, Captain  Blood, 1935.  Head bro Jack Warner  decided that Arabella Bishop, who buys Peter Blood as a slave, should be Marion  Davis, Bette Davis, Anita Louise or Jean Muir. Only opposite Robert Donat, said Muir, but his asthmatic  problems forced him to quit. And Errol Flynn became a superstar in this first of nine movies with  Olivia De Havilland.  

  19. Beverly Roberts, God’s Country and the Women, 1936.
    “I won’t do it!  Satan Met A Lady was bad enough but this is absolute tripe!” She went back on suspension; fighting for freedom to work at other studios. Head Brother Jack Warner offered George Brent and Technicolor and a great role later on. He had just optioned a wonderful a novel, not yet published – “you were born to play the heroine.” “Yeah,” snorted Bette leaving his office, “I bet it’s a pip!” It was! (Gone With The Wind!) Her weekly $5,000 was suspended as she fled home (Garbo’s old house) for two films in Europe. Jack Warner should have seen it coming. There was a warning in the script: “All the men are men, and the women are too.”

  20. Margaret Lockwood, The Beloved Vagabond, 1936.      First of two London films she signed to make for a year’s salary each ($60,000) with producer Ludovico Toeplitz – this one with  Maurice Chevalier trying to revive his career (“He Kissed Many But Loved One”).  Warners took her to court as a naughty young lady, wanting more money.  She lost – and won.  Jack Warner paid her fees and damages and suddenly found better scripts. 
  21. Lola Lane, Hollywood Hotel, 1936.      ‘Hooray for Hollywood!’. Yep, this is where it came from. The initial idea was for Davis to play both the  temperamental movie star, Mona Marshall…

  22. Rosemary Lane, Hollywood Hotel, 1936.      … and her waitress double, studio selected to fill in for Mona’s absence  at her latest premiere, with talent contest winner Dick Powell as her date. “I’ve worked very hard to become known as a dramatic actress,”  she wrote head Brother Jack Warner about what was a  Busby Berkeley musical. (The Lane sisters played the twins – and Bette did… in A Stolen Life, 1946).
  23. Josephine Hutchinson, Mountain Justice, 1936.   Bette was first assigned to the role based on Edith Maxwell, a Virginian schoolteacher aged 21, jailed for 25 years for killinger her father and and pardoned by Governor James H. Price in 1941 and moved to Indiana under a new name. 
  24.  Beverly Roberts, God’s Country and the Women, 1936.    Davis was suspended (ie no pay) for not turning up for work. She then similarly refused offers until Jack Warner accepeted her demands for increased wages.
  25. Kay Francis, Confession, 1936.  Change of luckless cabaret singer – and murderer! – in director Joe May’s rigid shot-by-shot, songs-by-songs, score-by-score, fade-by-fade, dissolive-by-dissolve, time-by time re-hash of Willi Forst’s  1935 German film, Mazurka, with Pola Negri. As one of the fathers of German cinema (the first to hire Fritz Lang), May should have known better. Would have been easier – cheaper – to dub the original, already bought by Warner Bros to avoid any other distributor stealing their (mild) thunder. 
  26. Erin O’Brien-Moore, The Life of Emile Zola, 1937.     La Davis begged for the minor role of Nana – but Paul Muni wouldn’t hear of such a scene-stealer. Director Joseph Mankiewicz said Bette’s snort and laugh should be protected by copyright. (Erin was billed sans hyphen).
  27. Edward G Robinson, The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse, 1938.        About Edward GH, Bette reported: “All of us girls hated kissing his ugly purple lips.” Some Warners folk felt his gangster image was all wrong for a shrink studying gangs. Suggested replacements ranged from Cary Grant to Davis – someone must have heard co-star Bogart’s version of the title. Dr Clitoris
  28. Kay Francis, Comet Over Broadway, 1938.  “Weak tea.”  Snorted Bette, still on a high from Jezebel. She was immediatyely suspended and the movie was handed to Miriam Hopkins, who fell ill – or was it “ill” –  making room for Francis as the starstruck Eve.   Davis was right, hence directors Edmund Goulding and  William Keighley refused the gig. Busby Berkeley took over until he fell ill (actually he was in a  divorce court, being named by Irving Wheeler as the lover of his wife, Carole Landis).  John Farrow made the film.  – Merle Oberon, Affectionately Yours, 1941.  Often rivals Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland refused Sue Mayberry – snared between Dennis Morgan and Ralph Bellamy. Oberon was terrific b
  29. Margaret Lindsay, Garden of the Moon, 1938.       Dick Powell was perfectly sanguine about suspended by Warner Bros for refusing the mild Busby Berkeley musical. So, for Davis-Powell, read Lindsay-John Payne. Priscilla Lane, Four Daughters, 1938.        When Bette refused the lead role in Fannie Hurst’s Sister Act, Priscilla’s sister, , Lola Lane, suggested that she and her three sisters make the tearjerker. Priscilla and Rosemary were signed on, but the oldest,  Leota, failed her test and Gale Page  replaced her. The movie was a hit, requiring two sequels and  making  a star out of…  John Garfield.
  30. Priscilla Lane, Four Daughters, 1938.      When Bette refused the lead role in Fannie Hurst’s  is Sister Act, Priscilla’s sister, Lola Lane, suggested that she and her three sisters make the tearjerker. Priscilla and Rosemary  were signed , but the oldest, Leota, failed her test and Gale Page replaced her. The movie was a hit, requiring two sequels and making a star out of… John Garfield.

  31. Vivien Leigh, Gone With The Wind, 1938.
  32. Geraldine Fitzgerald, No Time For Comedy, 1939.      Jack Warner hired Casey Robinson to write the comedy for Davis.  As if she’d be interested in something then called… Guy With A Grin
  33. Merle Oberon, ‘Til We Meet Again, 1940.       For the first time in her life, the newly elected Queen of Hollywood (Mickey Rooney was King), did not care if she never made another film.  “I am that overworked!”  Close to a nervous breakdown after five movies in a year, she told Jack Warner: “Health cannot  be manufactured.  I am very serious about mine – and willing to go to any lengths to protect it.” Like risking  unemployment to win another new deal – no more than three films a year and a rise to $4,500 per week.  Her regular co-star (and lover), George Brent, stayed in place as Warner started grooming Mrs Alexander Korda to do to Davis what Davis did to Kay Francis. Take over!
  34. Katharine Hepburn, The Philadelphia Story, 1940.      OK, Kate was the toast of Broadway in the show (written for her), she was still box-office poison in LA  when producer David Selznick tried wrap up  the rights for Bette to be Tracy Lord.  No way.  On Howard Hughes’ advice, Kate held all rights.
  35. Merle Oberon, Affectionately Yours, 1940.     After Wuthering Heights, a third successive Davis role passed to Oberon – once  Vincent Sherman (another of Bette’s director lovers) rejected it.  He said she  deeply distrusted men, needed but  never enjoyed sex, “there wasn’t a great deal of foreplay… or  afterplay.”
  36. Betty Field, King’s Row, 1941.     When Davis was rejected as the reclusive Cassandra, she kindly suggested Field for the role. Katharine Hepburn, Marsha Hunt, Priscilla Lane, Joan Leslie, Adele Longmire, Ida Lupino, Susan Peters were also seen for “the town they talk of in whispers,” full of murder, sadism, depravity.  And worse that had to be axed from Henry Bellamann’s 1940 novel: sex (premarital), sex (gay), incest, suicide…  Peyton Place 16 years before Peyton Place! What had  been due for Davis and Cagney (plus Pat O’Brien, of course), stood up well enough  with Ann Sheridan, Robert Cummings.   Plus Ronald Reagan and his classic line:   “Where’s the rest of me?”
  37. Barbara Stanwyck, The  Gay Sisters,1941.    Fretting that she’d have to look older than Mary Astor (who “photographed old”) Bette Davis told Jack Warner to shove it…  to someone else. He called Irene Dunne, Katharine Hepburn  and tried to borrow MGM’s First Lady Norma Shearer  The problem was solved when Astor split forThe MalteseFalcon… turning the sisters Gaylord into Stanwyck, Nancy Coleman and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

  38. Joan Fontaine, The Constant Nymph, 1942.    
    Arriving for  lunch at Romanoff’s, director Edmund Goulding stopped by Brian Aherne’s table to chat with his pal.  (He’d starred in the 1933 UK version).  Goulding said it was impossible to find the lead girl. He’d tried Bette Davis,  Wendy Barrie, Olivia De Havilland, Jennifer Jones, Joan Leslie, Eve March, Merle Oberon, Margaret Sullivan. Head brother Jack Warner craved A Star. She has to be consumptive, flat-chested, anemic, and 14! How about me? said the the freckled miss sitting with Brian Aherne.  Who are you? asked Edmund Goulding, somehow not recognising his friend’s wife in a leather flight suit and  pigtails (they had just flown into LA from their Indio ranch). Joan Fontaine.  You’re perfect!  She was 25. So what!  She signed next day and called it the happiest motion-picture assignment of my career. Oscar nomination, included.   Well at 25, she was, remember, playing a 14-year-old infatuated with Charles Boyer (in her husband’s ’33 role). And they complain about Lolita!

  39. Ida Lupino, The Hard Way, 1943.       “How did I let that one get away?” Davis was kicking herself after seeing the film she spurned… probably because it was based on Ginger Rogers and her awful stage-mother, changed into her overly ambitious sister in the movie).
  40. Irene Dunne, The White Cliffs of  Dover, 1943.      Not many movies, at MGM or elsewhere, were based on a poem… Colman  owned all rights to Alice Duer Miller’s work “The white cliffs of Dover, I saw rising steeply/Out of the sea that once made her secure…”) and planned a 1940 film with Bette Davis –  for free, both of them – with all profits going to  the UK and US Red Cross.  Nobody saluted, so  he sold his rights to MGM.
  41. Ingrid Bergman, Saratoga Trunk, 1943.. Head bro Jack Warner shelled out $175,000 for the rights to Edna Ferber’s  latest huge (ie rambling) novel – for an  Errol Flynn-Olivia De Havilland reunion.  Or Errol Flynning Bette Davis, Nina Foch, Vivien Leigh, Eleanor Parker, Ann Sheridan or the Russian Tamara Toumanova  as Clio Dulaine, Coop’s aristocratic Creole lover!  It also  loomed large as  the Dutch-born Nina Foch’s debut, although  she  ten years  younger than most candidates. However, Sam Wood got the gig and used his Hemingwayesque couple from the 1942 For Whom the Bell Tolls:  Cooper and Ingrid Bergman as a Swedish Creole! In Hollywood, any accent is the right accent. Sam’s assistant director was… Don Siegel.

  42. Ann Sheridan, One More Tomorrow, 1943.  One plan for The Couple – a photographer and a ladies’ man – was lighting two cigarettes  at once  again…  As in a reunion of the 1942 Now Voyager stars, Davis and Paul Henreid. Neither one fancied the script. Neither one was suspended  by Warner Bros, Unlike  De Havilland when she refused to be Christie Sage.  She beat the studio  in  court, giving birth to what is still known (and used) as The De Havilland Law. Or, more officially, California Labor Code Section 2855. Shot  in 1934, the movie was so good it wasn’t released until 1946.

  43. Geraldine Fitzgerald ‘Til We Meet Again, 1943.   Oh no, said Bette, not another dying woman – did that in Dark Victory. Enter: Fitzgerald, pregnant with future director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, which explains all her close-ups.  Last time around, in 1932, the role was played by  Kay Francis in One Way Passage. 
  44. Rosalind Russell, Roughly Speaking, 1944.    Davis rejected the film about a woman fighting to succeed in a man’s world.  She’d already won that fight  in life.  Been there, done that.  For real.  
  45. Faye Emerson,  Danger Signal, 1944.   The brothers Warner took over the property from Paramount and aimed it at Davis – as the victim  of con-man come (literal) lady-killer Zachary Scott. 
  46. Barbara Stanwyck, Christmas in Connecticut, 1944.   Chickens come home to roost for a cookery writer whose columns about her bucolic farming life is all fiction… A surprise role for either lady! (Of all people, Arnold Schwarzenegger directed a TV re-tread in 1992).
  47. Geraldine Fitzgerald, The Three Strangers, 1945.    Warner Bros wanted a Maltese Falconsequel – and fast! The classic’s auteurJohn Huston reminded the suits of the script they bought from him and Howard Koch in 1937 – announced for Davis and George Brent in 1939. “Perfect,” declared Huston, ”we just change the names of the Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor characters.” Great, yelled the suits. They yelled louder when hitting the glitch: Warner only had rights to the names (Sam Spade, Kasper Gutman, Brigid O’Shaughnessy) in the Falcolntale. A re-make was OK, not a sequel. Falconites Greenstreet and Peter Lorre led the final cast with Geraldine Fitzgerald. When Huston joined WWII, Alfred Hitchcock was keen on the script. Jean Negulesco was cheaper.
  48. Ann Sheridan, One More Tomorrow, 1943.  One plan for The Couple – a photographer and a ladies’ man – was lighting two cigarettes  at once  again…  As in a reunion of the 1942 Now Voyager stars, Davis and Paul Henreid. Neither one fancied the script. Neither one was suspended  by Warner Bros, Unlike  De Havilland when she refused to be Christie Sage.  She beat the studio  in  court, giving birth to what is still known (and used) as The De Havilland Law. Or, more officially, California Labor Code Section 2855. Shot  in 1934, the mo vie was so good it wasn’t released until 1946.
  49. Joan Crawford, Mildred Pierce, 1945. Bette Davis declined “The Kind of Woman that most men want – BUT SHOULDN’T HAVE!” Seeing Mildred as herself, a hard-working, self-sacrificing mother, Crawford swooped, sweet-talking producer Jerry Wald out of Olivia De Havilland, Myrna Loy, Rosalind  Russell, Anne Sheridan and Barbara Stanwyck.  Director Michael Curtiz did not want “the has-been” and was forever cursing  – mainly in Hungarian – “her and her shoulder pads.”  But they won her the Oscar while Davis soon had her first flop in 50 films with the aptly named Deception.  Bette always maintained that Crawford (and Miriam  Hopkins) lusted after her body as well as her success. Bette  had the last word.  She played Joan, or a script based on her – with plenty of her “Bless you!” lines thrown in by Davis – in The Star, 1952.
  50. Irene Dunne, Life With Father, 1946.    The screening was “worse than the Potsdam conference,” cabled director Michael Curtiz, who had wanted Bette in the   massive Broadway hit.  By 1949, she  was the highest paid woman in America  at  $10,285  a week.  But after post-synching  a line for Beyond The Forest  –  “I can’t stand it here anymore” – she matched it and quit her studio after 18 years. Jack Warner was “relieved to see her go.” Mary Pickford won the rights to the Broadway hit, even agreed to test but, hell,  she hadn’t made a movie for 13 years!  So the Warner suits also looked at Rosemary DeCamp and Rosalind Russell. Curtiz agreed that Dunne had more box-office pull (in her only colour film), although he really wanted Bette.

  51. Hedy Lamarr, Dishonored Lady, 1946.    Wonders will never cease… Hedy Lamarr in a role chased by Davis and Garbo four years earlier?! Joan Crawford’s Letty Lynton, 1932, and Ann Todd’s Madeleine, were also inspired by the 1857 trial of Madeleine Smith, acquitted poisoning her lover.
  52. Rosalind Russell, Mourning Becomes Electra, 1947.   Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn were run  up the flagpole but playwright Eugene O’Neill saw Sister Kenny the year before insisted on the usually lightweight Russell playing  Lavinia in his  saga  of the Manons of New England after the American Civil War. Two of the three screen versions were mini-series, a format better suited to such an  epic play. Director Dudley Nichols’ first cut was more than 240 minutes, released at  175  and continually chopped to 157, 121 and finally, 159 minutes. Roz Russell was so certain she’d win the Oscar, she was on her feet  ready to collect it when the winner was  Loretta Young as  The Farmer’s Daughter.
  53. Patricia Neal, The Fountainhead, 1948. For novelist Ann Rynd’s sexually repressed (and unintentionally hilarious) ice princess Dominque Francon, Jack Warner short-listed Davis, Greta Garbo, Ida Lupino, Alwexis Smith, Barbara Stanwyck before choosing Lauren Bacall – then dropping her after a ton of letters protested about putting a “Red” in such an anti-Communist tract! (None of the cast appeared to understand their dialogue). New York Times critic Bosley Crowther buried the mess under “wordy, involved and pretentious.”  A major flop blamed on Gary Cooper being far too old at 47 for the 20-something architect hero. But not for Neal  – off-screen. 
  54. Madeleine Carroll, The Fan, 1948.   Lady Windermere’s Fan, that is. By Oscar Wilde. Not that you’d know it from director Otto Preminger’s dullard take on Victorian London society manners and foibles. Warner Bros announced Davis for Mrs Erlynne in 1946 before passing her Fox as Carroll’s farewell film. Wilde’s wit shone brighter in versions made over the years in Argentina, Germany, Hollywood, Mexico, and, of course, the UK… in 1916! 
  55. Eleanor Parker, Caged, 1949.  Or The Big Cage when deemed worthy of co-starring  Davis and Joan Craword as jailbird and warden, stepping back and shooting the fireworks! The script was brave in denouncing the US prison system and touching upon lesbianism. Which is why Bette refused. ”Not interested in a dyke movie.” 
  56. Jean Kent, The Woman In Question, 1950.    The woman was a corpse, a murder victim – seen five different ways by those who knew her: lovers, sister, neighbour,  cleaning lady, etc. “I’m deeply honoured,” Jean told UK director Anthony Asquith,  “that you feel I could accomplish something that you really wanted Bette Davis for.”
  57. Jane Wyman, The Blue Veil, 1950.   After Garbo demurred (what else?), Davis was on the top rung to re-tread Gaby Morlay’s French hit, Le voile bleu. Something got lost in translation, because Wyman (loaned from Warners) wore the veil. New York Times criic Bosley Crowther felt Wyman and the movie were identical: “so far removed from flesh and blood, we can only leave her and it to heaven.”

  58.  Katharine Hepburn, The African Queen, 1951.  
    An RKO reader of potential  projects  famously called the CS Forrester book a “distasteful and not a little disgusting” tale  of a “physically unattractive” couple. “A story of two old people going up and down an African river,” sneered Alexander Korda. “Who’s who’s going to be interested in that?” After Columbia passed on the  project for Charles Laughton and his wife, Elsa Lanchester,  Jack Warner moved in, buying the rights to the CS Forrester novel for Davis “Marvellous part! “ she said.  But I left Warners for good in 1948.  Not my largest  disappointment, but
     I was let down.”  Twice. First, opposite David Niven as Charlie Allnutt in producer Henry Blanke’s l938 project. “She fell out with Blanke and told him she refused to be photographed out of  doors – a  likely  story,” related Niven.  Second, when Michael Powell planned directing it with David Farrar.  Mason came next in 1947. Two years  on, Davis had another British Allnutt in mind: John Mills. Then SP Spiegel (later reverting to Sam Spiegel) and his Horizon Pictures partner, John Huston, snapped it up. paying $87,5000 plus 10% of any  net profits.

  59. Vivien Leigh, A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951.    She had foolishly refused the play, but producer Irene Mayer Selznick still made Bette her #1 Blanche DuBois.  Marlon Brando “auditioned”  her  (“a mercy fuck,” he called it). And Tennessee Williams said she’d be perfect: “A fading star playing a fading Southern belle. ”  Davis said  studio chief  Jack Warner vetoed her. “It was simply not to be.”  No matter, from Broadway onwards, director Elia Kazan had  made  the piece less about Blanche than Stanley Kowalski. Ironically, it was Bette who presented  Brando with his Oscar for On The Waterfront on March 30, 1955.
  60. Jane Wyman,  The Blue Veil, 1951.   Davis topped everybody’s list for the lead, yet producer  Jerry Wald gave Louise Mason to Wyman…  After Garbo refused.

  61. Barbara Stanwyck, All I Desire, 1952.   Hollywood’s three grande dames – Joan Crawford, Davis and Stanwyck – were in the mix for the mother visiting the family she had walked out on. Working title was Stopover from the book which director Douglas Sirk was faithful to. It was producer Ross Hunter who gave the soap a happy ending. Sirk was furious. So much so, he kept on making Hunter’s outpt, best described by their 1958 title, Imitation of Life.
  62. Shirley Booth, Come Back Little Sheba, 1952.     Producer Hal Wallis said only the Broadway star could make the movie.  (A rare thought in Hollywood).  At least, he said that after Davis agreed with him. She usually  complained when beaten to Oscars by actresses who had played their roles on Broadway for two years while she had, for example, created Margo Channing with ten day’s notice of starting All About Eve.
  63. Rita Hayworth, Miss Sadie Thompson, 1953.    Three years earlier, the UK’s Rank Organisation tried to buy the rights to the W Somerset Maugham story from Mary Pickford. With Davis in mind for the ex-hooker.
  64. Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty, 1953.  All aboard the flying Grand Hotel –  a DC-4 piloted by John Wayne and Robert Stack and stuffed to the flaps with the kind of mixed cliché bag of passengers that continued into the Airport films and were torn to comic shreds by the Airplane franchise. Tasty or not, the roles were basically cameos – beneath the high and mighty Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Dorothy McGuire, Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck. They all rejected the sassy old broad, described by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as a gallant lady of much circulation. Trevor won an Oscar nod, Davis would have won it.
  65. Nina Foch, The Ten Commandments,1954.
  66. Judith Anderson, The Ten Commandments, 1954.  

  67. Mercedes McCambridge, Giant, 1955.
  68. Claire Trevor, The High and the Mighty, 1953.     All aboard the flying Grand Hotel – a DC-4 piloted by John Wayne and Robert Stack and stuffed to the flaps with the kind of mixed cliché bag of passengers that continued into the Airport films and were torn to comic shreds by the Airplane franchise. Tasty or not, the roles were basically cameos – beneath the high and mighty Davis, Joan Crawford, Ida Lupino, Dorothy McGuire, Ginger Rogers and Barbara Stanwyck. They all rejected the sassy old broad, described by New York Times critic Bosley Crowther as a gallant lady of much circulation. Trevor won an Oscar nod, Davis would have won it.
  69. Claire Trevor, Marjorie Morningstar, 1957.  Novelist Herman Wouk’s heroine is the proverbial Jewish-American princess.  Her parents, the Morgensterns, were first due to be Bette Davis-Edward G Robinson but churned into the extremely effective Claire Trevor-Everett Sloane.  Director Irving Rapper was one of Bette’s favourites: Another Man’s Poison, The Corn is Green, Dark Victory,  Deception, The Sisters and, of course,  Now Voyager.
  70. Carroll Baker, The Miracle, 1958.   “The only thing I’ve never played is a nun!” Well, Davis came close back in the 40s, when Warner’s Technicolor-tested her as the young nun and then canceled the project. Until Baker grabbed it for being as faraway as possible from her 1955 breakthrough. Baby Doll.

  71. Carolyn Jones, Career, 1958.    Producer Hal Wallis bought the James Lee play for Davis and William Holden as the agent and friend of Anthony Franciosa’s Sammy Glick-style actor willing to do anything for succes. Jones was quite a Davis lookalike and exchanged roles with Shirley MacLaine to sink her teeth – and those eyes – into Shirley Drake.
  72. Eleanor Parker, Home From The Hill, 1959.    Davis and Clark Gable – Jezebel and Rhett Butler – were first tagged as the parents of half-brothers Georges Peppard and Hamilton. Then Scarlett and Rhett!

  73. Katharine Hepburn. Suddenly,  Last Summer, 1959.  
    Gore Vidal (who adapted  the Tennessee Williams play) pushed for his New York friend Joanne Woodward to play Catherine Holly – opposite Bette Davis as the dreadful  Violet Venable.  Neither producer Sam Spiegel or  his director Joseph L Mankiewicz, agreed. Sam explained why: “Baby, Davis has played it,” Sam told him, “Hepburn hasn’t. “In other words,” Vidal understood,  “you would know that Bette Davis would cut out the girl’s brain and you wouldn’t think that Katharine Hepburn – such a healthy person – would… Shrewd Sam.”  Vidal made sure he got Bette a good part (“then cut to nothing”) in The Scapegoat – more directed by co-star Alec Guinness than the alcoholic Robert Hamer. Sure that Summer would win Oscars, Tennessee Williams insisted on adding his name to Vidal’s credit. “Happily, the reviews were so bad that he immediately regretted what  he had done.”

  74. Lilian Gish, The Unforgiven, 1960.     “I will never be below the title…”  And she never was up to her final film, opposite Gish, in fact: The Whales of August,  1986. When Gish (90) was praised for a fine  close-up,  Bette  (then 78)  hissed: “She ought to know about close-ups.  Jesus, she was around when they invented them!”
  75. Mary Astor, Return  To Peyton Place, 1961.  Joan Crawford was also considered for miserable (what else?)  matriarch Roberta Carter.  Bette always said she liked Astor.  Mary was not  sure about that.
  76. Geraldine Page, Sweet Bird of Youth, 1962.      Written for Davis but… In 1963, Page married one of the cast: Rip Torn.  Their New York brownstone bell-push read: Torn Page.
  77.  Majorie Bennett, 4  For Texas, 1963.    Even with producer-star Frank Sinatra throwing money at her, Bette Davis refused to be Miss Emmaline in this load of old rubbish in order to rule the roost (as twins) of Dead Ringer, directed  by the man lighting two cigarettes at once in her biggest hit,  Now, Voyager, 1941 – Paul Henreid.
  78. Julie Andrews, Mary Poppins, 1963.  During the 20 years of trying to persuade UK author PL Travers to let him film her supercalifragilisticexpialidocious book, Uncle  Walt first saw Mary as being  older.  Such as Davis, Angela Lansbury (both made later Disney films) or Broadway’s  Mary Martin.  Then, Disney saw Julie singing her Camelot  songs on TV’s Ed Sullivan Show. And signed her for his finest hour – eight Oscars!  Bette would have scared the kids bald.  As she did in her own horror version the following year: The Nanny
  79. Ingrid  Bergman, The Visit, 1964.    “Ingrid was simply too young and  too pretty.”  Same could be said of…
  80. Ava Gardner, The Night of the Iguana, 1964.   Bette’s hopes to repeat her 1961 Broadway creation were dashed by Huston’s younger casting.  Ingrid Bergman’s name and Nancy Kwan’s, came up.  But so did Ava Gardner and Richard Burton. Game over. AvaGardner once met Davis in Madrid and said she was a great fan.  “Of course,  you  are,  my  dear,”  said Bette. “Of course, you are!”
  81. Lila Kedrova,  Zorba The Greek, 1965.

  82. Elizabeth Taylor, Who’s Afraid of Virgina Woolf, 1966.  
    “My biggest  heartbreak!”  Playwright Edward Albee wanted her and sold his rights only after Warners promised to star Davis-James Mason. “He seemed absolutely right… and to watch Bette Davis do that Bette Davis imitation in that first scene [‘What a dump!”] – that would have been so wonderful.” Davis had been rehearsing the role for years in her fourth brawling marriage to Gary Merrill.  But they turned into Davis-Henry Fonda.  Then, Richard Burton sat up one night reading it –  twice –  and woke up Liz. “I don’t think you’re old enough to be Martha. And I’m sure you haven’t the passion or the power. Anyway, you’d better play it to stop anyone else doing it – and cause a sensation.” The also rans were Ingrid Bergman, Patricia Neal, Rosalind Russell…  and Katharine Hepburn, who told the playwright Edward Albee: “This play is much better than I am.”  When directors John Frankenheimer and Fred Zinneman fell out, Broadway king Mike Nichols made it his first film.  Liz approved him. Of course, she did. He and the Burtons had the same agent:  Robbie Lantz. To get a grip on Taylor, and indeed on  film-making, Broadway’’s King Nichols, making his first movie, ran  her George Stevens classic, A Place in the  Sun, 20 times or more. “Everything you need to know about movies is in that film.”   Albee’s last word:  “Taylor was quite good and Burton was incredible. With Mason and Davis you would have had a less flashy and ultimately deeper film.”
  83. Jo Van Fleet, Cool Hand Luke, 1967.    Hell, guys, Luke’s mother, is a bit part.  Haven’t you heard… I am neverbelow the title!  No, no, no. Davis resolutely rejected the very idea of being Paul Newman’s mother in the great movie of the Donn Pearce novel. Van Fleet steamed in. If he’d got either brother, she would have previously been Newman’s Ma in East of Edenas well.  Even though she was  11 years older than Newman!
  84. Susan Hayward, The Valley of the Dolls, 1967.
  85. Beryl Reid, The Killing of Sister George, 1968.     Now the West End stage stars were filming their roles.
  86. Geraldine Page, Whatever Happened To Aunt Alice? 1969.    Although (or because of?) lacking Bette, the third opus was more hilarious than  Baby Jane  and Sweet Charlotte.
  87. Mae West, Myra Breckinridge, 1969.     Bette Davis’ eyes were contemptuous of the Gore Vidal book, the Fox offer and the role  of agent Letitia Van Allen.  Looking like a Loony Tune of herself at  a possible 76, Mae  (who  had not filmed for 26 years and insisted she never played anyone over 26!!!) filled in – after insisting on musical numbers, and Letitia being  changed to Leticia. “For obvious reasons.”
  88. Alida Valli, Lisa and the Devil,  Italy-West Germany-Spain, 1973.  After the 1972 global triumph of Baron Blood, producer Alfredo Leone told Mario Bava the could  direct whatever he wanted. He chose Lisa, a pet project for a decade – always with the dream  of Davis playing The Countess. She passed to Valli and co-star Elke Sommer loved it all. Particularly Bava –  “everything to me: father figure, lover figure.”
  89. Lucille Ball, Mame, 1974.
    “I wrote Darryl Zanuck and said I’d pay for my own  test!    Even bought a dress for it!  But Lucille Ball has already been signed.  I was offered the wonderful part of Mame’s friend…  I don’t think Miss Ball wanted me.” In the 20s, they were pupils at John Murray Anderson’s Dramatic School in New York, until Lucy was sent home for being “ too shy to be an actress.”

  90. Katharine Hepburn, Rooster Cogburn, 1974.   If well enough to reprise his Oscar-winning True Grit marshal, John Wayne wanted Ingrid Bergman as Eula Goodnight, no less. Producer Hal Wallis shortlisted Bette Davis, Maureen O’Hara, (of course!), Loretta Young. Plus true Brits Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Maggie Smith. Then, Duke trying to avoid two wrinklies, suggested the less elderly Mary Tyler Moore. “We should talk to Bette Davis, too,” memoed associate producer Paul Nathan,  “although she’d turn over the raft and beat the hell out of Wayne.” Raft?   Well, the script by ex-Duke co-star Martha Hyer (Mrs Wallis, credited as Martin Julien) was a flagrant rehash of Hepburn’s African Queen. Exactly why (a) Hepburn won and (b) Davis passed. She’d always wanted to play Rose Sayer, but Euolal was no Rose. The scenario was as pathetic as director Stuart Miller. It was his second feature. The “6ft 6ins somafabitch no-talent, ” as Duke termed him, never made a third.

  91. Gloria Swanson, Killer Bees, TV, 1974.    Swanson’s sole tele-film after an “absolutely terrified” Davis called director Curtis Harrington:  “I can’t, I won’t do it.  I go into  shock if I’m stung by a bee and my  doctor has warned me I could be killed if I  get stung.”  As if any bee would  dare touch The Queen Bee!  

  92. Marian Waldman, Black Christmas, Canada, 1975.     First choice for the  comic relief –  an alcoholic house mother hiding booze in the toilets of director Bob Clark’s campus terrorised by psychopathic killings.

  93. Faye Dunaway, The Disappearance of Aimee, 1976.      Bette’s plans to film the 1926 story was thwarted in the 40s by the Production Code, making it impossible to depict how evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson’s six-week disappearance was not any  kidnapping but trysting with a married lover. Thirty years on, she played Aimee’s mother in the NBC tele-film and hated Dunaway almost as much as the star they had both played – Joan Crawford.

  94. Barbara Stanwyck, The Thorn Birds, 1983.     The 1980 movie plan turned into a ten-hour mini-series. Yawn!  Orson Welles also yawned about Davis. “I never could stand looking at Bette Davis, so I don’t want to see her act.”
  95. Shirley MacLaine, Steel Magnolias, 1988.    Davis caught the off-Broadway play – all gossipy one-liners at a Louisiana beauty parlour – and immediately tried setting up a movie.  She would be Ouiser Boudreaux, of course, with Katharine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor as Claire and Truvy. Producer Ray Stark had other (and younger) plans.
  96. Patricia Arquette, Ethan Frome, 1993.    “The fourth Warner brother”  suggested to the studio in 1947 that Bette should play Mattie opposite Gary Cooper or Gregory Peck. Jack Warner told her he “hated costume stuff,” hiding the (obvious) fact she was simply too old at 39, and looking it,  after giving birth to her daughter, BD Sherry. 
  97. Barbara Stanwyck, The Thorn Birds, 1983.     As plans switched from a 1980  epic movie to a ten-hour mini-series (the most successful; since Roots), the role of the heroine’s immensely  wealthy aunt, Mary Elizabeth Cleary Carson, travelled from Audrey Hepburn to Bette Davis to La Barb.  The TVersion of Colleen McCullough’s 1977 novel (it sold  33 million copies) was  was  made in California as “no one understands Aussie accents.” It was  a huge yawn!  Orson Welles also yawned  – but about Davis. “I never could stand looking at Bette Davis, so I don’t want to see her act.”