Bette Davis was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis in 1908. Fortunately, she did not hear her mother’s first words on her arrival: ‘Take it away! It’s horrible!’ she screamed. As a child little Ruth was a handful, cantankerous and precocious. She and her mentally unbalanced sister were raised by their mother after their father shot through. And the lady was strict.
Biographers claim that Bette was sexually naïve as a young girl. Perhaps so, but in later life she recalled: ‘From the moment I was six I felt sexy. And let me tell you it was hell, sheer hell, waiting to do something about it.’ That may well have been the case, but her teenage naivety is well documented. When Henry Fonda planted a little kiss on her 17 year-old cheek she thought she was pregnant! He could scarcely believe his eyes when he received a brief note from her a couple of days later that read: ‘I’ve told mother about our lovely experience together in the moonlight. She will announce the engagement soon.’ Hank avoided her for years.
Bette & her 1st husband with George Brent
Harmon Nelson – 1932
dining with William Wyler with Anatole Litvak
She married husband number one, Harmon Nelson, in 1932 when she was 24. She discovered sex and liked it. Affairs with George Brent and married director William Wyler were serious relationships, but it was rumoured she bedded many others as well. Among those conquests was Miriam Hopkins’ husband, writer/director Anatole Litvak. Consequently, the two women embarked upon a life-long feud, although Bette’s habit of landing plum roles that Miriam desperately craved must have had a lot to do with it.
with Miriam Hopkins in husband #2 Arthur Farnsworth
Old Acquaintance (1943)
Bette met Wyler on the set of Jezebel in 1937, became pregnant to him, and was shattered when he refused to leave his wife for her. The baby was aborted. So too was her pregnancy to her husband Nelson around that time. In all she would abort three pregnancies, the third with her second husband Arthur Farnsworth. Each time the reason was the same. Her career took precedence. She was running hot as the Meryl Streep of her day. The last thing she needed was children clogging up the works.
on the set of Jezebel (1939)
with Henry Fonda & Wyler.
Most directors found her moody, unpredictable and a pain in the neck! Edmund Goulding directed her in four films, including Dark Victory (1939). He wrote to Joseph Mankiewicz on hearing that he intended directing her in All about Eve: ‘Dear boy, have you gone mad? This woman will destroy you, she will grind you down to a fine powder and blow you away…She will come to the stage with a thick pad of long yellow paper. And pencils. She will write. And then she, not you, will direct. Mark my words.’ Bette’s co-stars had even more trouble with her. In 1964, when making Where Love has Gone, the 56 year-old Bette ripped off her wig and whipped her co-star Susan Hayward with it, screaming insults at her as she did so.
with Susan Hayward in a still
for Where Love Has Gone
The Joan Crawford – Bette Davis enmity is well-known, possibly the most famous feud in Hollywood history. ‘She and I have never been friends’, said Bette (an understatement of Olympian magnitude if there ever was one), and one that is quite tame when placed alongside two of her more remembered comments about la Crawford: ‘I wouldn’t piss on her if she was on fire’, and, ‘She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie’. (For those who are unaware Lassie was played by a male dog, not a female). And why were they such unforgiving enemies? If we can believe Bette’s biographer, Ed Sikov, in his book Dark Victory, the feud began when Davis rejected the bisexual Crawford’s advances! Well, maybe, maybe not.
young Ronnie Reagan
Ronnie started out at Warner Brothers in the late 1930s. One of his early pictures called Brother Rat placed him down the credits with young Jane Wyman and the two hit it off right away. He was a 27 year-old bachelor, she was 21 and headed for her second divorce already. They married in 1940, had a daughter and adopted a son. By 1947 the marriage was teetering on the brink and the death of their prematurely born second daughter in June of that year pushed Jane over the edge. And the marriage went with her. They divorced in 1948, the same year she won an Oscar for Johnny Belinda.
Ronnie & Jane in Brother Rat (1938)
Jane was born Sarah Jane Mayfield in Cleveland, Ohio in 1917. Her parents died when she was a girl and she was raised in a strict foster home. In her early teens she made a bee-line for Hollywood and, after bumping her age up a couple of years to 17, she landed bit parts in a raft of films before gaining recognition in Public Wedding in 1937. She quietly wed 16 year-old Eugene Wyman for a month or so, divorced him and took his surname. She was now Jane Wyman. By the time Brother Rat came along she was getting ready to ditch husband number two, a New Orleans dress manufacturer named Myron Futterman. Wisely, she chose not to change her acting name to his when her petition for divorce was granted in December 1938.
Wedding Day 1942 Ronnie fighting WW2 in California
Ronnie, meanwhile, had to put his leading-man aspirations on hold when Uncle Sam inducted him into the Army Air Force in 1942. He was assigned to a production studio in Culver City, California where he helped pump out about 400 training films. Not exactly the big time, but at least he wasn’t getting shot at. In fact, he never left California for the duration. War ended, and by 1947 he had become President of the Screen Actors Guild. It took up much of his time and his marriage to Jane suffered accordingly. She reportedly started an affair with Lew Ayres, her co-star in Johnny Belinda, but it soon fizzled out. So did the Reagan-Wyman marriage. According to his friend, actress Patricia Neale, he did not want a divorce. Only Jane did. ‘He was in an apartment by himself’, she told an interviewer. ‘He was heartbroken.’ Jane would go on to marry (and divorce) Fred Karger, not once, but twice, – and live to be 90.
Lew Ayres & Jane in Johnny Belinda (1948)
Ronnie & Nancy’s big day
For Ronnie, however, his second and final marriage was a roaring success. After cutting a swathe through Hollywood’s leading ladies – it has been said that he bedded over 50 of them, including Lana Turner, Joan Blondell, Marilyn Monroe and Doris Day – he dumped his current girlfriend, Ruth Roman, after Nancy Davis came to the Screen Actors Guild and asked him to help get her name removed from the industry blacklist. It seems there were two women named Nancy Davis, and it was the other one who had Communist affiliations. Ronnie made enquiries and Nancy was ‘exonerated’. Their romance developed from there and she would become his second wife in March 1952. His divorce from Jane made him the only divorced President of the United States in the nation’s history.