Sunday, April 5, 2009
Happy 101st Birthday Bette Davis!
The waitress leaned over the table- "And what will you be having today, little girl?" I popped my eyes as wide as I could, announcing loudly "I think... I will have a large order of PROGNOSIS NEGATIVE!"
My mother rolled her eyes and said that, no, actually, I would be happy with the Little Red Riding Hood Spaghetti. I was probably about 7 when I started thinking this would be a fantastic thing to say every time my family took me out to dinner. It's something Bette Davis said in "Dark Victory," and I thought I was a terribly clever little girl, and I also thought that it was not long before I would be a glamorous movie star in my own right, hailed by all of America as the second coming of Ms. Davis.
In reality, I was a very strange, very friendless little girl. But, truth be told, I was so firmly convinced that everything that I was going through socially at school and such was "paying my dues" for my soon-to-be fame, that it never bothered me. The kids on the bus called me "Miss Hollywood." Swear to god.
Hers was the first death I cried over.
I idolized Bette Davis- my image of myself in my mind was not of a young, 7,8,9 year old girl, but of a sassy, sharp-toungued, tough-as-nails broad. For christmas one year I wanted a floor length white fur (which I would need when I walked the red carpet in winter). I swanned around the house in a long fake fur robe, pretending a plastic straw from McDonalds was a cigarette in a long holder. I focused on Davis not just because she was probably the greatest film actress ever, but because she was so tough, you know? She was someone who couldn't be fucked with.
I wanted desperately, viciously, passionately to be an actress. I wanted it more than anything in the world- and I probably would have managed to get in a lot more trouble were I not firmly convinced that people would come back later in my life and report all that trouble in tell-alls to the tabloids. This was back when that was a bad thing. I worked towards that goal, and nothing else in life, until I was 19 and suddenly realized that I'd lost all that drive to claw my way to top, to starve in waitressing jobs and schlep to auditions every day for a dream that just might not happen. And it didn't break my heart the way I thought it might. I was totally ok with it. I stopped acting and decided to find something else to do.
The fact was, I lost my passion for it because I didn't need it to get me through the day anymore. Theatre, and acting, and the thought of someday being Bette Davis were the things that got me through the most craptastic parts of my life unscathed- but by the time I was 19... I was ok. I didn't need to focus so hard on the future because the present wasn't all that bad. In fact it was pretty swell. The only problem was that I was horribly, terribly lost- because I'd never considered any other future at all. So, as we all know, I was completely lost and totally floundered for a number of years, went through 87,000 majors and plans and schemes, until I finally settled on writing. It's tough because I still haven't felt as insane, and unwaveringly sure about anything as I did when I was younger about the acting- but on the other hand, I'm glad I don't have to be.
I still like to get inordinately dressed up and watch Bette Davis movies by myself. I've seen every single one of them, and I've read all of her autobiographies multiple times. And sometimes I do still need to be tough as nails, and when I do, I channel her. It works for me.