Double academy award winner, a career spanning six decades and the first female president of the Academy of Motion picture arts and sciences…Bette Davis is a legend.
You may have seen her films and the television shows about her, but Christine St John, star of ‘Bette Davis On The Edge’ thinks the best way to learn more about Davis is to come and see her show. Biased she may be but St John is clear that, ‘my play is for anyone interested in learning about Bette Davis and the American Motion Picture Industry from the time of the Talkies’. Davis’s filmography is full of gems from the golden age of Hollywood like ‘Now, Voyager’, ‘Dark Victory’ (with a supporting role from a young Ronald Reagan), ‘Of Human Bondage’ and ‘Mr Skeffington’.
‘Bette Davis On The Edge’, looks at the aftermath of the release of ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’. Set in October 1962, Bette Davis is waiting in her Plaza Hotel VIP suite for the reviews of the film. If it is a success, it will hail the desperately needed comeback for the star’s fading career. If not, it will provide a sad epitaph.
She visited the Bette Davis archival collection at Boston University. The research was full of revelations providing a unique insight into both Hollywood in its heyday, and the complex life of arguably the finest actress of her generation. St John has found that British audiences particularly enjoy the courtroom battle where Davis is sued by Jack Warner, Head of Warner Brothers Studio. At the same time, another court case was being heard – that of Simpson V Simpson, Wallis Simpson’s husband suing for divorce.
She wants that same urgency and anticipation that Davis felt. St John felt changed from this production: ‘I came to understand why she survives the pages of history: ‘Her story is truly remarkable.’ It is still difficult to get her to pick a favourite Bette Davis performance, but she settles on ‘In this, Our Life’ which is remarkable and caused a sensation in its day. It is the reward that is important for her to see how the show ‘reaches young people who didn’t know Bette Davis, also Baby Boomers, and the elderly.’
St John’s life and career has also found her traversing the globe, after graduating from the Goodman School of Drama at the Art Institute of Chicago, Christine moved to Paris where she studied at the Sorbonne and the International Theatre Workshop with Blanche Salant. After four years working in Europe, she returned to Chicago to co-found, with Jane Brody, The Immediate Theatre Company.
Bette’s story is a universal one of strife, triumph and glamour and she often played characters that reflected this. Her life story works for all audiences whether in a village hall in Staffordshire or in Singapore; where the show was performed at the end of March. Bette Davis still has a global appeal.
Drama seems to follow Bette Davis in real life but what is it about Bette Davis that appeals to St John so much? She cannot pin it down herself. There is simply too much but she finds Meryl Streep’s words say it best: ‘Bette Davis just made you feel good about being a girl.’