Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bette Meets 90-Take Willie

(The Siren returns from hibernation to join in Goatdog's William Wyler Blogathon. Please follow the links at his place for more on the great, yet curiously underappreciated Wyler.)

She was difficult in the same way that I was difficult. She wanted the best.--William Wyler at the American Film Institute tribute to Bette Davis

It was 1931. Bette Davis was 23 and still new on the Universal lot, scrambling for parts like the other starlets. William Wyler was 29, "not a very good director" by his own admission and struggling to prove he deserved his break despite the (justified) perception that he owed his job to being Carl Laemmle's relative. Davis was auditioning for a part in A House Divided and had hurriedly put on the only size 8 dress she could find. The dress was cut low, and when Davis walked by, Wyler remarked in a voice that carried to every corner of the crowded soundstage, "What do you think of these dames who show their tits and think they can get jobs?" The humiliated actress didn't get the role, which went instead to future flameout Helen Chandler.

So when Wyler, now contracted to Samuel Goldwyn and on his first loan-out to Warner Brothers, showed up to film Jezebel, Davis reminded him of his taunt--and the irony, now plain, that he had made the remark about an actress more willing than any in Hollywood to forego sex appeal when the character required it. Wyler searched his memory for the incident and drew a nice tidy blank, but he apologized to Davis and said he had been having a hard time in those days.

As filming began Davis must have known about Wyler's reputation for repeating takes until the actor was a nervous wreck. Henry Fonda was warned by Humphrey Bogart, who'd made Dead End with Wyler the year before, "Jesus, don't touch it. Don't go in there." But Wyler also had a string of excellent movies under his belt, having guided fine performances from a hopeless alcoholic (John Barrymore in Counsellor at Law), an actress in the twilight of her career (Ruth Chatterton in Dodsworth) and even an actress whose chief qualifications at the time were dazzling beauty and a bed shared with a prominent producer (Merle Oberon in These Three). Davis knew her own self-discipline and fine talent, and she made her bet on Wyler.

Besides, the attraction between actress and director was already evident.

Although Jezebel is often described as a sop to appease Davis after she didn't get Scarlett O'Hara, the Siren's research indicates this isn't the case. The play (produced in 1933, three years before Margaret Mitchell's novel was published) was purchased for Bette Davis by Warner Brothers in 1937, while David O. Selznick was still actively searching for a Scarlett and no decision had been made as to casting. Selznick saw Jezebel , no doubt accurately, as the Warners' way of cashing in on the anticipation surrounding Gone with the Wind and was furious. So in fact, according to GWTW historian William Pratt, Jezebel (which was released in March 1938, eight months before Selznick ever met Vivien Leigh) was the factor that put a period to any chance Davis had at the part. Davis herself always denied the "consolation prize" idea, but in her sunset years she loved to intimate she had come close to Scarlett. Alas, that isn't true either--she was never very high in the running. As early as 1937, when Selznick was working out distribution deals, he rejected an offer from Warner Brothers that was contingent on casting Errol Flynn and Bette Davis and told friends that he would cast Katharine Hepburn as Scarlett before he would consider Davis.

Despite its being forever linked with GWTW, Jezebel is its own animal, a movie just as concerned with the fate of a strong-willed woman in a rigid society, but more harshly realistic about the ways society revenges itself. As a girl the Siren much preferred Scarlett to Jezebel's Julie Marsden. She hated the way Julie is humiliated, not merely in the excruciating ball sequence, but also when she is coldly rejected in favor of the vacuous Margaret Lindsay (a perfectly cast actress whom Davis couldn't stand in real life). Ashley makes his sexual attraction to Scarlett quite clear, but once Henry Fonda rejects Julie, it as though he never loved her at all. Later in life the Siren came to see that Jezebel--while it cannot compare with GWTW's vast historical canvas, indelible characters and peerless production values--is the more biting social commentary.

That may seem impossible, given that Wyler's pictures generally affirm rather than challenge social convention, helping to explain the appeal to Oscar voters as well as the films' rejection by those who prefer "termite art." You can read Jezebel as a straightforward women's tale of the comeuppance of a first-rate scheming bitch, and no doubt that is the tale Wyler and Davis thought they were filming. The movie approves of her treatment, audiences then approved of it and audiences today usually do as well. Witness the reviews that refer to the character as "Jezebel," instead of her name, and speak of her "deserved" humiliation at the Olympus Ball. But director and actress, through their careful attention to Julie's character, create something more complicated. Together Wyler and Davis show us an intelligent and headstrong woman who can exert her will only in petty, useless acts of rebellion. Then they show Julie stripped of her autonomy, first in part and then completely.

True to its stage roots the movie has three acts, well-summarized by Nick Davis as The Dress, The Duel and The Disease. Julie Marsden is engaged to Preston Dillard (Fonda) and happily stamping her size-five riding boots all over him. She loves Pres but, with few other outlets for her restless energy, she amuses herself by constantly testing his love. Infuriated by his refusal to leave a board meeting to attend a ballgown fitting with her, Julie rejects her regulation white dress in favor of a vivid red one that is being prepared for the town's most notorious courtesan. (As the town in question is New Orleans, we must be talking about one hell of a whore.) This is a beautifully set-up scene, Julie on a dais and surrounded on three sides by mirrors. Aunt Belle (Faye Bainter, showing why Stinky Lulu has anointed Wyler the Patron Saint of Best Supporting Actresses) and the dressmaker form a Greek chorus of warning and disapproval. (The Siren pauses to ask why, in the 1930s, dresses symbolizing wanton behavior always had some sort of swaying fringe to them. Was it hearkening back to the more sexually liberated 20s?) At first Pres refuses to take his scarlet-clad woman to the ball, then, stung by Julie's suggestion that he is afraid to defend her, he escorts her and sees to it that she is shamed in front of everyone she knows.

According to Davis, Jezebel's script gave the Olympus Ball short shrift and the production manager allotted a half-day to shoot it. Wyler took five days and turned it into the best scene in the film. It is, in effect, a drawn-out death scene, in which you watch the death of Fonda's love for Davis, the death of the old, confident Julie who is certain of her man's love, and the death of Julie's place in society. It is stunningly filmed but wrenching to watch, as they join a full dance floor only to have the other couples leave it, until gradually they are the only ones dancing. The formation is as old as time--the woman in the center, those condemning her forming an unbreakable circle, and the man Julie loves dragging her into the middle to extend her agonies just that much longer. As brilliant as the camerawork is, the Siren finds the scene just about unbearable. Not until MASH, as Sally Kellerman hit the ground in a vain attempt to cover herself, would the Siren encounter a scene that showed such soul-deep humiliation of a woman.

Pres leaves for the north and Julie shuts herself away on her plantation, Halcyon, only emerging to ride her thoroughbred horse in a way that risks breaking her neck each time. Comes word that Pres has returned. Julie, seeing her chance at last, dons the white dress she had rejected a year before and greets Pres, sure of her welcome. "I'm kneelin' to ya, Pres," she croons, sinking to the floor in an unmistakable evocation of a bridal dress being removed on a wedding night. And the Siren always wants to scream, "Get up! get up! don't DO that!" It's almost as lacerating as the ball, because the audience knows what Julie does not--Pres has come back with a Yankee bride. Before Pres can tell her, in comes Amy (Lindsay), Aunt Belle in tow. And here you can see Wyler's hand, because the Davis of Of Human Bondage or Dangerous might have flung her emotions all over the set. Instead, she keeps her eyes focused on Fonda and speaks two words without much emphasis, yet they snap out like her riding crop: "Your wife?" And then you see her denial turn to coiled, deliberate fury, directed at Amy with the politeness Southern women always muster best for those whom they truly hate.

Julie, desperate to win back Pres, begins to manipulate her old beau Buck (an unusually animated George Brent) into provoking Amy at every turn. Pres's brother, Ted, staying at the plantation for plot reasons that remain murky to the Siren, gets more and more hot under the collar until finally he challenges Buck to a duel, which Buck does not survive. Despite the fact that a belatedly remorseful Julie tried to stop the duel, she is blamed by everyone, including the loving Aunt Belle, who delivers the title line in unforgettable fashion: "I'm thinkin' of a woman called Jezebel, who did evil in the sight of God." Act two is over.

Before everyone can leave Halcyon in the same manner Julie once cleared out the Olympus Ball, Act Three is upon us--yellow fever results in quarantine. Julie responds in classic Southern-hostess fashion, telling the guests who now hate her guts, "Ladies and gentlemen, my home is yours, as always." Just in case we didn't realize that yellow fever was serious business in antebellum New Orleans, we get a series of intertitles screaming, "YELLOW JACK!" Ah, how the Siren loves intertitles. Pres hears of his brother's duel and for once it is the nominal hero who swoons dead away. But of course, the leading man can't just faint like a sissy so we learn Pres has come down with the dreaded yellow fever. Julie, suddenly (and, to the Siren, suspiciously) fired with noble purpose, persuades Amy to let her go with Pres to the island where yellow fever victims are being warehoused. The movie ends with Julie cradling Pres's head in her lap, as a simple wagon takes them down to the wharf and an uncertain fate. The swelling music and noble expressions want us to think Julie is choosing redemption through almost certain death. The Siren would much rather think Julie has no plans to die--she believes she's going to nurse Pres through his illness, and she's angling for another chance to hold her man.

So, let's talk about "90-take Willie" and how he directed his actors. The standard image of Wyler is of a director shooting take after take, and when the frustrated actor shrieks "what do you want from me?" he responds with something along the lines of "I want you to do it better." But the image of a rather inarticulate, ESL director doesn't quite play. From an early point Wyler chose his own subjects and his own writers, and he always chose adult stories, frequently from well-known literary sources, and scripts by the best writers in Hollywood. That doesn't suggest a man incapable of telling an actor precisely what he wanted. Wyler reportedly believed that repeating a scene broke down an actor's defenses and unlocked new approaches, but that doesn't mean he never had meaningful discourse with his actors. This fine tribute, by director Josh Becker, repeats a story about Henry Fonda enduring 40 takes of a scene on Jezebel. But Fonda himself recalled it somewhat differently, in an interview in Mike Steen's Hollywood Speaks:

I guess it's rather well known that there are actors who didn't like Wyler, just like there are actors who didn't like Ford or Fritz Lang, etc., because Wyler was known to want to shoot a lot of takes. You know, fifty takes and that kind of thing...I had a very good experience. Wyler and I got along famously. We're still friends. He never took fifty takes, though he might have taken thirty! But it was never without a reason. I've worked with John Stahl [on Immortal Sergeant] who was a director who would take it over and over again without telling you why. It was as though he was saying "If they're going to give me actors like this, what are you going to do?" You know? But with Wyler, every time he did it again he gave you something to think about. He'd say, "This time in the middle the scene react to a mosquito bite." These inventions would just come to him. He was rehearsing with film really! And that wasn't bad because I like rehearsals. So it was a good experience with Wyler, and I liked it very much.

Bette Davis later said that the moment when she began to trust Wyler's direction completely came when he forced her to watch dailies of a scene in Jezebel where she was coming down a staircase. He had shot the scene some thirty times, annoying the living daylights out of her. But when she saw the rushes, she realized that one take had "captured a fleeting, devil-may-care expression" on her face that was perfect for Julie. After that, she endured the takes. And like Fonda, she claimed that Wyler did make suggestions: "He'd remain silent, take after take after take, then when I was exhausted, he'd give a suggestion that would turn the whole scene around and make it live." She also said he "never asked you to make a move that wasn't logical. If you told you to go to a window, there was a reason for it."

With the auteur theory has come the persistent critical notion that directing actors is somehow a minor talent--that it is better to be Fritz Lang, insisting that everyone hit those chalk marks, driving people to near-breakdowns and consequently seldom having the same leading actor twice, than to be William Wyler, with your name attached to many great performances but (allegedly) not to any one overarching vision of film. The Siren says it's a fine thing to be either one.

There is a book to be written about William Wyler and Bette Davis. The story has the arc of a perfect women's picture. There's that inauspicious first meeting. There's the new meeting years later, on the set of the movie that would win Davis her second Oscar (and the first she truly deserved). Move through the director and star having a torrid extra-marital affair, carried on in the days of studio "morals clauses," when adultery came with the very real risk of ruined careers. Then Davis having an abortion during the filming of the even greater The Letter, and never telling Wyler. Continue with Davis' tale of how her single, highhanded act destroyed their chance for marriage. Then the last film together, where conflict reaches a level than ensures they never work together again. Finally, a meeting on Wyler's set much later in life, where Davis claimed, "I still saw that old gleam in his eye..."

Yes, a good story. But not as good as the movies they made together.

(Material on Davis and Wyler's personal relationship comes primarily from I'd Love to Kiss You: Conversations with Bette Davis, by Whitney Stine. Other sources include A. Scott Berg's Goldwyn and David O. Selznick's Hollywood by Ronald Haver.)


Peter Nellhaus said...

I wish I had known about Fonda and Stahl when I wrote about The Immortal Sargeant. Maybe Stahl just wanted to make Fonda look like he really was exhausted from marching through the desert, dreaming of Maureen O'Hara.

NicksFlickPicks said...

Easily my favorite thing I've ever read about Jezebel: such a smart, playful, informative, and personalized read. (And I can't believe I'm cited in it!) As always, I look forward to your next post!

Karen said...

Welcome back, Siren; we've missed you!

This was just a cracking good entry. I loved Fonda's and Davis' anecdotes about Wyler's directorial approach. One hears actors constantly talking about their own techniques to reinvent or reinterpret characters or scenes...I really like the sense of utter exhaustion allowing an actor to reach something so honest. It's direction as EST training.

But as much as I loved this entry's discussion of Wyler, Davis, and "Jezebel," I found myself getting excited about utterly tangential things. John Barrymore in "Counsellor at Law"! What a bizarre film! John Barrymore as a Jewish lawyer, rising above his Lower East Side roots to become a society solicitor? What are the odds of that working?? But it really does.

And your line about George Brent being "unusually animated" also struck a chord. For most of my life, I'd only seen Brent in the late-30s or 1940s films in which he was wooden, humorless, and/or priggish. I was mystified as to why he was in so damn many of them--much less why he was teamed so often with a willful spitfire like Davis. Then I started seeing some of his earliest films, and was simply astonished to find him dashing, quixotic, droll...what happened?

The Siren said...

Peter, I had no idea either. I enjoyed your piece on the Stahl films but I still have seen only Imitation of Life, Back Street and Leave Her to Heaven. The Stahl I wish would get re-shown is Only Yesterday, a Precode women's picture that is supposed to have a really good performance from Margaret Sullavan.

Nick, thanks so much! I really did LOL when I read your act descriptions, they were perfect. I would not call Jezebel a great movie but I would put it in my personal category called "Pretty Damn Good," especially if you have patience for the melodramas of the period. I am blessed with that patience in abundance.

Thanks Karen! Barrymore had the talent to be good in any role he chose to take on, which is why the mess he made of himself had Hollywood shaking its head even back in those pre-AA days. Even when he is bad, he's the thing in the movie you watch the most. I need to see Counsellor but have not yet.

I don't know that I have seen most early George Brent but when his name shows up in credits I always groan. Something that we classic movie buffs don't discuss that often (although it's been touched on at Greenbriar, I think) is that the studios mostly did not like putting more than one big star in a movie. Often stars like Davis would wind up opposite someone like Brent--solid, dishwater-dull but not about to steal the leading lady's thunder. The other thing I remember about him is that Davis said he was gray pretty early on and his hair dye used to stain her pillowcases. :D

Jacqueline T. Lynch said...

"Ah, how the Siren loves intertitles." You are priceless. (I confess, I read them aloud. One of the things I like best about "Gone With the Wind" is there's so much to read.

Excellent take on "Jezebel" with your usual tremendous insight.

Exiled in NJ said...

I always felt the first act ended with Pres' retreat from the bedroom, after he walked up the steps to thrash Julie, and that the Ball was an act into itself. I wasn't around to see how O. Davis did it on Broadway back in 1933.

I love the scene where Wyler has the music build as Julie gets more and more anxious waiting for Pres' carriage. Her mannerisms are so Leslie Crosbie-ish.....less use of fingers and more of hands, as the vase keeps getting relocated.

Sometimes I think the studios deprived us of magic when they had the Brents and Henreids play opposite her. Watching James Stephenson in The Letter, or Claude Rains in Deception is what makes these films so delicious.

Dan Leo said...

Ah, Siren, welcome back, and what a return. You and the venerable Stanley Kauffmann are my two favorite movie writers.

Operator_99 said...

I would have commented sooner, but there was so much in this post that I went back and read it a couple of times. Thanks for providing yet another thoughtful, considered and informative post. And Bette, what a gal, so much scope and chutzpah in a 5'3'' frame.

The Siren said...

JTL - I really do love intertitles, I wasn't joking. The feel is entirely different from narration, and in some ways less intrusive. But it has been years since I saw a movie that used them effectively -- probably A Room with a View.

Exiled -- yes, the waiting for Pres scene is great! And Davis always cited Rains as one of the best, if not the best co-star she ever had. God he was marvelous.

Dan - thanks so much. :)

Operator, Bette is incomparable and always will be.

SteveW said...

Great piece! You're smart and perceptive about acting and actors -- a rare commodity in the director-centric blogosphere.

Bob Westal said...

A couple of thoughts, oh mighty Siren....

Count me in as another lover of intertitles. I'm not sure you'd approve, but I thought Guy Madden made hilariously appropriate use of them in his silent/ballet film of "Dracula" a few years back. I'd quote my favorite bit, but that would take research AND spoil something pretty great.

And doesn't the plot of "Jezebel" remind you a little bit of "The Painted Veil"? (If I know you, you skipped the actually very good Ed Norton/Naomi Watts version, but have seen the Greta Garbo/Herbert Marshall version, which I haven't seen but would love to, considering the stars.)

Also, I disagree with Wyler that he was a bad director in 1931. In 1930 he made the amazing Christmas western "Hell's Heroes" under some pretty grueling circumstances. If he was a bad director then, I'm not sure there have been many good ones.

odienator said...

I'm glad I didn't read this before I wrote my piece on Jezebel. You provide such a convincing take on the film that I might have been swayed to feel a tad more sympathetic toward Julie. But I was with Bainter when she delivered the line that cemented her Oscar win. This was NOT a nice lady.

I'm a firm believer in people getting what they deserve. A hard head makes a soft behind, my Mom used to say. So while I thought the concept of a red dress ruining somebody's life was absurd (though this is melodrama so I can't complain), I thought Julie got exactly what she deserved when she put it on. She knew what the consequences were, she knew what she was doing, and I felt no sympathy for her. Hell, if I put on a shocking red whore dress at a Southern dance, I'd get in trouble too.

You cite boredom as a reason for Davis to constantly be testing Fonda's manhood, but I think Miss Julie must have gotten her hands on the 19th century edition of that book "The Rules." Men have breaking points just as women do, something these conniving "women's picture" women never seem to realize until it's too late. Then we're supposed to feel sorry for them. Not I. As much as I love women's weepie pictures from this period, I rarely found myself feeling sorry for the women. I was always more intrigued and fascinated by the level and the cleverness of their manipulation.

Davis' triumph in the ballroom scene is how subtly she manifests her shock when Pres calls her on her triple dog dare, showing that he actually has a pair. It slowly dawns on her that she's been bested, something she never expected, and Davis underplays it nicely. The gender dynamics of the scene are interesting as well: Shouldn't Pres be just as ostracized for dancing with Julie?

And speaking of gender politics, were you a little jarred when Fonda showed up at Davis' room aiming to beat her ass with that pimpstick? I said to myself "he's going to hit Davis and she's going to pull his head through his belly button. Again! Wyler will say."

Great piece!

goatdog said...

Great as always, Siren. I especially love your analysis of the Olympus Ball scene. odienator mentions that it's intriguing that Pres doesn't suffer at all for escorting Julie to the ball, which I think is another bit of the film's subtle social criticism. I think perhaps the film believes, at least a little, that Julie is punished far beyond what she deserves. Or at least I think the filmmakers leave a little wiggle room for that interpretation for viewers who are more inclined to see it that way.

And, of course, I have to go fix my own review of this film (hell, I should just rewatch it), because your impeccable research has corrected the standard history of Davis, GWTW, and this film. Thanks for participating in my innocent little blogathon.

Vertigo's Psycho said...

Congrats on another incisive, expertly written piece. You do this for a living, right? I'm REALLY looking forward to reading your take on Nightmare Alley, one of my 1940's faves.

I've always loved the "punchline" to Davis and Wyler's second meeting. As told in the book "Mother Goddam" (Davis with Stine), the actress claims that, when she reminded Wyler how rudely he'd behaved towards her during their first encounter years before, the director paused, then retorted with "I am a much nicer person now!" I'm still waiting to use that line if the need ever arises.

Brian Darr said...

Wonderful post, Siren. I confess I skimmed through the first half because I want to see Jezebel for myself first before absorbing much text about it. But I really liked your wonderful debunking of the commonly-cited reasons for the "90-take Willy" reputation. I like the idea of "rehearsing with film." I've considered myself a relatively hardcore auteurist for while now, but I don't think that should mean discarding the implications of performance vis-a-vis meticulous staging.

fregan said...

Back in the 70's there was no way to watch a movie over and over to examine how a scene was shot or to just save it if it was on tv. I was captivated by the red dress scene in Jezebel. Something about the movement and the aching discomfort I felt watching it made me want to see more of the technique that went into filming it. About 1975 I got a Panasonic Portapac, a home videotape machine, a heavy old thing with reel to reel 1/2 inch tape and the next time Jezelel came on tv I recorded it with my camera. I think I watched the red dress scene 200 times and memorized every second of it. I still think it's Bette Davis' best scene in her career and it anticipated her move to sympathetic roles in Dark Victory and Now Voyager. Wyler's use of music, space and movement as well as the awful silences and the minimal dialog and the painful closeups, as well as the tiny details of the man walking behind the curtain, and the sadness in Fonda's voice when he tells the orchestra leader, "Well,what are you waiting for, go on, go on!" knowing he was humiliating a woman he loved and Davis' reading of the line "Pres, take me outta here." are all stunning moments of craft.

This was an excellent post and I'll be ack.

The Siren said...

Steve, thank you very much. I was once bitten by the acting bug myself, but the bite healed. I still am fascinated by the process of acting and have a great deal of respect for actors. I think the pre-method Golden Age stars took their craft more seriously than sometimes we give them credit for (though I think we all know how serious Davis was!) so I try to approach them with respect, not just "oh they always played themselves."

Bob, that remark about not being a very good director was from Bette Davis at a late stage in life, and we all tend to burnish our favorite anecdotes with age. At that point Wyler had been making movies for a long time, so while I believe that he may have still had some insecurities I suspect you are right--he was already showing his abilities in 1931.

Odienator, I did love your piece and it's just as legit a take as mine, I think. One theme I do find recurring in women's pictures is the fragility of a woman's existence, how one seemingly minor misstep can bring your life crashing down. Well, all it took at the time was one careless night with the wrong man, yes? but even smaller matters could do it. A red dress is no more trivial than Lily Bart stopping by a bachelor's house for tea, and setting a train of events in motion that will end with disgrace and death. So yes, I often do feel pity for the women trapped by society's rules; they didn't make them, but they sure as hell must abide by them or suffer agonies, right up to the last reel. So to address your specific point here, I'm not sure Julie does realize the red dress will have the effect it does. Earlier we saw her entering a party in her riding habit, and while it causes a sensation it doesn't get her ostracized. She is like a compulsive gambler who keeps playing for higher and higher stakes, until she gets in completely over her head. It's her daring that makes her attractive to me, despite her obvious selfishness and stubbornness.

The Siren said...

Goatdog, it was good to sit down and really think hard about a movie I took for granted, like this one. In trying to unravel why it had always bothered me more than GWTW I found myself gaining respect for Jezebel and what it accomplishes.

Vertigo, I don't get any money from writing about my old-movie obsessions but certainly the thought of trying has crossed my mind. The Wyler riposte is hilarious. That's another thing that argues against Wyler not being able to phrase what he wanted; there are numerous stories of quite witty remarks from him.

Brian, I don't blame you, I often skim plot-heavy pieces myself if I really want to see the movie at some point.

Frank, please do come back, and soon! Davis always said Jezebel was the movie that made her a star, and one could make a good case (as you just did) for that one ball scene marking the beginning of her full flowering as an actress.

Dan Leo said...

I just watched "Jezebel" again last night, and I was also struck by how lively and how good George Brent was. He even made the effort to do a good southern accent, which not quite everyone in the movie did (not bad considering he was an Irishman). He must have had something going for him to appear in all those movies with dear Bette. I guess we may never know if his performance in Jezebel is a result of Wyler's making him perform, or, for once, letting him perform.

Noel Vera said...

'speaks two words without great emphasis yet they snap out like her riding crop.'

Yow! Ms. Campaspe, you shock me.

Terrific piece. I'm still trying to scrape up time to write on two Filipino versions of films Wyler's done--I don't know if goatdog will accept superlate entries--but you've set a bar here I pale to try and meet.

Noel Vera said...

Incidentally, much much much prefer Jezebel to Gone with that whatever that was.

Thombeau said...

I enjoy Jezebel much more than GWTW. Is that wrong?

Great post!

Anonymous said...

"Julie, suddenly (and, to the Siren, suspiciously) fired with noble purpose, persuades Amy to let her go with Pres to the island where yellow fever victims are being warehoused. The movie ends with Julie cradling Pres's head in her lap, as a simple wagon takes them down to the wharf and an uncertain fate. The swelling music and noble expressions want us to think Julie is choosing almost certain death as a means of snatching at a chance for redemption. The Siren has always hoped Julie really thought she could nurse Pres through the illness, and was in fact maneuvering for yet another chance to hold her man."

I DO love the way you think.

rafael storm said...

One must definitely take any remarks made by Bette Davis vis-à-vis William Wyler and their "relationship" with an entire box of salt. He may have been the love of her life, but to him, she was just a roll in the hay during the "Jezebel" shoot. She was married to Ham Nelson at the time, but all marital passion had long been spent; she couldn't pass off Wyler's child as a product of her marriage, so she had an abortion in January of 1938, just after "Jez" wrapped.
After that event, any involvement with her on Wyler's part was purely wishin' and hopin' on her part. By the time they got together again on "The Letter," Wyler was quite happily married to Margaret Tallichet, and had no physical interest in La Davis whatsoever. She did indeed have another abortion during the shoot of "The Letter," it occurred during a four-day break in the midst of filming the key scene in the film, when Leslie Crosbie visits Mrs. Hammond to receive the object in the title. This time, however, Davis had no idea who the father was; it could have been any one of three men she'd been having relations with.
If Davis were here right now, I'd love to go head-to-head with her about the perceived "gleam in Wyler's eye". Could this have been when she visited the set of "Ben-Hur" in Rome on 1958, after they hadn't seen each other in years? C'mon, Bette!
Ms. Davis was not famous for her veracity, especially when it came to, what was for her, her humiliating rejection by Wyler. After his death, she was quite rude and insensitive to his widow Talli, falsely suggesting that she and Willie had been adulterating on-and-off for years. This, on the day of Wyler's funeral!

For a great take on the life and career of Bette Davis, take a look at Barbara Leaming's beautifully written, well-documented and annotated bio of her. Instead of a gushing fan-valentine, it's a portrait of a real woman, warts and all.

Siren, love your blog!