Bette Davis on the Dick Cavett Show, November 18, 1971

During its relatively short run between the years of 1968 and 1972, the Dick Cavett Show managed to procure the best in show business as guests, with the likes of Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson, Pearl Bailey, Groucho Marx, and even Janis Joplin appearing on the program for interviews. Dick Cavett was a casual host, which in turn led the stars to let their hair down and be themselves on the program, sometimes revealing rather personal insights about their lives and careers.

One of the best incidences of a star really being herself on the program is the unlikely example of the 63-year-old Bette Davis, appearing toward the end of the show’s run wearing go-go boots (not kidding) and a rather short skirt. The interview revealed a side of Bette Davis that the public was not familiar with–the very funny woman who was not afraid to share secrets and drop innuendos that would make anyone else blush.

The ten-time Academy Award nominee (and twice winner) also very casually relayed her view of the importance of discipline in the medium, and her own longevity in comparison to the early demises of many of the classic Hollywood stars of the same era under the studio system. She also commented on the movies of the 1970’s and what she thought had changed and why, showing the audience a real depth of knowledge, thought, and intelligence.

It was especially interesting to me to hear her talk about the book she considers to be the most accurate portrayal of Hollywood in the classic era, What Makes Sammy Run? by Budd Schulberg. If any of my readers have read this book, I would love for you to comment with your views on it, because when I read the book, it struck me as a really gruesome portrayal of Hollywood, showing the truly ugly side of the business and the dog-eat-dog mentality of the executives in power. The fact that Bette Davis cites it as the most accurate book about Hollywood says a lot about how she, as an insider, views the system, and to me it is a sobering reminder that Hollywood was far from being all tinsel and glitter back in the days of the studio system.

It is undeniable that Bette Davis was one of the great screen actresses of the 20th century, but this interview also shows her as a smart, thoughtful, and pensive human being. The entire interview can be found on youtube, but it is in fragments titled with the subjects Davis talks about in the clip. Here are some other choice moments. As always, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to comment with your perceptions of What Makes Sammy Run? I look forward to talking with you!

Talking about her highly publicized suit against Warner Brothers.

On her allergic reaction to wasp stings.

On writers, Myra Breckenridge, and sexual repression, among other things. The latter part of this video appeared earlier in the post, but what I really wanted to share was everything from 5:16 on. Her casual demeanor is not something you would expect from such a monumentally successful movie star, but she really shines through in this clip. I think a lot of the credit also goes to the charm of Dick Cavett, who prompted her to go to that next level.

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3 responses to “Bette Davis on the Dick Cavett Show, November 18, 1971

  1. I love this interview. She was so on top of her game that day. It’s been a long time since I watched it, but I loved how hilarious she was in it.

  2. Bette’s sense of humor makes me wish she had made more comedies. Unfortunately, she made relatively few of them, and most weren’t very good (e.g. “The Bride Came C.O.D.”).

  3. I’m partial to “It’s Love I’m After,” even though I know it’s a bad movie. I can’t hate it. It’s too likable.

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