Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud – Shaun Considine

B and JI groaned inwardly when the group chose this book as a light read over Christmas. I have no time for vacuous celebrities and even less for camp ones. Indeed, I didn’t even know who these people were. However, I made an effort and even got hold of a DVD of theirs to watch.

 Bette says she was an actress and Joan a mere movie star. They are both Aries – ambitious, forceful, impatient, self-centred, extravagant – two horns locked. She says Joan is five years older – actually Bette is nine months younger and was born during a clap of lightning. She claims an upper class background with the finger of God pointing people to me. She chose the name Bette and kept it when her father ridiculed it.

Actresses scrambled for new parts and she learned to smoke and talk dirty. She was not interested in Gandhi’s health, scented stationery or bald men. Who’s Pearl Harbour?

She said that Joan cannot act her way out of paper bag, Joan could only find satisfaction tied to a bedpost, had fantasies while she had reality. Do a picture together? When hell freezes over. That mannequin from MGM, Joan should have puppies rather than children. When Joan’s son tells her she is ill at home – hope it’s something fatal. When Joan was to do Shakespeare:  how wonderful that Joan has learned to read.

She sees Joan and walks straight out again, calls her sweet, like nail polish. She said that it was not a feud, I just don’t have any cause to see her socially, yet there was no word from her at Joan’s death

At a coroner’s jury she dressed up as mourner on film and only displayed grief in front of press. She likes sex but only work satisfies her. She deliberately gashed her scalp in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.

She had affairs to spice up a marriage and had no qualms about playing a lesbian – 4 marriages speaks for self.

‘There’s nothing wrong with Jews – they’re God’s chosen people.’ ‘If they legalise pot it would take the fascination out of it.’

Only occasionally does a human, not brittle, Betty come across. She is scared of getting old; if she forgot her lines she blamed bad script. She thought that cancer would not dare to come near her and she wouldn’t wish a stroke even on Adolf Hitler

Joan says that Bette is vain, jealous and as trustworthy as a basket of snakes.

Her mother worshipped her sister, her father deserted the family when she was 11 and spent rest of her life looking for a father in her lovers. If told not to do something she did it. When saw her first film she envied happy endings and wanted to go with them when film ended. To cry on cue, she thought of her childhood. She lost virginity at 13, did some soft porn in a plumber movie, had an abortion, toned down her image to be a star – unlike Bette who said that the public should accept her as she was. Punctuality starved her of a good entrance, she idolised Garbo and felt crushed when they didn’t get to make a film together. Movies were not the be all and end all of life, a notion that was blasphemy to Joan. She never flirted, just went out and got the guy she wanted. She met many lovely people and Davis was not one of them. She trusted her advisors, unlike Bette. She was not a hypocrite about sex – ‘I like it.’ ‘Playing a hard-as-nails husband stealer wouldn’t require enormous research.’  She kept a file system for reporters’ names and family details, worried that child-bearing might affect her figure, was too busy and insecure to take time off, would drive 40 miles to see her sleeping baby niece just for a minute and offered to buy the child when the couple divorced. Of her adopted child: ‘picked out on a cloud of love’ but her adopted son said she was a neurotic bitch who had kids to use for publicity purposes. Hers was harsh discipline in raising children – they were locked in linen cupboard, strapped into their beds. The son went off on a shooting spree

Film noir? She didn’t know what the hell he was talking about. She was at her best in mad scenes

She had a passion for cleanliness: clothes were sent to the cleaners immediately after being worn. She would not touch a cigarette given by someone else, she scrubbed hotel bathrooms before using them.

She drove off leaving her boyfriend in the middle of nowhere after asking him to get out and check the exhaust and insisted on a pre-nup agreement.

She told a young actress that she wanted her to suffer because that’s what makes an actress and said that Marilyn was cheap but with all those people on her payroll why did she have to die alone. She watches the dummy being beaten by Bette in one film and almost enjoys thought of being abused by her.

She screamed all day on her 60th birthday. Hippies annoyed her because there has to be rules. Women’s lib – how bitter their faces are. She sent thank-you notes for Xmas cards, wore flip-flops, no makeup, hadn’t drunk for 9 weeks and ate a frozen quiche. She had faith in Christian Science and believed her pancreatic cancer would heal

One thing really shocked me: large film companies used to be loyal to their stars but when Hollywood got a near-monopoly they would hire and fire them at will.

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