It's comforting sometimes to remember that mid-life reinvention - or regeneration - is not necessarily the preserve of today's easily-discarded generations.
I had a too-short lunch today with someone I met serendipitously a while ago and we got to chatting about old movies and the stars they don't make anymore - Bogart, Hayworth, Mitchum and Bette Davis. Whereupon the TV in the corner of the basement room, genuinely, flicked channels until it rested on a Davis film neither of us could identify.
Bette Davis was without doubt the Mistress of Melodrama, born in 1908 and shoved on stage not long after, she moved to Hollywood in 1930 and became, as she memorably recalled, 'the only star they allowed to come out of the water looking wet'.
As one commentator of the age reported - and this was at the height of her fame in Now Voyager and All About Eve - 'She would have probably been burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago. She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet.'
I can't think of anyone today who comes close.
But it was in the 1960s that Davis found things tough. Her ego got the better of her, her mannerisms became too Davis-like, the pictures, as Gloria Swanson once decried so memorably, got smaller. She had a reputation, she was a mother, she was a divorcee, she was demanding, she wasn't pretty, she'd turned 50 and was washed up. Her agent's phone went quiet.
So she paid for an advertisement in the Hollywood Reporter and other trade papers to drum up some business. It read:
'Mother of three - 10, 11 and 15. Divorcee. American. Thirty years' experience as an actress in motion pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumour would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood. (Has had Broadway.) References on request.'
And a couple of days later she was sent the script for Whatever Happened To Baby Jane.
Serendipity or smart career move?
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