Q3 2021

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58 C I N E M O N T A G E T A I L P O P REMEMBERING THE FEISTY, INSPIRING, UNFORGETTABLE PRESENCE THAT WAS BETTE DAVIS A Real Star By Susan Milrod I m a g i n e a s h i m m e r i n g b l a c k - and-white f ilm. A sophisticated (circa 1942) man and woman are standing in an upscale room in front of a large window. They smolderingly stare into each other's eyes as the man ro- mantically fires up two cigarettes before handing one to the woman. As they both puff away, gloriously lush music swells and the woman proclaims, "Oh, Jerry. Let's not ask for the moon. We have the stars." The End. You've very possibly seen this scene. Either in a montage of classic film clips or as a parody. It's the final scene from "Now, Voyager," which boasted Oscar nominations for both Bette Davis and costar Gladys Cooper. And a win for Max Steiner's incredible score. When it comes to women in Hollywood who have stood up for themselves and other women, few are as memorable as Bette Davis. When she received her fourth Best Actress nomination for "Now, Voyager," she was already a two-time Oscar winner — and was still only 34 years old. G ro w i n g u p o n N e w Yo r k 's L o n g Island in the 1960s and 1970s, I loved all types of movies. In time, my passion for film led to me spending a memorable s u m m e r w o r k i n g a t t h e M u s e u m o f Modern Art's Film Archives — a place where I began to see films in a historical context. And helped me better articulate the ways in which films influence and relate to my own life. The 1970s was also an era when I began to flourish as a young feminist. As I was experiencing my feminist coming-of-age, film critic Molly Haskell wrote, "From Reverence to Rape: The Treatment of Women in the Movies." Now considered a classic, the book helped me begin understanding the notion of "women's films." Traditional "women's films" (a pop- ular genre in the 1930s-1950s) allowed female stars to shine center stage. They dealt with topical problems that are still relevant today. Unwanted pregnancies. Illicit affairs. Divorce. Women who are pressured to marry or treated poorly for remaining single. Women who marry for financial security vs. love. Women who unwisely marry for love. Friendships a n d c o m p e t i t i o n s b e t w e e n w o m e n , including mother-daughter tensions. And, most importantly, explorations of women's sexuality. In the role of Charlotte Vance, Bette Davis plays a frumpy and miserably unhappy spinster aunt. Cruelly treated like a less-than-servant by her narcis- sistic mother (Gladys Cooper), she is a tragically repressed woman. Due to the loving kindness of her sister-in-law and a brilliant psychiatrist (Claude Rains), Charlotte f inally gets the chance to blossom. Ugly duckling transformed into a stunning — if still insecure — swan, Charlotte finds love with Paul Henreid's unhappily-married-man. By tale's end, their secret love results in Charlotte continuing to grow into her own inde- pendent person who sacrifices romantic happiness to become a mother figure to Henreid's lonely daughter. By the end of the 1970s, I was work- ing as an assistant to director Claudia Weill — during the post-production of landmark independent "Girlfriends," a n d t h ro u g h o u t , " I t 's M y T u r n ," a n unhappy experience that taught me how 1980s Hollywood wasn't especially female-friendly, both behind of and in front of the camera. In time, I moved on to a career as a Story Analyst, a world in which I've been able to advocate for a wide array of fine writers and stories, including those by and about women. In the early 1980s, I had the memora- ble chance to see Bette Davis in person during a surprise Q&A after a screening o f " Now, Voya ge r " a t L AC M A . St i l l wonderfully feisty in her 70s, Davis then had nine Best Actress Oscar nominations (with two wins) plus Emmy and Golden Globe nominations and wins, including the Cecil B. DeMille Award. That night, as Miss Davis took to t h e s ta ge, t h e e n t i re a u d i e n c e ro s e for a prolonged standing ovation. It's a memory that still gives me goose- bumps — especially whenever I rewatch "Now, Voyager." ■ Susan Milrod is a story analyst who specializes in books at Universal. She also enjoys coaching young story analysts and writers. She can be reached at Bette Davis and Paul Henreid together in 'Now, Voyager'. P H O T O : P H O T O F E S T

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