By September 21, 2009 2 Comments Read More →


My wife and I have a habit of watching all of the works of a particular actor or actress as a way to see films we have never viewed or to see again films we haven’t seen in awhile. We use the American Film Institute’s great lists as the basis for this slightly obsessive compulsion.

Our most recent female to complete is Bette Davis. Because of her very interesting personality and how that relates to the characters she played on the screen, I decided to read a biography.

I choose Dark Victory: the Life of Bette Davis by Ed Sikov. The book has some shortcomings. Occasionally Mr. Sikov injects himself directly into the text although he really intends to be an omniscient author. He opens the third section of the book by “pulling a Rose Ruiz: breaking ranks, ducking into the literary equivalent of the Boston T, speeding ahead, and crossing the finish line before the race is truly over,” and gives us an account of Bette’s final years. Then, by the magic of his authorial control, he says “so we return to our place in the pursuit: Bette has just driven out of the Warners’ lot in 1949…”

The book did give me everything I was looking for and more because it did two things. It filled in all the gaps in my personal knowledge of her life and it made me want to talk to someone about this extraordinary woman and the life she led.

The question is: does that make it a good choice for a book discussion? I have reservations. I think a non-fiction work like this only goes for readers who have at least a nominal interest in the subject and who have seen at least some of the major films of Bette Davis.

A discussion combined with a showing of Jezebel or All About Eve might work but I have a suspicion that even that might be forcing the issue. Although large issues do loom, including her role as an assertive woman in a community that did not welcome her opinion, her job as a parent, and her addiction to alcohol and sex, these may not be enough to have the book stand alone outside of the films that it discusses.

So, I will just continue to badger my wife with details about Bette while she is trying to watch all the films of Humphrey Bogart.



About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

2 Comments on "TO BIO OR NOT TO BIO"

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  1.' Ed Sikov says:

    “although he really intends to be an omniscient author. ”

    I obviously did not intend to be so, since I injected myself consciously into the narrative.

    Why is this a shortcoming, anyway? I was perfectly open about what I was doing, I didn’t lie or do anything in secret, I was clear about it, so what’s the problem?

  2.' Risa Brooks says:

    If you’re interested in knowing more about Bette Davis, I would suggest to you her autobiography, “A Lonely Life.” After reading that, I found no biography written on her/about her compared to her own version of her life. It was a fascinating read and can be found in multiple libraries worldwide. I hope this helps!

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