Bette Davis, who loved being a legend in her own lifetime, has left her fans a legacy, an updated version of her book “The Lonely Life.”
In bookstores once again, “The Lonely Life” had been out of print for 30 years.
For the last half a dozen years of her life Davis was implored by friends to reissue the book. Publishers asked if she would be willing. For a time, the fragile, ailing Davis refused.
The original was published and well received in 1962, the public anxious to read the peppery, much-honored actress’s own account of her life, loves and marriages.
A second book, “This And That,” a compendium of anecdotes and reminiscences, along with sharp observations and outspoken opinions, hit the best-seller lists several years ago.
Its success encouraged Davis to bring “The Lonely Life” up to date and to be republished as a paperback.
Kathryn Sermak, Davis’ longtime amanuensis, companion and friend, says, “Miss D. agreed to update her book on two conditions: if she could write a catch-up, the happenings and highlights of her life for the past 30 years, and write about what was important to her.”
Sermak, who was with Davis when she died Oct. 6 in Paris, was first employed by Davis in 1979. She always called the actress Miss D.
“We were headed back to the United States from San Sebastian, Spain, to turn in the new material for her book,” Sermak said. “We were on our way to New York, but she never made it.
“Miss D. had written five new chapters in longhand, the last in San Sebastian. The manuscript had not yet been edited. One of my last promises to her when she knew she was dying is that I would not change a word of the text.
“I believe she thought that maybe her text wasn’t perfect but it was better than having someone else tamper with the material.”
In typical Davis fashion, the sharp-tongued, delightfully humorous movie star had her way to the very end.
The new chapters cover Davis’ life from 1962 through 1989 and examine some of the more controversial aspects of her work and family.
Said Sermak: “She starts off talking about why she wanted ‘The Lonely Life’ reissued and then goes directly into details about working with Joan Crawford in ‘Baby Jane.’ She also writes about her experiences in the making of ‘The Anniversary’ and ‘Madam Sin.’ ”
One subject Davis does not write about is her reaction to daughter Barbara Davis Hyman’s book “My Mother’s Keeper,” a mommy dearest-type biography that devastated the actress. Indeed, Sermak said, publication of the book was more catastrophic to Davis than the terrible stroke she suffered in 1983.
“Miss D. told me she and B.D. were never reconciled after that book was published back in 1985,” Sermak said. “She was too much of a thoroughbred to write about her feelings involving B.D.
“The tragedy of those times was that Miss D. was still fighting for her life after the stroke when ‘My Mother’s Keeper’ was published. B.D. didn’t bother to come to the funeral.”
Sermak, who wasn’t a Davis fan when she met the actress, said she is not aware of any plans for a motion picture based on Davis’ life.
“I’m not sure many people privately or the public really knew her very well,” Sermak said. “Everybody sees her image.
“Her courage and cheerful attitude impressed me most. She was never happy living with the stroke. It was a terrible thing, but she never complained. She loved her work and keeping busy.
“Most people never knew how much Miss D. liked to play practical jokes. She’d go to a magic shop and get fake ice cubes to put in guests’ glasses. It was amazing to watch how the victim would not say a word and drink a warm highball.
“It also wasn’t common knowledge that Miss D. was a marvelous cook. She believed in cooking for her own parties and liked to make Chicken Witchway, which she prepared ahead of time to keep from spending too much time in the kitchen.”
Sermak said she has no plans to write her own book about Davis. “This new edition of ‘The Lonely Life’ says it all.”