Betty Davis 1962

This autobiography is surprising for its unparalleled excellence and seeming honesty. Davis has represented her life in a well-written little book. She speaks well of everyone she worked with in film including industry rivals, Joan Crawford. She passes on providing long comments regarding Barbara Stanwyck.

Of course, the book tells about acting: stage, screen (silent – talkies), modeling, fame, being a glamour puss. Davis knew she was not the typical 1930s actress – beautiful, lanky or seductive but she was blonde. Davis suggests and I believe she rose on talent and merit alone. The more involved the part the better the performance – two years toward the beginning of her career, 1936 and 1939 Davis received Oscars for best actress. She was dedicated to excellent projects and to excellent performances. She ran into the buzz of the Warner Brothers demanding she do mediocre projects. That legal dispute ended in London before World War Two began for the Americans. Olivia de Havilland broke the studios’ system.

Her movies of the Forties and the early Fifties all had substance for her. She never mentions a western, but early on Bette Davis from New England was typecast as the Southern girl and the Southern lady. Motherhood, marriage and living reduced the number of films she was in. She was not always in Los Angeles but lived on the East Cost. She tells trying to be the best mother, when she wasn’t always around, her understanding of intimacy from work and from husbands, and the shortcomings in the men she encountered and those she eventually married. [The first was always at home but did not work at home and little out of it; the second died young; Gary Merrill, fellow actor, had work but did not like the comforts of a joint home.]

Bette Davis had help with children and with the house; she had capable assistants. Davis expresses gratitude. But she felt isolated from exchanging intimacy, touching, sensing another human being, and caring in full devotion. [Note in the text Davis describes these attributes as handled by a performing actor, but says they are not transitioned to or that acting did not fulfill the needs of a human being living in reality.] This distinction between acting and reality is how she conveys she was lonely, and hence the adjective in the book’s title.

Two remarkable chapters in the book are the first and the last. The first doubts whether anyone, including herself, should write an autobiography. Davis beats out the words in spades. The last chapter deals with the status of a successful woman, running into unsuitable men, earning more than most people, and handling fame, professionalism, being alone, and where all that leaves the woman: Her state of mind. It is an excellent description of explaining the world that might become more matriarchal. Sex alone changes nothing. Couples should be mates and their efforts should complement one another.

This is an excellent autobiography; it benefits from being short and well-thought out. Also, this autobiography became the first feminist tome of the modern era. The Feminine Mystique was published two years later in 1964. If Betty Friedan believed it was the problem that has no name, she was unacquainted with Bette Davis’ Autobiography.


Sondra Locke

Any autobiography suffers from the writer’s inability to tell the truth, fully, moderately or partially. This flaw has been noted among writers. [William L. Shirer, Twentieth Century Journey, vol. 1, Chapter 1] However, Sondra Locke in The Good, the Bad & the Very Ugly (no index) remarkably tells the truth in a well-written autobiography while coming to incomplete and imprecise conclusions.

General impressions. I like Sondra Locke; this book does not endear me to her. But I am happy she has managed to act in and direct additional films. The more films made the better. This autobiography lacks any setting: What was Los Angeles like for an up-and-coming actress in entertainment(1968-1973)? Locke gives the impression that every role she got except the first and those until she met Eastwood, magically came to her. Indeed, it seems her first and only mentor in entertainment was Eastwood.

Locke presents her life as a fairy tale; the writing is consistent. In a deposition the first questions were about the fairy tale life. She is admirably loyal to persons in her life and hometown who have helped her, especially her best friend Gordon. They marry. Gordon declares he is gay; he finds other lovers. They live separately in Los Angeles but talk daily and see each other often.

Sondra Locke had a good start to a film career in The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Thereafter her roles diminished, three films that tried to develop the alternative reality of the Sixties: Reflections of Fear was the most establishment.The Seducers, supposedly a true story about teenage girls, gone wild. The Second Coming of Suzanne, hipsters supposedly making a movie. None of these movies added anything to Locke’s career. She mets Eastwood in an audition for Breezy which Locke pejoratively and quickly dismisses: “about a man in his late fifties who choses a young teenage chick with lots of T and A.” (131) Eastwood hires Locke to perform in The Outlaw Josey Wales. It is “love at first sight,” but it was also roles in better movies at first sight.

It might also be better described as physical relations at first sight. Eastwood learns about Gordon. They meet, socialize, chat and laugh. Eastwood produces movies, some of which Locke acts in. For those movies and others Locke says she worked on them when Eastwood viewed them in post production at the ranch.

After discussions with Locke Eastwood divorces his wife in the early 1980s; Locke remains married to Gordon. Eastwood buys a house, and Gordon lives in it. He buys a second house in Los Angeles (Stradella) for himself and Locke, apparently selling a Studio City house about the same time.

What was life with Eastwood like? There is some of that but more about Gordon. The whole book must be consumed before making an impression. Locke and Eastwood spend time in Carmel, Sun Valley Idaho, Lake Shasta and other places. But get to the nitty-gritty – before, during and after dinner talk, the sweet words soothing life to get to sleep.

In the mid-1980s Locke spent a couple of years decorating houses.(175) Gordon is frequently with her during that shopping. If Eastwood is in town, Locke and Eastwood would be together during the evening: What did you do today, darling? Chapter 12 late in the book gives a run down of a Locke and Gordon day. Gordon has spiritual qualities and abilities. Locke enthusiastically writes about days of spirituality but lacks specifics. In talks with Eastwood Locke likely was very verbal about those spiritual events. There was no communication. Eastwood seems like a feet-on-the Earth fellow.

Screaming at the reader is one word: INCOMPATIBLE. It is completely unfathomable why Locke would call Eastwood, a man 14 years her senior: “Daddy.”(152) And when Eastwood left she would “cry like a school girl.”(148)

For Every Which Way But Loose Eastwood wanted Locke to sing songs she had written and composed. She didn’t want to and never wanted to sing again.(157) Eastwood liked Locke, a beautiful woman, to wear no make up.(148) NO: put on the ughs and toss on the paint. Locke wanted to direct. Through Eastwood’s production company the script of Ratboy is bought(mid 1980s).

First-time director Locke and Gordon want to rewrite the Ratboy script. Gordon has no writing credits (that are mentioned)l Locke has none. Eastwood says no. There are schools of practice about producers/directors rewriting scripts. Eastwood may favor, Buy a script, shoot it. Undisciplined, enthusiasts among producers and directors don’t believe writers do anything, but they, themselves, can take years rewriting screenplays. This autobiography does not go into business customs and practices. Eastwood’s point of view is clear. Locke is deeply offended. It should be observed for her next film, Impulse (1989) Locke does not admit doing a director’s rewrite of the script.

While Locke is engaged in the film as a director, someone she likes back home dies. Gordon returns. Over Eastwood’s objections Director Locke returns home (203). The autobiography casts adjectives, one of which is mean which is completely meaningless. Locke’s adjectives are belied later in The Good, The Bad (249): “In a near-hypnotic manner I went back to work. Directing a film requires awesome stamina and with claiming of so much emotional drain on the my life I could hardly stay afloat.” There is no discussion of Locke’s emotional state after her return to directing of Ratboy.

Locke is incredulous about her palimony suit (remember she is married to Gordon throughout), that participants can be petty in a domestic relations litigation. Locke’s description of what happened is run of the mill. It is equally surprising that entertainment closes in trying to keep people out, but think of the earlier incident: Academy Award Winner Cliff Robertson and the $10,000 check. None of those schemes are very sophisticated. It is probable that Sondra Locke has now learned Samuel Goldwyn’s aphorism: “An oral contract is not worth the paper it is printed on.”

There are items every writer ought to know: A baby deer is a fawn.(165) There are no “preliminary hearings” in civil cases.(7) There are Pre-trial conferences, Settlement Conferences and Law and Motion. One “saves” money. One does not go about “saving up” money.(46) And it is inconsistent to call Eastwood a “spoiled child”(236) all the while the author is describing her life as the fairy tale she has lived in since the 1950s.