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Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis Hardcover – October 30, 2007

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; 1st edition (October 30, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805075488
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805075489
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #863,974 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The biggest surprise of Sikov's perceptive and superbly written new Bette Davis biography is that there are still fascinating details to be discovered after more than a dozen full-length biographies have been devoted to her since her 1989 death. Sikov (On Sunset Boulevard) follows the volatile actress's long career, specifying how her insecurities and craving for love propelled her into the dueling self-medications of liquor and acting. Even she didn't seem to understand the anger that drove her to battle everything she encountered, from Hollywood producers to the tarnished brass doorknobs in her many houses. Her personal life was littered with broken marriages, affairs, abortions, feuds and neglected family members, but professionally she created dozens of unforgettable performances. Both sides of her life make for compelling reading. Sikov spends two-thirds of the book documenting the grueling production of most of the 52 films Davis made under her 18-year contract at Warner Bros. These illuminating tales mix familiar lore with newly excavated material. Sikov loses some steam when Davis's film career sputtered in the late 1960s. The last 20 years (when she was too ornery to die, too driven to sit still, too proud to recede into muted seclusion) is dismissed too quickly in 60 pages. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


'They don't make Hollywood icons like they used too... as much an exercise in nostalgia as a fascinating slice of cultural reportage' Val Hennessy, Daily Mail --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

This is an excellent read; I had the book completed in two days.
Terrance Richard
This book is a revelation of her life, sympathetic, well written, probably the best biography of Bette Davis to read if you can own only one volume.
Patricia M. Jones
There were a few times I got a bit impatient and bored but really only a tiny bit.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By J. Torres on November 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading so many biographies on the sensational Bette Davis, I have finally found the one that provides a fascinating balance between her life and her roles. The author succeeds most when he relates the events surrounding each of her movies, without going too much into details of the plot. He balances the narrative with quotes and facts pertinent to the moment that Davis is living at the time. I love the fact that he didnt dwell so much on the Crawford- Davis feud like other authors try to do for the sake of sensationalism. Although he does mention Miriam Hopkins quite frequently. This is great fun and a fantastic way to rediscover Ms. Davis films and it makes you want to go back to your movie library and watch the films again. After reading details surrounding the shooting of films like The Great Lie, All this and Heaven too, The Old Maid, The Little Foxes,Dark Victory, The Letter and even lesser ones in her early career such as Parachute Jumper, I really want to explore them and see things with a different perspective. When an author does that to a reader, I think he succeeds his purpose, which ultimately was to honor the Best Career of the greatest actress of hollywood, without ever falling victim to ridiculous bias neither by defending her nor attacking her. He simply stated his facts and its up to us to decide whether we love her of hate her. I assure you, you wont be indifferent to her.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Douglas M VINE VOICE on November 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At last a biography that strikes the right balance on the life of Bette Davis. Ed Sikov has written a detailed life of the great actress, covering all the familiar points but without sensationalism and emphasis on irrelevant issues such as that dumb feud with Joan Crawford. (In fact, he deals with this particular issue with superb wit). Everyone knows that Davis was difficult, a control freak with a lightening fuse - she admitted so herself often. She also had a good sense of humour and a work ethic second to none, of course. The book, by intention, keeps the focus on Davis the performer and her extraordinary legacy. This is ultimately what she would have wanted because she knew her private life became a shambles as she broke away from her upbringing as a New England puritan and the marriages piled up.

The author has used Davis's own biographies and personal papers as a reference point and never was her motivation more intelligible. He also seems to have carefully viewed all her films, especially such rare early ones as "Bad Sister", in which she debuted. His analysis of her emerging persona and nervous style is enlightening. Also, there are common themes of Yankee guilt, fear of loneliness and aggressive behaviour fuelled more and more by alcohol. I have never doubted that the bulk of her daughter's book was accurate even if the motivation to write it was mean spirited and commercial. This book adds credibility to "My Mother's Keeper" but certainly not by endorsing it - simply by logic. You might not like Davis much as the author states in the opening chapter, but you may understand her better.

The book is very well written but one of the photos looks suspiciously like Patricia Neal and there are a few holes in the discussion of her performances, most notably, her superb characterisation in "The Catered Affair".
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Mataro on November 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I consider myself to be the world's biggest Bette Davis fan, so I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of this book. It arrived on Thursday and I just finished reading it cover to cover. IMHO, it's the best Davis book yet, and here's why: it's got all the starry stories and bitchy gossip from the golden age of cinema, but it presents them in the context of Bette's movies.

If you love Bette, as I do, because of her work on film, you'll get a much better sense of how her performances came to be -- and also how the moviemaking process affected her life.

It's also something of a reevaluation of her life from different contemporary perspectives, so I now understand better why she's such a gay icon and a feminist role model.

But don't get me wrong. This is not an academic tract. It's been written in an almost chatty fashion that's fun to read but doesn't undermine the serious research that's clearly gone into the book.

In fact, unless you knew Bette personally, I can almost guarantee that you'll learn something about her life and her films. For instance, the stories about what she was like on the set of "The Decorator," her failed sitcom, were new to me.

Yes, there have been plenty of books written about Bette Davis already. But in terms of research, insight and readability, starting now, this is the place to start.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By schuyler bishop on November 3, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This biography of Bette Davis is smart, funny, well-researched and beautifully written. But what I like best has to be its emphasis on Davis as an artist. Yes, we all know she was a difficult, driven, often unhappy woman, but she was also a great actress and that's what Ed Sikov writes about. We see her building great role after great role: in OF HUMAN BONDAGE, in JEZEBEL, in ALL ABOUT EVE, even in WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? And she does it inside the studio system. This is not just a terrific biography of an artist, but an excellent history of the movie business.

I loved Davis before, but I love her even more after this book. It makes me want to see the movies I already know and admire as well the couple I missed. I now have a much clearer picture of Davis as a person and also a deeper appreciation of her achievements and how she worked.
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