La da da da She’s Got Bette Da-a-avis Eyes… so…yes, well, that’s the sum of what I know of Bette Davis…oh, and that she was an actress way before my time. I also suspect I’m not the only one with this minimal knowledge. So, why am I writing this? Well, it all started with In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood asking me if I’d like to write something for the Bette Davis blog she’s hosting. Just the day before I’d sworn that I would take a break of this habit I’ve developed for putting my name down on Blogathons. I just couldn’t resist. But, what do I write about..a movie? I’ve never ever seen her in action. And, hmmm, honestly, I’m really not in the mood for old movies (I go through phases). La da da da She’s Got Bette Da-a-avis Eyes creeps back into my mind. Wait…hmmm….that might just work! Let me take the challenge of looking at her eyes. If there was a song made, there must be something about them.
So, I trawled through loads and loads of images, pretty much black and white ones. My “research” for this daunting project. But you know what? There is something about those eyes. Maybe not in the same way we see eyes today, but in her day, they were definitely striking and attractive (I believe our perception of beauty has changed over time so naturally our idea of beautiful eyes would have changed too). The first thing that strikes me are the eyelashes. She obviously uses those as the centre of attraction. They always seem to be enhanced with mascara, and the lower lashes actually seem to be the prominent ones.
I also noticed that her eyes changed over time, presumably due to fashion and beauty trends, her fame and age, but the distinctive mascara seems to be consistently there. In her younger days, she had very thin, straight eyebrows and, it seems fairly natural, demure-looking eyes. At one point she seemed to take on the trend of long drawn-out eyebrows and also the smokey eye-shadow effect.
I came across a promotional still for All About Eve and amazing how, of the three ladies pictured (Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Marilyn Monroe), Bette‘s eyes are what drew my attention before anything or anyone else. Although, at this stage they seem to have become more sleepy. Intentional? Or just the effects of the Hollywood lifestyle? (slap my wrist).
It’s not purely her images that draw attention to her eyes. People too have made references to them. A number of sources say that supposedly Karl Freund (cinematographer) managed to convince the studio decision makers to keep her on just as her employment was to be cut because she had “lovely eyes”. So she was cast her for her debut role of The Bad Sister. Quite possibly her eyes gave her the start she needed for a Hollywood career and my guess then, is that she probably became aware of this and intentionally drew more attention to these assets to make them those “popping, neurotic eyes” as mentioned by Graham Green (novelist). I read that she was often filmed close-up to draw attention to her eyes.
At this point, I probably need to make mention of Kim Carnes‘ hit song Bette Davis Eyes. It was this song that made more recent generations aware of Bette Davis and therefore her eyes. Originally written by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, and first recorded by the latter in 1974, it was only made popular by Kim Carnes in 1981 going on to become one of the biggest hits of that year. Apparently Bette Davis personally thanked Carnes, Weiss and DeShannon for making her “a part of modern times” or “a part of history” (I have found both versions) and when winning two Grammy Awards for this song she sent them flowers.
A brief mention must be made on her role in The Anniversary where she wears an eye patch. After having looked through so many images of her eyes, those from this role become a bit bizarre: there is this large eye containing heavy eye shadow and dark eyebrows peering out at you and throws this whole blog out the window. So, let’s ignore the eye-patch wearing Bette Davis and move along swiftly…
By the way, Bette Davis‘ eyes were blue. I never really looked at colour pictures of her but the few I did seemed to have less appeal. In my opinion, her eyes are so much more beautiful, classier in black and white.
I came across her obituary from the New York Times and they too mention her “huge and expressive eyes”.
Not sure what beauty they hold from your perspective…but that’s my take on them…