I have a real weakness for big coffee table books about classic Hollywood. They’re not typically the best biographies, but they are full of nice, big pictures that are beautiful to look at and I can’t resist some good eye candy. The only problem is those books tend to get rather pricey, so if I find one at a bargain price, I get it. That’s how I came to own Bette Davis: Larger than Life by Richard Schickel and George Perry. I adore Bette Davis and since this book seemed to be in the same style of Lana: The Memories, The Myths, The Movies by Cheryl Crane, which I loved, I was dying to get my hands on this book.
I haven’t had time to read the entire book yet, but I can safely tell you a few things about it. First of all, if you’re looking for an in-depth biography on Bette, this is not the book for you. It does have biographical information in it, but it doesn’t seem to be particularly extensive. Also, if you’re hoping for lots of critical insights from Richard Schickel, you’ll be disappointed in this book. Don’t let the co-author credit he gets on the cover fool you. He only wrote the introduction. Most of the book is an illustrated filmography. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with how complete the filmography is because it does include everything Bette was ever in. I guess it’s kind of lame to be excited about a filmography actually being complete, but I’ve found that sometimes books and documentaries have a tendency to gloss over certain parts of a star’s career. If an actress had bit parts in a bunch of movies before becoming a real star, those minor roles don’t get talked about much at all. Or if they ended their career with a string of campy b-movies like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford did, the camp stuff gets mentioned as little as possible. But this book does spend a little time on everything, no matter how small Bette’s part was or how bad the movie was. They could have easily skipped some of her blink-and-you-miss-her parts in things like Seed or some of her hilariously bad films like Bunny O’Hare to make room for more big, pretty pictures from All About Eve or Jezebel instead, but they didn’t and I like that. It even includes a list of the made for TV movies Bette appeared in. However, I wouldn’t completely depend on this book for accurate information. I have noticed a few factual errors so far. For example, the book claims that Bette imitated Joan Crawford’s voice for a phone call scene in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane. That is not true at all, Joan dubbed her voice for that scene.
But ultimately, if you’re a fan of Bette Davis and want a book full of nice, vibrant pictures of her to keep on your coffee table, this is the book for you. I also simply appreciate the fact that someone even made an eye candy book like this about Bette Davis. There are plenty of Bette Davis books out there, but I don’t recall seeing any others like Larger Than Life. You can easily find pretty coffee table books about people like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Lana Turner. But Bette was never conventionally beautiful like Audrey, Marilyn, or Lana. Instead, Bette was famous for not being afraid to look awful on-screen. And at the end of the day, more people would rather have big pictures of Holly Golightly than Baby Jane Hudson sitting out on their tables, so I hadn’t really counted on ever being able to own a Bette Davis coffee table book.
If you’re interested in buying Bette Davis: Larger Than Life, Amazon has plenty of copies available for perfectly reasonable prices either through their bargain books or under “new and used.” I wouldn’t have paid the suggested price of $35 for this book, but for the price I got it for, I have no regrets about buying it.