Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies
by Ed Rubin
Of all the
celebs channeled by drag queens and female impersonators, Bette Davis, like
flies to honey, has always been at the top of every performers list. Her
mannerisms, her clipped New England cadences, her famous lines like “fasten
your seatbelt this is going to be a bumpy ride,” and the forever dangling
cigarette in her airborne hand, like the actress herself, are legendary.
not until actress Jessica Sherr penned her one woman show, Bette Davis Ain’t
For Sissies, has anybody dared to give us a wildly exciting, action-packed
recounting of Bette Davis’ life as a young aspiring actress hell bent on
becoming a star.
journey began some twelve years ago in acting class when her assignment was to
play a famous person. Looking around for a subject, being red-headed herself,
Lucille Ball first came to mind.
after years of being stopped in the street by strangers telling her that she
resembled a young Bette Davis, seeing this as a sign, Sherr dropped Lucille
like a hot potato and turned to Bette Davis, another strong independent woman.
digesting several biographies, Davis’ two autobiographies, countless movies,
and customary trips down Google and Wikipedia Lane, Bette was quickly embraced
by Sherr, and the rest is history.
in her bedroom
For the past
ten years, ever expanding the show’s length, from 28 minutes to 60 minutes to
its current 90 by adding new content, Sherr has been performing Bette Davis
Ain’t For Sissies to great acclaim.
Riding on the
crest of Davis’ iconic fame, wherever the play appeared, be it at the New York
Fringe Festival or the Edinburgh Fringe Festival where she appeared for three
consecutive years, the play sold out.
at Edinburgh fringe photo
by Doug Burndt
were her Edinburgh performances – 25 back-to-back shows over a period of a
month – audiences had to be turned away. It was the same at the St James
theater in London, and various venues around New York City and across this country.
In Chicago alone, her 4-week run garnered her 16 critical thumbs up reviews.
Wanting to up
her game, Sherr started to scout around for a director in 2019. Settling on
Drama Desk Winner Karen Carpenter (Love Loss and What I Wore, Harry
Townsend’s Last Stand). Their sole aim was to ready the play for an
Off-Broadway New York Theatre Production.
To this end,
this past February an industry presentation in which some sixty producers
showed up took place. Interest was high, and another meeting was scheduled for
March. And then Covid-19 came to town and everything came to a halt.
like the ever-tenacious Davis, was not about to stop performing. After several
outdoor performances at Central Park this past September and October, Sherr began
to perform her show weekly this past April on Facebook Live from her bedroom.
Eventually she hooked up with StellarTickets.com, an online platform for
monetizing live stream events.
photo by Kent Campbell
miracles, without a set, fancy lighting, props, her usual five costume changes,
or the freedom to roam a stage, while sitting at a desk (that you never see)
Davis is brought stunningly alive.
I might add
that the Bette Davis estate loved both Sherr and her script and gifted her with
Davis’ own red scarf, 2 pairs of gloves, a handkerchief and a pair of earrings,
pieces of which Sherr uses in every show, “I am sure that Bette loves seeing
this.” Sherr tells us during her performance
Sissies’ opens during the 1939 Oscar presentation at the Coconut Grove in
Hollywood. The 31-year old Davis has been nominated for Best Actress in Dark
Victory. With the press having leaked the winners in advance, knowing that
Vivien Leigh is going to win the Best Actress Award for Gone With The Wind,
Davis hightails it home.
myself,” the feisty Davis tell us, “as I knew that if I saw Vivien Leigh win,
I’d pull her hair out.
is 90-minute, breathtakingly delivered fusillade of intimate and exciting face
to face flashbacks and flash forwards, both happy, sad, and frequently
way, covering the years of 1908-1963, we hear, in confession-like detail about
her four marriages, her three abortions, her two Oscars, her three children,
her 18-year stint at Warner Brothers, various studio suspensions, her Hollywood
Canteen days, and her What Ever Happened Baby Jane (1962) comeback in
which she was cast opposite Joan Crawford, her long-time rival for both the
same men and movie roles.
We also are made
privy to her life-long friendship with Olivia de Havilland, her various
friendships with the famous, Bogart was one, her affairs with Howard Hughes,
George Brent, Franchot Tone, and the self-admitted greatest love of her life
William Wyler (1902-1981), under whose direction Davis won her 2nd
Oscar for Jezebel (1938).
Some of the
most wonderful story-telling moments – with no holds barred – are Sherr’s Davis
talking about the process of filming and her frequent tumultuous relationships,
both on and off screen, with the directors of her films; some famous, others
obscure. We actually get teasing snippets beautifully acted out by Sherr, word
for word, from The Petrified Forrest, Jezebel, and Dark Victory.
throughout the play are number of Davis’ smile-inducing observations. Talking
about being at the Oscars she tells her mother, “If I saw more mink, I’d vomit
in Joan Crawford’s lap. And I don’t think she’d notice.”
Olivia de Havilland, who had just lost the Best Supporting Actress Award for Gone
With The Wind to Hattie McDaniel, Davis sallies forth with, “I love Hattie
McDaniel, but a woman that large should not be covered in gardenias. She looked
like a parade float.”
Online may be
an entirely new platform for the Sherr, but with her impeccable timing, Sherr,
a great actress herself, nails every one of Bette Davis’ whirlwind
chameleon-like mannerisms, facial expressions and emotions, from ecstasy, to
sadness, to anger and back. It is a totally mesmerizing performance, with much
thanks to the camera’s use of vintage Hollywood Close-Ups, which brings Sherr’s
Davis to us gloriously so, front, center, and straight into our hearts.
Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies is Currently Live Streaming Thursdays 7:30pm EDT
/ 4:30pm PDT at least through March 2021.
For Tickets, Pieces, and Information Visit: www.BetteDavisAintForSissies.com
News! Not letting any grass grow under her feet and on to her next project,
Sherr is looking to produce her award winning feature film script, Bette,
that she co-wrote with Caitlin Scherer.