Story of Complicated Relationship between Iconic Bette Davis and Her Daughter Barbara Hyman
Almost three decades after her passing, the legend's daughter continues to speak out about the treatment she received at the hands of her famous mother.
Bette Davis' only biological daughter, Barbara Hyman, will not give rest to her smear campaign, tainting her mother's name to this very day over the infamous feud between them.
Even though Davis died in 1989 after losing her battle to breast cancer, her daughter is yet to extinguish the flame of their bad blood for which the mother and daughter were so well-known.
Davis made her first breakthrough at the age of 26, starring in the 1935 film "Dangerous." Captivated by her electrifying performance, British film critic E. Arnot Robertson wrote at the time that she had a charge about her that could be described as bewitching.
"Bette Davis would probably have been burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago. She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet," he wrote.
Not one to shy away from the acclaim, Davis herself had played along.
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"Hollywood held no allure for me. I was happy with my success in the theatre. Also, I hated being photographed. I had been Mother’s model so often I had a phobia about it." -Bette, remarking on the difficult transition between her success on Broadway and her early days in Hollywood in The Lonely Life 💞
She had revealed in an early interview that she was not only born near Salem - where the famous 17th-century witches had been tried and convicted - but that she was also related to one of the supposed witches, Mary Bradbury.
Davis also expressed that she was brought into this world like a witch, referring to a bolt of lightning that had struck a tree outside their house the moment of her birth, according to Daily Mail.
While fans at the time thought nothing more of it than to be a Hollywood stunt for publicity, one person takes Davis' words at face value - her daughter.
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"She was absolutely my idol growing up. I just worshipped her. She was the most amazing actress, and had this quality about her that was unparalleled, and I still feel that way. My Uncle Jack had a friend named Robin, who was Bette Davis' assistant. She was coming to New York, and Uncle Jack arranged a meeting for me and my best friend. So we went to her hotel, I think it was the Gotham Hotel, and I was so nervous I was shaking from head to foot! My whole body was shaking! We went up to her suite and sat on the sofa in the living room, and suddenly out comes Bette Davis, with that walk! I thought I was going to keel over. Fortunately, I didn't! I said, 'I want to be an actress,' and she told me that I'd have to work very hard... and the fact that she allowed us to be in her room and have a conversation with her was just amazing. We didn't have a very long time with her. She gave us tea, and I was afraid I was going to break the cup because I was shaking so badly.... Also, after the meeting with her, I wrote a letter thanking her, and she wrote back! That was pretty amazing, too." -Lauren Bacall, reflecting on her meeting with Bette as a teenager ❤️
To this day, almost three decades after Bette's death, her daughter still portrays her as some kind of monster.
The feud between Davis and her only biological daughter has been well documented and publicized over the years, and Hyman is yet to let the time-old rivalry go to rest, despite being 71 years old.
In her biographies, Hyman made some rather startling claims concerning her mother. Hyman's first book, "My Mother's Keeper," was published at a time when her mother was already in poor health after suffering a stroke, undergoing a mastectomy, and breaking a hip.
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“Any actress who claims her fans are a bore is a liar. She also is impractical. They are the lifeline that continues the career. Watch out as an actor for only one thing- when they stop bothering you, you have had it.” -Bette (on the cover of Picturegoer Magazine, circa 1946) ✨
Despite desperate pleas from Davis' lawyer to wait until his client's health had improved, Hyman published the book, claiming there was nothing her mother would object to. The book had been finished a considerable time before the actress' failing health.
Hyman was met with a great deal of condemnation over the poor, or perhaps deliberate, timing of publication.
Whether fact or fiction, only Hyman and Davis could truly know, but she had written some hurtful and resentful things in her biography that had apparently caused a great deal of pain to the late Hollywood actress at the time.
According to Kathryn Sermak, Davis' personal assistant, the actress felt that her daughter's book demonstrated a "glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life [she] feel [Hyman] have been given."
In the book, Davis was described as an alcoholic, who would habitually be drunk by 10 am, drinking a bottle of whiskey a day. Hyman painted her mother as careless, heartless and foul-mouthed - actually calling her evil.
Fans found it hard to believe. They struggled to reconcile the picture of a respected, much-loved and accomplished Hollywood actress with that of a drunk, negligent and cruel mother.
But according to Hyman, her mother had never been kind. Hyman was still a young child when her mother would on occasion shock and torment her by faking her own suicide. This, apparently, was Davis' way of teaching her daughter a lesson.
One particularly harrowing incident Hyman wrote about saw Davis pretend to take an overdose and lock herself in her bedroom. A distraught eight-year-old Hyman had spent the night sobbing outside her mother's bedroom door.
When she woke up the following morning, her mother was standing over her looking "triumphant."
Hyman had further claimed in her biography that Davis was cruel and relentless, once asking her if she had had sexual intercourse with one of Davis own friends, actor George Hamilton, after the then-15-year-old returned from a date with him.
When Hyman did not reply to her mother's crude and heartless question, Davis had apparently told her that she hoped the man, many years her senior, had had his way with her.
Hyman felt that her mother's interest in her sex life was an attempt to live vicariously through her daughter after she married in her early 20's still a virgin.
While Davis had refuted many of the claims made by her daughter before her death, not all can be written off as outlandish lies.
Davis' own fourth husband, actor Gary Merrill, did attest to may of Hyman's accusations, confirming that there had indeed been heavy drinking, swearing, and fighting involved during the time that he and Davis had been together.
At the time, Hyman was only a child, and Merrill admitted that Davis had shown a 'maternal coldness' toward her daughter, hardly ever giving her as much as a hug. Davis would briefly speak to Hyman before calling the governess to remove her daughter.
Despite the many claims against her mother, Sermak has spoken out to refute Hyman's stories of Davis.
According to the assistant, Davis was incredibly generous, hiring a celebrity stylist to tend to Sermak's hair, and buying her an expensive wardrobe. She even claimed that Davis was close to her children, especially Hyman.
"She never yelled, she never screamed — at least not around me," Sermak expressed. "She would curse. If she was really, really, upset, you got the silent treatment."
Only Davis and Hyman will ever know the full extent of their rivalry, however, and what is truth and what is fiction can only be speculated by the outside world.