Accomplished Hollywood actress Bette Davis had her image tainted by her daughter, Barbara Hyman, who revealed they'd had a bad relationship. She described Davis as cruel, a drunk, and a negligent mother.
Bette Davis' daughter Barbara Hyman, 73, has refused to be shaken about her version of her relationship with her famous actor mother. The feud between them stayed alive even after the star passed.
Davis died in 1989 after battling breast cancer. Her daughter released a tell-all book a few years before that probably inflamed the fire of their stormy relationship.
Bette Davis and daughter Barbara in New York on March 20, 1951 (Left), Bette Davis inside a car circa 1970 (Right) | Photo: Getty Images
BETTE'S HOLLYWOOD CAREER
At the age of 26, Davis had her first acting breakthrough by starring in 1935's "Dangerous." Her stunning performance left the audience captivated, and she found herself a steady following.
British film critic E. Arnot Robertson was so mesmerized by her performance that he only had praise for the upcoming star. He wrote that she had a charge that could be described as bewitching, stating:
"She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet."
Bette Davis and Barbara Hyman during the 1st Annual Straw Hat Awards - Party in New York City on June 16, 1970 | Photo: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images
PLAYING ALONG WITH THE PART
Davis picked up on the write-up and chose to play along with the acclaim. In an interview, the actress revealed that she was born near Salem in Massachusetts, the area where 17th-century witches had been tried and convicted.
She also confessed to being related to one of the alleged witches, Mary Bradbury. The star even claimed she was given birth to like a witch because lightning struck a tree outside her home the moment she was birthed.
BARBARA'S TELL-ALL BOOK
The image she gave out to the world was presumed to be a publicity stunt on her part, but her daughter, Barbara Hyman, has since painted her as a despicable figure. The star's eldest daughter's nicknames are "B.D" or "Bede."
In 1987, Hyman shocked the world when she released a tell-all book, "My Mother's Keeper," detailing her tumulous relationship with her mother. Even now, Hyman still paints her mother in a bad light.
INSIDE THE CONTROVERSIAL BOOK
Hyman's first book was published when her mother was in poor health after undergoing a mastectomy, suffering a stroke, and breaking a hip. Davis' lawyer begged Hyman to wait until her health had improved.
She claimed her mother would have nothing to object to and went ahead with the publication. In her biography, Hyman made startling claims concerning her famous mother.
REACTIONS TO THE BOOK
Of course, the star's eldest daughter faced condemnation over the timing of the publication and the content in it. The biography contained stories of resentment and the hurt she allegedly went through from childhood.
The book apparently caused a great deal of pain to the late Hollywood actress at the time. Her fans struggled to reconcile the person they thought they knew with the one her daughter described.
Hyman described her much-respected mother as a negligent person, a drunk, and a cruel mother. She alleged that her mother had never been kind to her and even went into some shocking details.
DISTURBING CLAIMS MADE BY BARBARA
The actress' daughter claimed, on occasion, her mother would torment and shock her by faking her suicide when Hyman was still a child. She allegedly did this to teach the young girl a lesson.
One incident she addressed was when Davis reportedly pretended to overdose and locked herself in her bedroom overnight. Hyman, eight at the time, was left sobbing outside the bedroom door, calling for her mother.
However, when Hyman woke up the next day, Davis was standing over her looking triumphant. It was allegedly all a part of her mom's plan.
BETTE ALLEGEDLY ENCOURAGED UNDERAGE DATING
The star's daughter even recalled her mother asking her if she'd slept with the actress' friend, George Hamilton. The shocking question was posed to a 15-year-old Hyman after she arrived from a date with Hamilton.
The teenager didn't reply to the question, leading her mother to state that she hoped the actor had his way with her. The star's eldest daughter explained that she felt Davis' interest in her sex life was her way of living vicariously through her since the actress got married in her early 20's.
Despite Hyman's claims, someone who's refuted them is Kathryn Sermak, the author of "Miss D and Me: Life with The Invincible Bette Davis." She described the actress as someone who possessed a "heart of gold."
Sermak, Davis's assistant, recalled how her boss was close to her children, especially her eldest daughter. She claimed the star never screamed or yelled around her but gave the silent treatment and cursed when very upset.
KATHRYN SERMAK'S CONTINUED LOYALTY TO BETTE
In April 2021, the former assistant gave an exclusive interview to Closer Weekly about her late boss. Sermak once again claimed Davis had been close to Hyman when the star first hired her at age 23.
She alleged that the actress actually lit up when Hyman was around. The assistant was so sure of her statement that she even claimed Davis was blindsided by the book and never got over the betrayal.
SPEAKING POSITIVELY ABOUT BARBARA
Despite the differing claims, "Bette and Joan: The Divine Feud" revealed that Davis once had good things to say about her daughter. While rehearsing for "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Davis complimented Hyman.
However, it seems the compliments only came when she was talking to other people and not her daughter. In the book, the star said her daughter had a great body and face and was also smart.
BETTE'S REACTION TO THE BOOK
Besides the claims mentioned above by Hyman, her book also alleged that the actress had been abusive to her grandchildren too. Hyman's step-father Gary Merrill publicly denounced the memoir.
The mother [Bette Davis] and daughter [Barbara Hyman] duo remained estranged until Davis’ death in 1989.
Davis refused to talk about it, and according to a 2017 People article, she never forgave her eldest daughter. The book pretty much sparked the feud between mother and daughter that carried on even after Davis' death.
CUTTING DAUGHTERS OFF
In 1989, it was reported that Davis had cut daughters Hyman and Margot out of her will. Instead, the late star allegedly left her riches and estate to her son, Michael, and her trusted assistant, who took her as a mother.
Even her two grandsons, Ashley and Justin, received nothing from the late actress. Before she died, Davis wrote a response to her daughter's book in 1987, called "This 'n' That," where she claimed to be the victim.
The mother-and-daughter duo remained estranged until Davis died in 1989. Before she passed, the actress was informed that her cancer that had been in remission for five years had returned, and she had days to live.
She called her son and lawyer, Harold, but had not forgiven Hyman before her death. In fact, Davis never reached out to her. The late star died on October 6, 1989, aged 81, with Sermak holding her hand.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. Other international suicide helplines can be found at befrienders.org.
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