Technicolor Bette Davis by François Gragnon

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Bette Davis at the 16th Cannes Film Festival, 1963
Bette Davis at the 16th Cannes Film Festival, 1963Photography by François Gragnon, Courtesy of Paris Match

Hollywood legend Bette Davis wins the Loves vote, smouldering (literally) at Cannes Film Festival 1963

In 1999, the American Film Institute voted Bette Davis the second greatest female screen legend of all time. It seems in keeping with the life and attitude of this cinematic icon that she would be pipped to the post, because despite being laden with acclaim and awards throughout her career – including two Academy Awards for Best Actress – her life played out in difficult chapters, as full of misadventure, missed opportunities, faded glory and disappointment as with Hollywood glory. Much of the reason for this is exuded in this week’s most loved post, a photograph of a 55-year-old Bette at Cannes Film Festival, loved by Dal Chodha.

Captured by photographer François Gragnon complete with ubiquitous cigarette, radiating – behind her fearsome cat’s eye glasses – what could either be charm or contempt for the faceless man behind her, there is a real sense of a woman who could capture hearts on screen while stamping sternly on them behind the scenes. Her career was truly a rollercoaster – marked with enormous success and global fame, and personal tragedy. She was married four times, losing one husband to a stroke, and the others to divorce; her daughter wrote a bitter and largely discredited memoir describing maternal brutality and drunkenness, and at many points the film industry turned its back on her. Yet her performances, from the vicious slattern Mildred in Of Human Bondage to the deranged former child star Baby Jane, live on, as do her infamous one-liners.

Here we celebrate this true screen maven in fitting form, discussing Oscar acceptance speeches and one liners with Loves winner Chodha. As Bette herself would say, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."

Why did you love this shot of Bette Davis?
I love anything that is rich, opulent Technicolor. I love Bette’s pose, her clothes and her hair. I love the blue lenses of her cat-eye glasses, the shadows on the napkin, the pale orange of that sauce on the table and the glint of that shiny red nail. I love it all. It is glossy and splashy. 

Where would you keep it if you owned it?
Without doubt it would sit in a shiny black frame with an off-white mount. I would rest it on a shelf in the bathroom because to me, the photograph represents the virtues of good grooming. 

What is your favourite Bette Davis cinematic moment?
Of course I am meant to say What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? but I won’t. I am particularly drawn to the 1978, John Guillermin adaptation of Death on the Nile. Not only does it have a ridiculous cast (Mia Farrow! Maggie Smith! David Niven! Jane Birkin! Angela Lansbury!) but Bette playing the wealthy kleptomaniac Marie Van Schuyler is equal to Jane Hudson in Baby Jane only with finer accessories. 

If you could play a role in one of her films, which would it be and why?
I would love to play her manservant in The Letter, who recognises the man she shoots dead at the beginning of the film, on a sultry moonlit night. Without me, nothing would really happen. 

Bette was known for her one-liners - what is your favourite one liner in film history?
"No Sale." – Butterfield 8

Who would you thank in your Oscar acceptance speech?
It would depend on what I was being awarded. But as a rule of thumb you can’t go wrong with acknowledging the last five people you have sent a WhatsApp message to. 

What are you looking forward to about spring?
People will hopefully stop thinking I am misguided for having bare ankles and the latest issue of Archivist. 

What was the last thing you bought?
Stolen Glances: Lesbian Photography Anthology, published in 1991 and an ostrich feather duster by HAY.