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Bette Davis Honored by Film Society of Lincoln Center

April 25, 1989

NEW YORK (AP) _ Bette Davis slapped James Cagney and Henry Fonda, shook Miriam Hopkins, yelled at several leading men and shot one.

And between these film clips shown at a Film Society of Lincoln Center tribute on Monday night, several people who worked with Miss Davis praised her for her artistry and versatility.

″Working with Bette Davis was as happy and rewarding as any experience I’ve ever had. Barring grand opera I can’t think of anything beyond her range,″ said Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed the 1950 movie ″All About Eve.″

Ann-Margret, Geraldine Fitzgerald and James Stewart also spoke in honor of Miss Davis during the program at Avery Fisher Hall.

The actress herself, who spoke last, proved that she still has verve and the ability to respond to the moment.

″I had hoped one day someone would, on one of my award evenings,″ she began, and was interrupted by laughter. ″Are you laughing, thinking I’m bragging?″ she asked, then continued, ″would show not only clips from my most well-known films but would include scenes from my earliest films.″

That was done, as a scene from the first of Miss Davis’ more than 80 movies was shown. In the brief clip from 1931′s ″Bad Sister,″ Conrad Nagel came in while Miss Davis was powdering a modestly diapered baby, kissed her and exited.

Two of the speakers mentioned being warned by others that Miss Davis could be selfish. Mankiewicz said other writers and directors predicted he and the star would have a disastrous head-on collision.

″Directors said, ’She will rewrite and she, not you, will direct.‴ They were wrong, Mankiewicz said.

Geraldine Fitzgerald, who appeared with Miss Davis in ″Dark Victory″ in 1939, said she’d been given advice by New York theater friends.

″They said, ‘She’ll turn you around so the camera can only see your ear. If the set has a lot of furniture, try holding onto something.’

″For the first two or three days I tried to do that. I found she was always sure I was properly lighted; she was wonderfully kind and thoughtful, so I stopped. Afrerwards she said she thought they’d got somebody who was raving mad. We became good friends and stayed that way.″

James Stewart acted with Miss Davis once, in ″Right of Way,″ made for TV in 1983. ″I jumped at the chance,″ Stewart said. ″From the first day, it felt just great to be there with Bette on the set and watch the way this wonderful actress works. I consider myself very fortunate to have worked with this woman I love and admire. It means a lot to me to be here tonight.″

Ann-Margret’s first film role, at age 18, was as Miss Davis’ daughter in the 1961 ″Pocketful of Miracles.″ Ann-Margret said, ″Miss Davis was so kind and so caring.

″Nobody has matched her intelligence and incredible energy. There’s nothing like watching her entering a scene with her eyes blazing, ready to stand up for herself or cut somebody else down to size.″

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