My Mother's Keeper.



Review:  out of 10 
Context:
out of 10

Synopsis
     as provided on book:
    'My Mother's Keeper' is a uniquely intimate and candid portrait of the private life of one of the world's greatest actresses - the incomparable Bette Davis - by the only person who could have written it - her daughter B.D. Hyman. This is the fascinating story of growing up with a mother whose family roles were as startling as anything she played on the cinema screen.
    In Hyman's description of a complicated mother-daughter relationship, we see the personality that made Bette Davis a living legend: struggling through a violent marriage with Gary Merrill, dueling with Joan Crawford on the set on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, advising her happily married daughter that 'An affair now and then is good for a marriage...I ought to know'. We see the famous actress beset by private demons, obsessively attached to her only natural child, ruling household, family and friends with the same capricious strength that brought her to the pinnacle of her profession. But even when touching on the most difficult aspects of their relationship, Hyman writes out of a constant attempt to reach the real woman, portraying her mother with perplexed affection and fierce honesty.
Here is Bette Davis, world-famous movie-star - in real life more regal than Elizabeth I, more tempestuous than Jezebel, as enthralling as in any of her classic roles.

Review  
    Fans of Bette Davis may be somewhat disgruntled to see me giving this book any bunnies at all, but it is reasonably well written, interesting reading and as a result I have some sympathy for BD Hyman. The narrative flows, with a strong narrative voice and is even humorous in places. To be honest with you, nothing Hyman accused Davis of came as a great shock. I think it is clear to any Davis fan that she had a compulsive personality (Davis admitted it herself) and liked to fight.
I think Davis wanted the sort of love from BD that Bette had given to her own Mother. I think she believed in her own mind that she made the same sacrifices for BD, that is working her butt off to provide for her.  Unfortunately, in the book, I don't think Hyman has made an effort to understand the pressures and demands made on Davis, much like Christina Crawford she chooses to focus on what she feels are her Mother's shortcomings. Davis was, at a very young age, the breadwinner of the family of three that included herself, her Mother and Bobby. Things stayed that way for the rest of her life, Davis was even expected to have incredibly deep pockets to provide the funeral her mother wished for, which she did. In addition to the three of them, Davis also became financially responsible for her 3 children. None of this touches Hyman, who, instead presents her Gran and Auntie Bobby as other victims of the tyrannical Bette. With most things in life there are two sides to a story.
Certain aspects of BD's childhood were unacceptable. Divorce is hard on children and no child should have to endure witnessing a violent relationship, and these claims regarding BD's childhood are upheld by other sources. However, no parent is perfect and Hyman does herself no favours with the inclusion of minor irritants, for example when BD won at gymkhanas Davis insisting on wearing the rosettes rather than letting BD wear them herself, I do understand Hyman's desire to justify her exasperation with her mother but really this is not abusive and does undermine Hyman's point as it comes across as incredibly whiny.
 
Rossettes!
This whiny attitude is also due, in part, to the narrative style, there is a certain amount of over telling and at points, particularly towards the end BD just bangs on with her opinion. I found myself thinking 'alright I get it! Move on!'. I also found myself wondering why BD chose to leave her children (for prolonged periods) with a woman she labels a tyrant.
In addition there is a huge problem in the fact that Hyman's story was published after Davis's illness, the post stroke Davis on TV whilst still described as 'formidable' looks so tiny and frail, it is very hard to get past the idea that BD Hyman is kicking a frail old lady while she is down. If you can get past that, this is an interesting source and whilst it may not be fashionable I do have some respect for BD Hyman. I feel she has been honest but poorly advised.
This is an interesting read and the pictures are great, it is also evocative of a bygone era, Amazon have got numerous copies at under £2 and it's a bargain.

Context:
   In a nutshell I believe B.D. Hyman, I think the re-telling is somewhat skewed by a desire to reveal the 'bad' side of Davis in the book (and Hyman loses a bunny). But it is unfortunate that BD Hyman is tarred by the same brush that gave Christina Crawford the tarring she (I feel) actually deserved.  Most of what is written by BD Hyman is fully supported by known fact and she gains a couple of bunnies for the photographs, all of them candid, and of the Bette Davis the public didn't really get to see.
BD is at pains to tell us she knows her mother loved her and I think most people who malign the book do not realise the culpability of others, for example, according to Hyman, Davis's lawyer Harold Schiff was a constant thorn in her side, Hyman's misery was not just due to Davis.
Most Bette Davis fans declare that Hyman wrote the book assuming Davis would not survive cancer and the stroke she suffered. As my first edition copy of the book includes BD's description of Bette's illness, fight and recovery, I do not believe this to be the case, in addition her brother Michael reveals that BD felt she had to write the book. So I have to conclude that BD Hyman has been treated harshly, even those sources which appear at first to be offering a fair representation are usually heavily biased. For example this video shared by Siouxzan at myspace:

Whatever Happen to Bette Davis's Daughter?

Siouxzan | MySpace Video

I find it interesting that none of the main players (Michael, Katherine, Schiff etc) have actually come forward to dispute any of the anecdotal evidence. Whilst fans of Davis may state that those not close to the family but present at certain events, saw nothing wrong, family members have not offered an alternative representation of BD's version. Particularly of Davis's relationship with Margot and family holidays. One question stays with me though, how can a book be fair when the writer has such disdain for their subject? BD makes no effort to examine her own behaviour towards her mother, which in places seems distant and harsh. In addition, her behaviour in places does seem somewhat provocative, "whenever we had been anywhere..and the other people...impressed her, she had behaved properly...We were delighted with our discoveries and filed the new data for future use". Bette Davis was not a fool, she must have known on some level that she was neither particularly welcome nor liked, and as BD seems unaware that their attitudes towards Bette could be hurtful, I have to wonder what is not told in the book.  Because of this and the fact that 'nice' times are glossed over, for example: "we entered a comparatively peaceful period in our relations with Mother that was to continue for two and a half years." then we promptly skip forward two and a half years. I have to deduct a couple of bunnies from the context rating. This is no reflection on Hyman's believability but rather, bound to happen with such a personal account. Hyman also loses in context for the aforementioned failure to acknowledge the pressures placed on Davis. All in all a representation of Davis that when put into context with all the plaudits and praise that have been presented over the years does help us to understand Bette Davis the human being  
               

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