View Full Version : Did she really say that?

Don Draper
02-03-2010, 11:28 AM
After watching a couple of old Bette Davis films, a friend & I were talking about Bette and her nemesis Joan Crawford. We recalled the infamous story about what Davis said on the "Tonight Show" about Crawford soon after her death:

"My mama always told me to say nothing but good about the dead. Well she's dead. GOOD!"

But the thing is, I can't find an actual clip of her saying this, on youtube or hulu or several other sites. I would have imagined that it would be available somewhere, given how notorious the incident was. I've heard several people claim that they've seen it, but even in this day & age of internet search engines I can't locate it. The fact that it's unavailable leads me to suspect that this may be an urban legend, or wildly conflated story (like Zsa Zsa inviting Carson to 'pet her pussy.') But on the other hand, Snopes doesn't refute the story either. Does anyone have an actual link to a clip of it? Just wondering.

Feel free to chime in on any other bits of pop lore that you feel might be of dubious veracity.

02-03-2010, 12:06 PM
I don't have much light to shed on whether Davis actually said that or not, but I wouldn't put too much weight on the absence of You-Tube clips as evidence she did not. There are lots of holes in television history.

It's a relatively recent phenomenon that absolutely everything that gets shown on TV is saved and easily available for online viewing. Videotape used to be prohibitively expensive, and tapes were often re-used to save money. Once upon a time, shows that were broadcast live (as the Tonight Show used to be) were sometimes not even recorded at all.

I realize 1977 (the year of Crawford's death) doesn't exactly count as the Early Days of Television, but even then I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if not every Tonight Show from that era still exists, and those that do are likely to be closely guarded by NBC or whoever else owns them.

That said, I hope you do get a definitive answer to your question! :)

02-05-2010, 03:36 AM
Virtually all episodes of The Tonight Show exist on videotape after 1972; in fact, you can even order a copy of a particular episode (for an arm and a leg) from Carson's production company.

I wouldn't be surprised if the line originated in the act one of the drag artists who impersonated Bette Davis, like Charles Pierce.

02-05-2010, 03:55 AM
Here are summaries of Davis' three appearances on The Tonight Show after Crawford's death in 1977.

Feb. 9, 1983:BETTE DAVIS - She gives Johnny a red rose, talks about her album, 'Miss Bette Davis Sings', first time she sang in a film, her being self-critical, doing a movie with Jimmy Stewart, the old contract system for actors and studios, and quality of many made-for-television movies.

May 22, 1986:BETTE DAVIS - Talks about her dress that was made by Nolan Miller, recieving the Legion of Honor Medal in France and brings it out. (She talks non stop) Johnny says 'don't tell me you have your own talk show too' referring to Joan Rivers leaving the Tonight Show as guest host. Her Oscars. Shows early publicity still of her as a feature player, Marriage, nudity. Lines that have been attributed to her that she never said. Pictures in which she wished she had won Oscars for, pictures she was not happy about, falling in love with directors, shows picture of her with her mother at a movie premiere in 1931, Ronald Reagan, she says she hopes Ronald Reagan becoming President does not encourage other actors to get into politics, says she's having a great time doing the show (very charming). Marriage, giving up her virginity

Jan. 7, 1988:BETTE DAVIS - receives a long ovation. She compliments Johnny on the monologue and congratulates him on his new marriage. Talks about alimony, a New Year's Eve party, dislikes champagne (Johnny adds it makes him 'fart', which is garbled for broadcast), story about Queen Victoria; similarities with Johnny (e.g., mutual efforts to quit smoking); Johnny shows two photos of Bette receiving honors; Kennedy Center Award, she wrote in herself after 8-10 years of voting but not getting nominated; Ronald Reagan, her new film THE WHALES OF AUGUST, Lillian Gish, Faye Dunaway, and her superstitious nature.

02-05-2010, 04:19 AM
Peter Jones, the writer-director of the 2006 TCM documentary Stardust: The Bette Davis Story, said in an interview on National Public Radio (http://npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5357106) that he was unable to find the source of that quip.

The 1999 obituary of drag artist Charles Pierce in The Independent (London) said that it was his line.

02-05-2010, 09:17 AM
It totally sounds like something Pierce would have said; absolutely not Davis herself.

02-05-2010, 01:15 PM
I had never heard of that particular supposed exchange, but have always heard about the long-standing bitterness between them. Made me think: are Angelina and Jennifer the new Joan and Bette?

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