Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Bette Davis Feuds: Round 1, Flynn

At the Warner Brothers lot it was no secret that love was not lost between Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. She thought he was a no-talent ham and he thought she was an uptight bitch. Although she had been around the acting game years longer than he had, she had to fight for equal billing in their first film together, The Sisters (1938).

Warners was willing to loan Flynn and Davis out to David O. Selznick for the roles of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind but Selznick had other plans. Instead the pair entered 1939 filming the story of Queen Elizabeth I of England and her lover, the Earl of Essex. Again set for battle over billing, Flynn wanted the title of the film to be The Knight and the Lady but Davis wouldn't hear of it and the final title was The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and this time HER name came before his on the title card. To add insult to injury during one scene the Queen is supposed to slap Essex for his insolence toward her. Davis didn't hold back and gave Flynn a wallop. You can imagine how he took that.
Feuds were no stranger to Bette Davis. In an upcoming post, I'll discuss the infamous battle between Davis and costar Miriam Hopkins.


  1. Olivia De Havilland tells a story of Bette and her and some of Bette's friends watching The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and after the movie was over Bette actually said that he was good, maybe you heard her tell the story Rupert. She might of said she was wrong about him. I can't remember the exact words. Olivia said now she wished she wrote Errol to tell him because it wasn't long after that he passed away.

  2. No, ClassicJo, I didn't know that story. I did know that Davis and deHavilland were lifelong friends. Thanks for the info.

    1. I had read and heard the same thing. She later came to realize that Flynn was more than just a pretty face and that he could act.

  3. When she was on the Dick Cavett show Bette talked about Flynn and admitted that while he would not have made a good Rhett Butler he was 'marvelous' which is to her credit. Clips of this entire interview have been posted on YouTube. Its worth watching just to see the get up she's wearing when she makes her entrance.


  4. Davis did indeed, depending on what day she was asked, go from one extreme to another regarding Flynn's performance as Essex. DeHavilland also, has charged that "Essex" was her punishment for having lobbied so strenuously to play Melanie in "Wind." Once back home at Warners, she found her name under the title and playing second string to Davis.

    All these years removed, Flynn's way of doing the role seems calculatedly smart. Against Davis's pinpoint accurate heavy dramatics, his light-footed, flip portrayal makes me imagine trying to catch a bat that got into the attic with a net.

    Whether as Robin Hood or Essex, Flynn looked like a sex machine stuffed into medieval garb, and it isn't tough to believe a virgin crowned head, while exasperated with his lack of seriousness, would still find him irresistible.

    If there's anything worth regretting about the picture, it's that Davis's insistence of losing herself into a realistic Elizabeth, denied us the chance to behold her own natural beauty in her only color film made when she was inarguably still a young woman.

  5. What a little treasure I've found tonight in this blog and all the knowledgable comments. Thank you Ru.
    ~ Darlene



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