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Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  385 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
The legendary Hollywood star blazes a fiery trail in this enthralling portrait of a brilliant actress and the movies her talent elevated to greatness

She was magnificent and exasperating in equal measure. Jack Warner called her "an explosive little broad with a sharp left." Humphrey Bogart once remarked, "Unless you're very big she can knock you down." Bette Davis was a for
Hardcover, 496 pages
Published October 30th 2007 by Henry Holt and Co. (first published October 1st 2007)
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This 'n That by Bette DavisThe Lonely Life by Bette Davis"I'd Love to Kiss You--" by Whitney StineDark Victory by Ed SikovThe Girl Who Walked Home Alone by Charlotte Chandler
Bette Davis Books
4th out of 9 books — 4 voters
Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter BiskindHitchcock by François TruffautPictures at a Revolution by Mark  HarrisIf Chins Could Kill by Bruce CampbellThe Great Movies by Roger Ebert
Books ABOUT Movies
155th out of 462 books — 169 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Dec 21, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Spoiler alert! Yes, she really was, by most prevailing standards, a bitch. I think my favorite anecdote from this whole book was culled from the 1960s-era recollections of a random dentist who, hearing angry shouting, ran out to his waiting area only to find Bette Davis and Tennessee Williams ripping each other a new one to the shock and (perhaps) awe of a roomful of the dentally afflicted. She had earlier appeared in a stage production of his The Night of the Iguana—playing that one character A ...more
Ed Sikov
Sep 11, 2011 Ed Sikov rated it it was amazing
To all of you who got the point: thanks!
To those of you who thought it was too gay: you've got to be kidding. There's really very little on that subject.
To those of you who hated it: kiss my raves in the NYTimes and Washington Post.
Rebecca McNutt
There have always been stories about legendary film star Bette Davis, some of them good, some of them not so good. From her roles in timeless movies such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane to Pocketful of Miracles to Burnt Offerings, she's undoubtedly an actress who has left an impression on the filmmaking world forever. Dark Victory is one of the few books that doesn't sugarcoat her life, but it tells the truth about a genuinely talented and glamorous but possibly troubled individual.
Apr 18, 2008 J.P. rated it it was amazing
Delicious. A gushy portrait of one of our greatest movie stars that doesn't shy away from showing how much of a pain in the ass she could often be.
Nov 11, 2007 CLM marked it as to-read
Shelves: biography-memoir
As Charles Matthews wrote in a recent review, "The moment she drawled, "I'd like to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair" in the 1932 film "Cabin in the Cotton," Bette Davis became two things: a movie star and an icon of camp. She would remain both for the next 57 years of her life. And beyond.

When a star is so easily caricatured, as Davis is by everyone from cartoonists to drag queens, the task of the biographer is to locate the person behind the distortions. In his smart, witty new biography, E
C.S. Burrough
Jun 21, 2014 C.S. Burrough rated it really liked it
Recommended to C.S. by: Anyone
As a woman she was renowned for being earthier than her professional nemesis Joan Crawford and boasted of that, making her perhaps the more arrogant of the two yet no less adorable.

I've read five Bette Davis biographies and find it impossible to rate one higher than the others. Inescapably, many details are rehashed across all of them. This one I liked, not much more or less than the others I've read. However, if I were recommending which ones to include in your coverage (there are so many), th
Charles Matthews
Dec 07, 2009 Charles Matthews rated it really liked it
This review originally ran in the Washington Post Book World:

The moment she drawled “I’d like to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair” in the 1932 film “Cabin in the Cotton,” Bette Davis became two things: a movie star and an icon of camp. She would remain both for the next 57 years of her life. And beyond.

When a star is so easily caricatured, as Davis was by everyone from cartoonists to drag queens, the task of the biographer is to locate the person behind the distortions. In his smart, witty n
Celine Godfrey
Jul 05, 2016 Celine Godfrey rated it really liked it
I've read many many bios of the stars of old Hollywood. I love the gossip, the movies, the fantasy lifestyle, the personal problems, the addictions, the personalities and the incestuous nature of it all. This bio is probably the best of the Bette Davis ones. It doesn't paint the picture that the Hollywood publicity offices did. It shows her warts and all as a control freak, a drinker, a perfectionist, a shrew, rude, attention seeking but also explains perhaps why she exercised these traits. ...more
 Candice =^,,^=
Jun 22, 2012 Candice =^,,^= rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed
This book chronicles Bette Davis's rise to fame. The first half of the book goes through her movies one by one ,and tells you how she got to be in that movie,who her co-stars were and her many disagreements with just about every director or co-star she had. It also tells us about her many affairs she had and she could be a true Bitch on the set. I was really surprised with all the confrontations and her total bitchiness on set and how the managed to getting cast in as many movies as she did. I ...more
Jul 08, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Fans of Old Hollywood, Film, Actresses
Recommended to Sarah by: Amazon.Ca
Shelves: biography
Towards the end of this novel, fans (or newcomers) into the life of Bette Davis, will either loathe, or admire her. The woman, the legend, the myth. The author, Sikov, paints an objective, yet opinionated tale on the life of one of the world's greatest actresses, who made films, on her time, and by choice.

Making it in Hollywood when a film studio basically made you sign your soul on the dotted line, Bette's preserverence and talent is a tribute to her fiesty attitude. She chose roles that suite
Aug 09, 2014 Diane rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-stories
I once read a biography of Bette Davis when I was in high school and I loved it. I found her extremely interesting, but I didn't have a chance to watch many of her movies. Now things are different. I have seen several of her films, including my favorites - "Deception," "The Bride Came C.O.D.," and "The Man Who Came to Dinner." When I came across this book, "Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis," I saw a way to update my knowledge of this great actress - and I learned a lot.

For one thing, eithe
Aug 29, 2015 Kevin rated it it was amazing
The biggest surprise of Sikov's perceptive and superbly written new Bette Davis biography is that there are still fascinating details to be discovered after more than a dozen full-length biographies have been devoted to her since her 1989 death.

Sikov (On Sunset Boulevard) follows the volatile actress's long career, specifying how her insecurities and craving for love propelled her into the dueling self-medications of liquor and acting. Even she didn't seem to understand the anger that drove her
Ashanti Miller
Dec 26, 2012 Ashanti Miller rated it it was amazing
I not only loved this book--I took notes! I liked how Sikov concentrated on Bette's career rather than her scandals, therefore yeilding a lot of useful career advice. The book's tenets are: directors and money people aren't interested in working with people they aren't interested in sleeping with, know when you are exepreinced enough for management, for studios do fire long toothed functionaries and know and oblige your audience and prepare for changes your demographic! Bette's fandom expanded ...more
Christine Sinclair
May 14, 2014 Christine Sinclair rated it liked it
There was one major flaw in this biography. It wasn't told in straight chronological order, which I found distracting. Other than that, I thought it was entertaining, informative and well-researched. I especially liked the discussion about Miss Davis's daughter B.D.'s hateful tell-all book, written out of spite (and for the money) before her mother passed away. Her excuse? "After I found the Lord, I wanted my mother to go to heaven, and to do that, she had to change. My book was meant to make ...more
Jan 28, 2013 Peter rated it really liked it
This is the first biography I've read since high school and I have to say I found it thoroughly enjoyable. Although it may be hard to believe, Bette Davis was a bitch, but she was a very talented one. This book does a great job of chronicling her expansive filmography while giving a few tips on films not to miss. It's also one of the few stories of someone who wasn't nice for the sake of popularity, and yet accomplished her goals while remaining likable to the reader. It would have been 5 stars ...more
Apr 10, 2013 kabukigal rated it really liked it
Excellent biography. The author uses varied sources to present conflicting but ultimately revealing views of Davis' life --including Davis' own words --to present a vivid account of the life of a great actress and star of the Hollywood firmament. In a vocation that spits out women over 40, Davis' tenacity and personality defeat those odds --never stopping work for long until her death at the age of 81. That said, her fighting spirit is so unrelenting and self-destructive that it demolishes most ...more
Apr 18, 2013 Kimberly rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Mr. Sikov did a great job detailing Bette's movies and the production of them, but I was disappointing in how little he described her personal life. I would have preferred more intimate details about Bette herself. Some of the book is a bit choppy, Sikov bounces around a bit from one topic to another and then back again, this seemed to get noticeably worse as the book progressed. All in all, it was a good book, but I would have preferred more meat on the bone as far as Bette's personal life ...more
Jun 21, 2008 Judy rated it liked it
Recommends it for: fans of classic Hollywood
I like the fact that Sikov mainly focuses on Davis as an actress, rather than including too much gossip - although her erratic behaviour, drinking and troubled relationships are still covered.
I enjoyed the first half or so of the book, with detailed discussions of Davis' great movies from the 1930s and 40s, very much, but wasn't quite so keen on the later sections, probably because the films she made in later life weren't so interesting! I've seen quite a lot of Bette's movies this year (her ce
May 14, 2008 Beli_grrl rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: cinephiles
Thorough and sympathetic overview of Ms. Davis's life and career. He does not gloss over her imperfections and he makes it clear that she had a beastly temper and was prone to tantrums and scenes. But he doesn't pass judgment on her. He emphasizes her dedication to her craft more than anything. Not much dishing on her love life or feuds; these are given minimal discussion. Classy approach, but might have been a more fun read if there was more of the dirt.
Mar 16, 2008 Rachel rated it it was ok
Early Hollywood movie stars, another passion of mine. I expected this book to be better than it was, or at least as fascinating as its subject, but it was little more than a rehash of things already written and reviews and descriptions of almost every one of her movies. If I wanted to know about her movies I'd watch them. Also the thirty or so footnotes per chapter became increasingly distracting and annoying. It made me as bitchy as Davis.
Jun 28, 2008 Karen rated it liked it
An entertaining biography, peppered with observations from a distinctly (and occasionally jarringly) gay perspective. Davis could be charming and clever and certainly talented, but she sounds like hell on wheels to work with -- a frequently irrational and prickly character who grew less lovable with age. As usual with show biz bios, the last third became a bit depressing and I started to skim, ready for death to provide the final fade-out.
Jul 07, 2008 Jennifer rated it it was ok
i couldn't finish this book due to all the minutia on the films of bette davis. it's quite thorough i will give it that. but i much would have rather read a bit more about her personal life and a bit less about every single argument she had with every single director she worked with on the set. it did inspire me to watch more of her films though.
Dec 10, 2008 Silverspringsrr rated it really liked it
While James Spada's biography of Davis remains definitive, this one is among the stronger of the Bette books. I found myself rolling my eyes more than a few times at Sikov's over-the-top exploration into Davis' gay fans, and her final years warrant more pages than they receive here, but overall, a first-class job.
Aug 31, 2008 Gail rated it liked it
well done biography, but nothing new to add to the others out there that I have read. Not as good as "The Girl Who Walked Home Alone." Nonetheless - Bette Davis is always fascinating!
Apr 25, 2010 Marilou rated it it was ok
Have not totally given up on this, but am close. The author spends endless amounts of times summarizing the plots to all of Davis' movies and also spends too much time discussing the making of them and not enough on her -- what she was really like, what went on in her marriages, etc. He has made Bette Davis boring and I suppose that is an accomplishment of some kind.
May 04, 2016 Gort rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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Mar 10, 2011 Rachael rated it liked it
"The Girl Who Walked Home Alone" was a much better bio of her. This one was very much geared to the "Queens" it so often mentioned.
Sep 15, 2012 Tracie rated it liked it
This was the first book I had read about Bette Davis. Learned a lot of things about her!! Looking forward to reading a few other books about her.
Jan 04, 2012 lindsay rated it it was ok
Eh, I guess I just don't particularly care for biographies. I like Bette Davis films a lot; I don't really need someone else to tell me why he likes them.
Mar 28, 2009 Kathy rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
REading this for a book club and I know I won't finish it. Do not particularly care for the author's style and woe is me Bette Davis attitude.
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