vivBette Davis in Jezebel

Today is Bette Davis’ 103rd birthday– here’s a letter to the editor of a fan magazine from June 1940:

I was extremely disappointed to learn that Vivien Leigh, not Bette Davis, was the recipient of this year’s Academy Award. What right had they to give the “Oscar” to a star who has had only one great picture to back her? Hasn’t Miss Leigh been in pictures before this “GWTW” epic? And hasn’t she just been “among those present” as far as the fans were concerned? Did she ever attract any attention before they thought she looked the way Scarlett O’Hara should look? It isn’t fair that Miss Davis be de-throned by a star who was lucky enough to get the most talked about role in all movie history. Furthermore, Bette could have acted that part just as convincingly.

Physically speaking, Bette isn’t as much Scarlett as is Vivien Leigh, but that doesn’t say she couldn’t have handled the role just as well or better. Look at what she did with “Elizabeth” and “The Old Maid”! She didn’t look like either of them, either, but did we ever give that a thought?

I don’t dislike Vivien at all. She was grand in “Gone with the Wind.” We cannot, however, adjudge her worthy of that most coveted award just on the strength of one picture. The other choices were perfectly satisfactory. I did think Clark Gable would get one for his 18 carat Rhett, but then Robert Donat was just as good in “Goodbye, Mr. Chips”. All in all, it was a pretty fair outcome, and the “best of everything to the winners.” ~Jane Brennan, Beverly, New Jersey

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Bette Davis was very vocal in her desire to play Scarlett and begged Jack Warner, head of her studio at Warner Brothers, to buy the rights for her. She still thought she had a chance after Warner passed on it but when David Selznick was briefly considering her, Warner said he couldn’t have her unless he took  Warner property Errol Flynn as Rhett as well. Selznick refused, since he had his heart set on a certain other mustached fellow for Rhett, thus crushing Bette’s chances. To be fair, Bette did get to star as a different bratty Civil War era Southern belle in Jezebel, as a bit of a consolation prize. And she won an Oscar for the role, the year before Vivien did. So even though she lost out to Vivien the following year (Bette was nominated for her excellent turn in Dark Victory), she had two Oscars on her mantlepiece already (Bette also won in 1934 for Dangerous). So is there really a reason to complain, Miss Brennan?