The Last Days of Bette Davis (a complete fabrication)

“I don’t want anyone sending money to any little charity instead of flowers. I want millions of flowers… I want everyone to weep. Copiously.”

Bette Davis

What’s it about?

It is 1989, and Bette Davis is on her death bed in Paris. Recognising that she may be remembered as a chain-smoking caricature or, worse, an abusive mother, she decides to spend her final days recording and cataloguing her every remaining moment. Unfortunately, she’s experiencing hallucinatory visits from a Bette Davis drag queen, finds herself caught in a time loop with her religious fanatic daughter, and is being nursed by a French existentialist. The only one who can really help her is her trustworthy assistant, Kathryn, but even she’s caught up in her own Halloween obsession. It’ll be up to Bette herself to truly determine what her final legacy will be.

Production History

This play was first started while I was part of the Australian Theatre for Young People’s Fresh Ink Emerging Writers’ group in 2009. I was mentored by playwrights Lally Katz and Lachlan Philpott, and a ten-minute version of this script received a rehearsed reading in Sydney. The reading featured Diana McLean, Dashiel Hanoush and Jennifer Williams, and was directed by Lachlan Philpott. In the last couple of years, it has been reworked into a longer piece, and has had some informal development, and a rehearsed reading with Antipodes Theatre. This reading was produced and directed by Brandon Pape, and featured Caroline Lee, Kinloch Anstiss, Katrina Mathers, Melissa David, John Voce and Rebecca Morton.

An Excerpt

Bette has just been told she has only days to live, and is still coping with this concept. Her assistant, Kathryn, is by her side in the hospital.

KATHRYN: Miss D… if you really feel like putting everything to rest, then perhaps we could call … her.

BETTE: I beg your pardon?

KATHRYN: Just to let her know…

BETTE: Screw her. Screw both of you!

KATHRYN: She may just… recognise her mistakes.

BETTE: Nothing but bible bashing Jesus freaks.

KATHRYN: Miss D, there are times to be stubborn and there’s time –

BETTE: What? Times to admit that you’re pissing blood, your stomach’s rotted, and while you’re laying there with your stinging bed sores, overcome by shame and without a shred of dignity, then it’s time to call that ‘loved one’ and beg them to please, get up off their warm couch and away from their cosy little dinner, and to please, please, love you? Is that what your little fucking brain was trying to say?

I need the bathroom.

KATHRYN: (going to help) Miss D, I’m sorry.

BETTE: Get offa me!

KATHRYN: Do you want morphine?

BETTE: No! Vantage filters. Matches. A glass of scotch. See if the chef knows how to make a good steak, and tell him to lay the sauce on thick. That’s about all you can be trusted with, Kathryn.

And get that fucking vase for my flowers.

All of a sudden, Bette collapses on the floor.

KATHRYN: Miss D! Miss D?!  (She buzzes for a nurse) Aidez-moi! Urgence! Infirmière?

She exits in a panic.  As Bette starts to black out…

The hospital room disappears and transforms into a dazzling film set. Bette comes to, just as a figure appears to be descending from the heavens, on a giant glittery swing. It is a man dressed as the great Bette Davis herself, as MARGO CHANNING from ‘All about Eve.’ Margo holds up a martini, and a microphone to her mouth, and proclaims –

MARGO: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s…”  What the fuck is that old lady doing there? Joe?!