Before you dismiss this review thinking it is just another Hollywood biography, I encourage you to read a little further because it is so much more than this. To start with, I read this book as my mother was in declining health and, in fact, this review was delayed because of her passing. Like Bette Davis, my mother suffered debilitating strokes, and this book provided great insight into what it is like for both the stroke victim as well as the caregiver. It was so helpful to me personally to read what the author had to say as she cared for Bette Davis through that difficult time and through the end of her life. Many of you may be going through something similar and this book may be equally helpful to you to manage through these bittersweet aspects of life with love and care.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also say something about the author – Kathryn Sermak. I have worked around education and students all my life so I know how rare it is to find a student like Kathryn (that’s what she was at the time she first started to work with Miss Davis at the age of 23). She studied with Jane Goodall at UC Santa Barbara and graduated from USC after completing her senior year at the University of Madrid, and attending the Institute Catolique De Paris, and was fluent in Spanish and French because she would make the most of opportunities to travel and work abroad at such a young age. I have always admired young people that could do this – sometimes traveling with little to no money, backpacking through foreign countries, not initially able to speak the languages, trying to figure things out from one day to the next. Other than war, this seems to me to be the ultimate stress, yet individuals like Kathryn thrive on it – and it is through that they can experience so much more of life than those more timid souls like myself can.
It was these experiences that led her to work for Princess Shams Pahlave, sister of the Shah of Iran before she came to work for Miss Davis. Even as I marveled at her accomplishments at such a young age back in 1979, I knew she would be of great success in her life – and time proved me right as she has indeed accomplished a great deal since then. The book captures the story of one that was initially hired as an employee of Miss Davis at the tail end of her career and who, through the years that followed, became her closest friend – I would argue, more of a daughter, given the love between the two of them. It is a tender love story and friendship of two people that gave so much to each other – particularly through very hard times such as the publishing of the book written by Miss Davis’ daughter, and major illnesses.
It is filled with stories and beautiful and bittersweet memories of the aging actress at a time when older actresses were often discarded as compared to what opportunities avail them today. Kathryn was there to the end and fulfilled her promise to do Betty’s final makeup before she was laid to rest – detailed in a chapter that left me in absolute tears. I reflect upon the years I used to sit in darkened rooms watching Miss Davis perform in so many wonderful movies and the impact those had on me. I was actually fortunate enough to see Miss Davis in person, in Bakersfield of all places, as she gave a tour reflecting on her life and engaging with audiences around the country. She left us with so much that I am grateful that someone like Kathryn came along to give something to her that fame could not give and to write such a beautiful story in honor of her friend. I do hope you will take the opportunity to read this wonderful book.