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Stage Fright? Bette Davis Says, Hush, Hush, Josh Logan

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He detailed Marlon Brando’s fondness for geisha girls. He put down Actors Studio guru Lee Strasberg as “smug and pedantic.” Garbo came off as awkward as “a 14-year-old boy.” Truman Capote was described as “dogged, ruthless, devious and driven.” But of all the dramatis personae of director Josh Logan’s new volume of memoirs, Movie Stars, Real People, and Me, only Bette Davis has taken public offense and alerted her attorney.

Davis starred in Logan’s 1974 musical Miss Moffat, her role updated from the Welsh teacher she played in the 1945 movie The Corn Is Green to a Southern schoolmarm. It ran for only 13 performances in Philadelphia. The experience was not the happiest of Logan’s 31 stage productions, which have included Mister Roberts and South Pacific (for which he won a Pulitzer as co-author). As he claims in a whole chapter of the book, Bette, for all her “true brilliance,” has had a history of possibly psychosomatic absences in her legitimate theater forays over the years. Before she bowed out of Miss Moffat—with a painful back condition—Logan found her performances alternately magnificent and plagued by stage fright. On opening night she blew lines, “giddily repeated” them or was outright inaudible.

Whatever the justice of those charges, Davis responded loud and clear after advance word of the manuscript leaked out. Davis tried—unsuccessfully—to block publication by threatening to sue for “false, malicious material” that might “cause serious damage” to her career.

“How can what I wrote damage her career?” asks Logan, who, like Davis, is 70. “She’s been that way for 50 years. Why would it damage her now?” (Davis, now filming in California, for once has a “no comment” about the flap.) If Logan is hard on Bette, he has not spared himself in this book or his earlier volume, Josh, noting his father’s suicide and his own history of mental breakdowns. With his condition stabilized since 1969 by lithium treatment, Logan has been frenetically creative. He is working on a first novel (set in Louisiana where he grew up) and planning a movie to be shot in Australia (his earlier screen credits include Bus Stop and Picnic). Broadway? “I am going to do Miss Moffat again,” he vows. “I still think it’s a great show.” Whom would he cast in the lead? “Mercedes McCambridge or Jean Stapleton, or lots of other people.” As for Bette herself, she has announced: “I will never go on the stage again as long as I live.”