Monday, August 25, 2014

Bette Davis as Sarah Siddons in the Pageant of the Masters

I was looking through my files the other day and I came across a very interesting picture that I meant to post months ago because it applies to one of my earliest posts. It's a picture of Bette Davis dressed up as the legendary 18th century actress Sarah Siddons. If you remember my post, "The All About Eve Sarah Siddons Award," the 1784 Revnolds portrait of Siddons was a repeated motif in the classic Bette Davis film. It shaped the design of the actual (fictional) award that serves as the flashback moment for the whole film. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised to find Bette once again associated with the film.
I started doing a little research. Why was Bette dressed up as Sarah Siddons? Why was she recreating the portrait? And where or when did this happen? I was lucky to find the answers from the Festival of the Arts of Laguna Beach.

Every year, the Festival of the Arts hosts a legendary "Pageant of the Masters," where famous paintings and works of art are created in incredibly detailed tableaux. The Pageant started in the early 1930s and became a hugely popular element of the annual arts festival. Each year, it became more impressive and ambitious in its scope and, to this day, it continues to produce incredibly beautiful "living" works of art.

Still, this doesn't explain how Bette Davis got involved with it. According to the FOA's website (see links below), the organizer of the Festival was neighbors with Bette and got her to sign up for the 1957 festival. Of course, in 1957, Bette's name would have drawn huge crowds and she was scheduled to be the opening act. She was planning on recreating the famous Reynolds painting of Siddons as the tragic muse. According to the Festival's website, Bette even was drafted into cleaning and prep work, which, true to her Yankee roots, she obliged to do. Unfortunately, she got an injury last minute and was not able to perform, much to posterity's chagrin.

Their blip on Bette Davis is a short one and doesn't explain why she selected that particular painting. After all, it was featured extensively in her blockbuster film, All About Eve. I don't know whether she or the organizers chose that painting. I do know however, that, when it comes to the arts in film, I don't believe in coincidence. Of course, if Bette selected it, it would suggest that she held more than a little admiration to the great tragic actress. I doubt Bette Davis would deign to imitate anyone she didn't highly admire. The picture must have been from a dress rehearsal of the pageant, which explains why a higher quality picture (aka, one without the makeup team) doesn't exist. The repeated Siddons motif would suggest more than a mere repeated visual motif, it would suggest an acting inspiration for one of the greatest actresses that has graced the American screen.

"Hollywood Goes to the Pageant" on the Festival of the Arts of Laguna Beach website

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