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

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Bette Davis in the "Dark Secret of Harvest Home"

I know it seemed that I had gone the way of the Carlotta portrait, but I am not tragically missing- just tragically busy. I do sincerely apologize for not posting sooner. Fear not, though- while I may not have been posting about the Art of Film, I certainly was thinking about so hopefully my posts will continue to entertain.

Today's post is dedicated to John Stewart, the art of the piece on which I wanted to focus. As a little background, John is a California artist who worked in Hollywood for years and years. I actually met him through his comments on my blog and he's provided valuable feedback and insight into the world of artist who work for the movies or television. John is an accomplished artist of his own right, I really enjoy his blog  "A Drawing Per Day" and I hope you are encouraged to do so as well.
A few weeks ago, John sent me some pictures of his work and one piece in particular fascinated me. It was a portrait of the legendary Bette Davis commissioned for the 1978 TV mini-series, "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home," based on a bestselling horror book. As you probably know, I am no horror fan, so I haven't seen it and have absolutely no intention of doing so. From a quick google search, I found out that "Harvest Home" is about neo-paganism in a small country town- pretty creepy stuff. But even if I can't appreciate (or even view) the show without nightmares, I can appreciate the art.
John left this comment, which I'm going to use, because it sums up the story of the painting better than anything I could write.

"Early on in my career as a film artist (in 1977) I got an assignment to do a portrait of Bette for a mini-series called "Harvest Home" or "The Dark Secret of Harvest Home". I got to meet her and sat in her dressing room, sketching her and conversing with her. She told me about all of the famous artists who had done portraits of her, which made me even more nervous than I was already. She was smoking, which didn't bother me because I was a smoker too. I finally decided to take some photos and return to my hotel art studio. The assignment became huge and I did up to 60 drawings and 2 oil portraits, (even did one of Rossana Arquette) and was on location for 9 weeks. Quite an adventure...."
-(John N. Stewart) 

Bette Davis is absolutely one of my favorite stars and the idea that anyone that I am even in distantly connected with met her is tremendously exciting for me. I would have loved to be a fly on that hotel room's wall. I've always wondered whether the movie-commissioned paintings are done from life or photograph, and it makes me very happy to know that (in some cases, at least) they allow the artist to meet and bond with the stars. I can only imagine the plethora of stories that artists such as John can share. 

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