Sunday, March 10, 2013

'Jezebel' Was Bette Davis' Show

I suspected the truth about "Jezebel" (which premiered 75 years ago today) long before I learned what the truth was.

Bette Davis, like many other famous actresses of that time, was passed over when the role of Scarlett O'Hara in "Gone With the Wind" was cast. The role of Jezebel (the character's name was Julie), I suspected, was Warner Bros.' way of making it up to her.

It was a pretty good consolation prize. William Wyler (who later directed cinema classics like "Mrs. Miniver," "The Best Years of Our Lives," "Ben–Hur" and "Ronan Holiday") was the director, and Henry Fonda and George Brent were her co–stars.

Scarlett and Julie weren't very different, I guess (other than the fact that "Gone With the Wind" was a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize winner).

Both were tough Southern gals. I have known several real–life Scarletts and Julies in my life. They were seldom, if ever, as affluent as Scarlett and Julie, but they were every bit as headstrong.

There were many other similarities, as well as some significant differences. Scarlett, of course, was from Georgia. Julie hailed from New Orleans.

And Scarlett's story was played out against the backdrop of the Civil War whereas Julie's story took place several years before the war broke out. I'll leave it to individual viewers to ascertain which setting was more dramatic, but both roles were undeniably dramatic.

I guess nearly everyone has seen "Gone With the Wind" so I won't go into much more detail about the character of Scarlett O'Hara. I'll just tell you a little more — and you can decide if there is any resemblance.

Scarlett, of course, was in love with Ashley, but she never married him. Julie had a fiancee whom she lost because she was stubborn, willful, prideful and vain. Sound familiar?

Julie's fiancee was played by Fonda — and I honestly can't think of any other role that Fonda played in his long, distinguished career that was more wooden than Preston Dillard. In fact, I've often wondered if Fonda wouldn't have had more to work with if he had been cast as Ashley.

For all his shortcomings, at least Ashley's character was multidimensional.

I guess that was OK, though. "Jezebel" was about Bette Davis.

But that's just my opinion.

You can take my word for it. Or, better still, you can watch it and judge for yourself. "Jezebel" will be shown on Turner Classic Movies Friday, March 15.