Events explore actress Bette Davis' life, legacy

sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com

Bette Davis’ acting career spanned six decades, with roles in films such as “All About Eve” and “Jezebel” propelling her to become the first person with 10 Academy Award acting nominations to her name.

Although Davis died nearly 30 years ago, her legacy lives on in part thanks to Kathryn Sermak, who served as Davis’ live-in assistant during the last decade of her life, co-founded the Bette Davis Foundation and serves as co-executor of the actress’ estate.

In 2017, Sermak released “Miss D and Me,” a memoir based on her experiences with the Hollywood icon. Sermak is in Williamsburg to discuss the book and the enduring legacy of the larger-than-life woman at its core.

“I believe Bette had four husbands who probably didn’t know her as well as (Sermak) did,” said WMBG radio personality Robert Hodge. “I couldn’t put the book down because it was all so real. It inspires me. It impresses me.”

Hodge initially met Sermak for a radio interview to discuss the book soon after its release, and the pair quickly became friends.

“We had a marvelous interview,” Sermak said.

The Williamsburg events — one at Triangle on Wednesday and another at Williamsburg Regional Library Friday — stemmed from that friendship. Sermak will lead a discussion, field audience questions and sign copies of her book at both venues.

The events culminate in screenings of a new documentary that chronicles Davis’ final public appearance before her death at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain.

Davis continues to make a cultural impact. Northwestern University held a dedicated conference, “All About Bette: The Cultural Legacies of Bette Davis,” last weekend.

Sermak spoke at a forum during the event, which brought together scholars of media, gender, film and more to discuss Davis’ career, values and how they translate into a 21st century context.

Sermak was born half a century after Davis. But after beginning work for the actress in 1979 at age 23, Sermak recalled quickly realizing how much she could learn from someone with such unique life experiences and a famously candid demeanor.

“Over time, she doesn’t tell you. She teaches you by her actions,” Sermak said. She recalled one of Davis’ frequent slogans: “Make a thousand mistakes. But don’t make the same one twice.”

A longtime avid fan of Davis, Hodge said he’d seen all of her movies and lauded her acting techniques. He didn’t hesitate to embrace the chance to chat with someone who was so close to someone he so admired and share that with the community he calls home.

“The world is a small, small place,” Hodge said.

Want to go?

Sermak appears 6 p.m. Wednesday at Triangle, 601 Prince George St., and 2 p.m. Friday inside the Williamsburg Library Theatre. Both events are free and open to the public.

Birkenmeyer can be reached by email at sbirkenmeyer@vagazette.com, by phone at 757-790-3029 or on Twitter @sethbirkenmeyer.

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