When Bette Davis’ eldest daughter Barbara wrote her tell-all memoir in 1985, she portrayed the Academy Award-winning actress as a neurotic alcoholic mother who hated to see her daughter happy. It was a damning exposé on the much-loved Old Hollywood star, but Barbara still had much more to say.
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Years later, Barbara took to YouTube to reveal what her famous mom was really like behind closed doors. According to the late actress’ daughter, Davis was engaged in occult magic and believed that she knew how to summon the devil. And as far as Barbara is concerned, it really was true. Take a look at why Barbara believes her mom really was a witch and what she did to prove it.
Davis Was a Perfectionist as a Child and It Would Only Get Worse With Age
Even when Davis was a young girl, people noticed that she wasn’t like other children. She had a sensitivity to certain things and displayed perfectionist tendencies. “She was very focused on details and when she went to the circus as a young girl,” wrote Davis’ future personal assistant Kathryn Sermak.
Sermak continued: “The elephants were walking down this carpet to the ring, and the carpet was misaligned. She couldn’t focus on the performance because the carpet infuriated her.” Sermak believed Davis’ attention to detail was learned from the actress’ father, a photographer.
She Had Been Married Three Times Before She Met Actor Gary Merrill
Throughout her life, Davis was married a total of four times. In her first marriage to Harmon Oscar Nelson, Davis was already making a name for herself in Hollywood and earning a pretty penny. So much so that their marriage was under public scrutiny, as Davis was earning ten times the amount of her husband. Davis’ second marriage was to the dentist’s son and innkeeper Arthur Farnsworth.
But Davis’ marriage came to an end when Farnsworth died suddenly after sustaining a head injury a few days earlier. A distraught Davis managed to move on two years later with masseur and artist William Grant Sherry, with whom she had her daughter Barbara. She was 39 years old when she became a first-time mom, but three years later, she would end up divorcing Sherry as well.
It Was Love at First Sight for Davis and Merrill When They Met on Set
Davis met actor Gary Merrill when they were starring opposite each other for the 1950 drama All About Eve. Davis knew she had to take the role of the lead actress as it was the best script she’d ever read. But she didn’t expect to fall madly in love with her co-star along the way. Her divorce from Sherry wasn’t even finalized.
Image: The New Yorker
But that didn’t stop David and Merrill from beginning a passionate affair. According to their co-star Celeste Holm, it had been “love at first sight” for the Hollywood heavyweights. Holm later admitted: “Bette had taken one look at Gary and Gary had taken one look at Bette, and something had happened.”
Merrill Married Davis on the Same Day That He Divorced His First Wife
Like Davis, Merrill was also still finalizing his divorce when their affair began. Davis’ divorce came through on July 3rd, 1950, and on July 28th she married Merrill. Incredibly, Merrill’s divorce was only finalized on July 28th, on their actual wedding day! It’s hard to imagine how they pulled that one off, but they did. The newlyweds are pictured below, leaving the courthouse on the wedding day.
Upon marrying Davis, Merrill also adopted her daughter Barbara as his own. Barbara had to give her consent, which she did, but she was only three years at the time. Barbara also had a change of surname upon the marriage, swapping her biological father’s name, Sherry, for Merrill instead. But Barbara wouldn’t keep it that way.
Davis and Merrill Expand Their Family by Adopting Two More Children
Davis and Merrill went on to have more kids through the adoption route. A few short months into their marriage, the Hollywood couple decided to adopt a five-day-old baby girl, Margo, and a year after that they adopted a baby boy who they named Michael. From the outside looking in, they looked like a picture-perfect American family.
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But things weren’t as simple as they seemed. For one, both Davis and Merrill’s careers were stalling, especially after they received poor reviews for the 1951 film Another Man’s Poison, in which they both starred. On top of that, their adopted daughter Margo was found to have severe learning difficulties due to an injury after birth, and at the age of three, she was formally committed to an institution.
Barbara Remembered How Merrill Became Physically Abusive Towards Davis
It was around this challenging period in Davis and Merrill’s lives that things took a turn for the worse. Later in life, Barbara would come to detail the awful things that took place behind closed doors. For one, Merrill started abusing alcohol and turning violent towards Davis. And Barbara was only a small child when she witnessed this violence firsthand.
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Later in life, Barbara revealed that on one occasion Merrill had dragged Davis forcibly through the family house: “I flung myself at Gary’s back, pummeling him with my fists, trying to make him let go of her.” She explained how she tried to defend her mother, but it was to no avail. “I screamed hysterically, ‘You’re killing her, you’re killing her!’ He kicked me away a couple of times,” Barbara described.
After Davis’ Fourth Divorce, She Began To Get Possessive Over Her Eldest Daughter
Unsurprisingly, Davis and Merrill’s relationship was quickly deteriorating. It finally ended in divorce in 1960, while Davis’ career was also steadily declining. And only a year after the divorce, Davis’ own mother passed away. It’s around this period that Barbara remembers her mother becoming far more possessive over her.
Image: Los Angeles Times
Barbara was relieved that her mom could finally leave behind her abusive marriage, but she found that Davis focused all her attention on her own life, instead. Later, she would write: “She [Davis] focused all of her hopes for emotional fulfillment on me, proclaiming that I was the most talented, brilliant, beautiful being on earth.”
Davis Hated Her Daughter’s Much Older Boyfriend, and Then They Got Married
Barbara became scared of her mother’s expectations of her: “B.D. was to be the fantasy daughter of the world’s greatest mother and the presents she lavished on her would know no bounds.” But Davis was confronted with reality when Barbara met her future husband at the Cannes Film Festival. Davis didn’t approve of Jeremy Hyman – he was over 13 years Barbara’s senior, and Barbara was just 15 years old.
Images: Los Angeles Public Library
When Barbara turned 16, she and Hyman married – he was 29 years old. He was a British film executive, but according to Barbara, Davis was determined to see them break up. Even after their wedding in 1963, Barbara believed that Davis was so angry about her own failed love life, that she tried to sabotage her daughter’s.
Barbara Claims That Davis Followed Her Across the Country To Try and Break Up Her Marriage
According to Barbara, after she and Hyman got married, Davis’ obsession with breaking them up only worsened. She would later claim that Davis would do anything to try and create conflict between the couple, even if it meant telling lies. On one occasion, Davis claimed that Hyman was cheating on her with another woman.
Barbara and Hyman moved across the country to Connecticut, choosing to settle down and buy a home there. But apparently, Davis just followed them. The actress also moved to the southern state, as Barbara put it, in order to continue to try and drive a wedge between them.
Barbara Was Furious When She Found Out That Davis Had Spanked Her Youngest Son
But Barbara and Hyman didn’t break up. In fact, they had two children over the years, with Barbara giving birth to their first son Ashley in 1969, and their second son Justin in 1977. Unfortunately, Barbara claims that her relationship with her mom only got worse during these years.
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Barbara claimed that Davis would get physical with Ashley and Justin when she was mad, and that was too much for Barbara to bear. Apparentley, Davis spanked Justin when he was sad about his parents eaving the house, and a few months down the line she would threaten to do the same over an unfinished muffin. Barbara became increasingly uncomfortable with her mother’s parenting style.
The Straw That Broke the Camel’s Back
Barbara decided to cut all ties with her mom at one point. Davis’ health had been declining, and she was waiting to have a major operation. “It was at critical mass just before her operation,’ Barbara explained. “Not just her threatening Justin when she was here, but that business of her calling that friend of hers in Chicago… saying that I’d been hypnotized and she had to set me free.”
Image: Vanity Fair
Barbara found out that Davis was telling people lies: “[Davis] called them to say that I was being held against my will, that I’d been brainwashed and needed help to escape from here.” It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in Barbara’s case, when she realized she couldn’t have Davis in her life anymore.
Barbara Wrote a Tell-All Memoir in 1985 Exposing Her Mom to the World
In 1985, Hyman released her now famous tell-all memoir called My Mother’s Keeper: A Daughter’s Candid Portrait of Her Famous Mother, in which she detailed her dysfunctional relationship with Davis and publicly criticized many of her choices. It was an exposé, but it received a ton of criticism for its timing. Davis’ health was declining fast, and she had suffered from a stroke as the book went public.
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In the memoir, Barbara made Davis out to be a possessive alcoholic mother who appeared to have no boundaries. She lifted the lid on her troubled relationship with the Old Hollywood starlet, revealing that Davis was been an emotionally manipulative bully. She didn’t accuse her of physical violence of any sort, however.
Barbara Explains That She Wrote the Book To Get Through to Davis
At the end of the memoir, Barbara penned an open letter to her then-estranged mother. She claimed that the exposé was the only way she felt that she could get through to her. But it probably didn’t help matters when, in the same open letter, she compared Davis to the devious and flawed character Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. Upon its release, the memoir garnered tons of attention, and Barbara faced major backlash from fans who believed her timing to be insensitive.
Image: Youtube / Mike Gardner
Upon its release, the memoir garnered tons of attention, and Barbara faced major backlash from fans who believed her timing to be insensitive. Many also doubted her claims in the book, suggesting that she was trying to tarnish her mother’s respectable reputation. Barbara made an appearance on AM Philadelphia, stating, “I love my mother very much. If I didn’t love her I would not have written this book, let alone publish it, because this is an attempt to get through to her and present my side of our relationship to her in a way she cannot burn, throw away or ignore.”
Davis Responds by Writing Her Own Open Letter to Her Estranged Daughter
Davis was extremely disappointed in her daughter for writing and publishing the exposing memoir. In response to the book, Davis penned her very own open letter to Barbara, suggesting that the tell-all was full of make-belief: “There is no doubt you have a great potential as a writer of fiction.”
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Davis continued: “You constantly inform people that you wrote this book to help me understand you and your way of life better.” Davis then revealed that they were far from patching things up. She continued, “Your goal was not reached. I am now utterly confused as to who you are or what your way of life is.”
Time Passed, but Davis Couldn’t Get Over Her Daughter’s Book
Davis pretty much confirmed that things were going to remain bad between the mother and daughter. She was unable to move passed the tarnishing exposé, which in a lot of ways mirrored Joan Crawford’s daughter’s tell-all memoir from 1978 called Mommie Dearest.
Davis was 77 years old when My Mother’s Keeper was published. Two years later, she gave an interview in which she stated, “We can hardly have the same close relationship after a book like that is written about you. No, no. It’s just as simple as that.” She explained, “I lost her. I lost her, but that’s that… It’s something, of course, that I will regret deeply, all the rest of my life, yes.”
Davis Died 2 Years Later and Never Resolved Her Issues With Barbara
Davis ended up writing her own memoir called This ‘N That which was released in 1987. In promoting the book, Davis stated “I say in my book that realizing that she [Barbara] had written this kind of a book about me was as catastrophic as the stroke was to me.”
Image: National Portrait Gallery
It was so catastrophic, in fact, that Davis never found it in herself to forgive Barbara. Two years after her own memoir was published, Davis passed away. Davis was 81 years old when she passed away, after having battled breast cancer for a second time around. But after Barbara’s book was released in 1985, the pair never saw each other again.
Davis’ Friends Claim There Are Inaccuracies in Barbara’s Book
In Davis’ 1987 memoir, she claimed that Barbara had a series of inaccuracies filtered throughout her exposé. Some of Davis’ Hollywood friends even came to her defense, claiming that some of Barbara’s retelling of events had been totally unfaithful to what had really happened.
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Some of those friends claimed that they had been there at the time of certain alleged abuse and were adamant that nothing of the sort took place. And it wasn’t just Old Hollywood chums of Davis’ that jumped in to defend the star. Someone else very significant also threw his hat into the ring.
After Publishing, Her Family Suffered Greatly, and She Got a Terminal Cancer Diagnosis
It didn’t get much better for Barbara, either. After she published her exposing tell-all book and after Davis’ death, Barbara admitted that her family went through an especially difficult time. She was diagnosed with terminal cancer – but, against the odds, she managed to survive it.
Image: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
On top of that, her eldest son Ashley suffered a mental breakdown, and she and her husband Hyman had terrible financial struggles. Barbara had her own ideas as to why she and her family were going through so many challenges, and people were shocked to hear what reason she gave.
Bette Davis’ Daughter Joined YouTube To Tell the World That Her Mother Wanted Revenge
Years after Davis’ death, Barbara attempted to rebuild a relationship with the public through a Youtube channel. In a 2015 video, she explained on camera that “When I’d written the book she [Davis] said she would get even with me.” At this point in her life, Barbara had become a born-again Christian.
Barbara continued to expose her mother: “She said she would destroy my children. She said she would destroy my life and I just brushed it off.” But Barbara now believed that something else was at play: “Even though mother had died in 1989, the demons that had been attached to her were still working actively against us.”
Barbara Revealed in a YouTube Testimony That Davis Had Been Dabbling in Witchcraft
Barbara gave her testimony over a series of videos on Youtube called A Long Day’s Journey Into Light. She accused Davis of having dabbled in witchcraft during her life, claiming that the actress had even attempted to cast spells on her “enemies.” According to Barbara, Davis had placed a “demonic” curse on Barbara, her husband, and her two kids. She believed that was the reason behind her cancer diagnosis, financial troubles, and her son’s bipolar disorder.
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Barbara stated: “[She] would sit on her bed and she had this big metal wastebasket and she would have her secretary get a piece of clothing from someone who had vexed her, crossed her in her view, and she would take this piece of clothing and she would mumble incoherently and she would then set it on fire and hold it over this metal wastebasket, and laugh as it burned and she dropped it into this container.”
Barbara Remembers Her Mother As Having Transformed Into a “Satanic Figure” With a “Demonic Cackle”
Barbara told Youtube that “People’s lives were destroyed. They fell apart. All sorts of horrible things happened to them” as a result of her mother’s witchcraft. She believed that the devil had responded to Davis’ wishes and brought a curse onto her and her family. Barbara described Davis as “the poster girl for the spirit of control,” with a particularly “invasive” and “destructive” disposition.
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It didn’t stop there. Barbara also claimed that her mother had an evil laugh that she described as a kind of “demonic cackling.” She claimed to have actually seen firsthand the moment that Davis transformed “into a Satanic figure, [with] a Satanic face” and “long claws on the end of her hands.” She said that in this form, Davis scratched at the glass on the door of her home during the actress’ visit in 1982.
Since Barbara Found Faith, She Has Been Able To Cut Ties With Davis and the Curse
In Barbara’s testimony, she revealed that she was finally able to put all of her mother’s witchcraft and destruction behind her. She was a born-again Christian, who believed that through faith and prayer, she was able to cut the ties she had to Davis and free herself of the demonic curse.
Image: B. D. Hyman
It didn’t matter that Davis was no longer alive, as her curse lived on even after her death. But Barbara was finally moving on peacefully. She wrote on her personal website that she had “received God’s solution to her dysfunctional relationship with her controlling mother.”
Merrill Weighs In on Barbara’s Book and Brother Michael Cut All Ties
Despite their dysfunctional marriage, Merrill actually came to the defense of Davis in the wake of Barbara’s revealing tell-all. The Washington Post wrote that Merrill had “paraded outside a bookstore with a sign urging shoppers not to buy My Mother’s Keeper, a critical biography of Davis by her daughter.”
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Davis had been touched by his show of support and apparently sent him a thank you letter in response – making it their first point of contact in over 15 years. In an interview with CNN, Merrill also stated that Barbara had published the memoir out of “cruelty and greed.” It wasn’t just Merrill that was angry at Barbara, however, as Barbara’s brother Michael also chose to end contact with his sister after the book.
Davis Leaves Barbara and Her Grandkids Out of Her Will, Leaving Her Estate To Her Son and Assistant
Davis had disinherited Barbara after she read My Mother’s Keeper. In her open letter to Barbara, Davis had written “Your book is a glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life I feel you have been given. If my memory serves me right, I’ve been your keeper all these many years.” But she was going to remain her “keeper” anymore.
Davis chose not to include Barbara, Hyman, or her grandkids Ashley and Justin in her will whatsoever. She chose to disinherit that entire side of her family completely, choosing instead to divide her properties and wealth between her adopted son Michael, as well as her faithful assistant Kathryn Sermak.