The Lonely Life

By Bette Davis

933 ratings - 4.13* vote

The Hollywood legend talks about her four marriages, her leading men, her feud with a well-known co-star, her longing to have a child, and her favorite roles.

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Book details

Hardcover, 253 pages
January 1st 1962 by G. P. Putnam's Sons
Original Title
The Lonely Life
Edition Language

Community Reviews

Michael Thomas Angelo

This was her first autobiography. Largely out of print but you can find a used copy if you scour ebay or book fairs. I savored every detail of this book as part of my training to be a fag.

Doreen Petersen

Being a huge Bette Davis fan I totally adored this book! I never realized what a complicated life she truly led!


The Lonely Life essentially documents around sixty years of drama played out by the world renowned Bette Davis. From her early days of paternal neglect when she would cut her sister's hair for attention, to her unstable youth going from school to school, to the theater, to the silver screen and so on, this autobiography made it clear that from day one, Davis wanted nothing more than success. Of course, this came with a considerable price. The romance she dreamed of as a young girl would never come true. Each of her four husbands quickly found themselves diminished in her shadow and walked away. Her headstrong personality and demand for her work as an actor in the 1930's, or better yet, as a woman in the 1930's caused friction with those she worked with and on the day of her death she knew that the one love she had in her world was her work.

What I enjoyed most about this piece was the opportunity to hear the great, proud, strong Bette Davis vulnerably admit her shortcomings and analyze the method behind the madness. I was afraid upon opening the book that I would find a step-by-step chronological list of accomplishments, but what I ultimately experienced was a vivid and mesmerizing story, and who better than Bette to do so. With each turn of the page, I could effortlessly imagine the aged, fiery actress appropriately stylized to the early 1960’s with a cigarette in hand.

It’s clear to those who already know this basic story that Davis had more determination than most of the men she work with and most often, for. However, with each memory she tells with remarkable detail and original feeling , the steadfast drive and passion she had through nearly six full decades of work is shared with her audience. I recommend this The Lonely Life to all of those who rightfully adore this larger than life woman.

Andrea Tyler

Mercy, I enjoyed this book. I am never not enthralled by how books help connect you to kindred spirits across time and space.

Bette Davis was my kind of woman. She's smart. Some of the best parts of the book were her talking through her interpretations of certain characters and how she navigated through disagreements with her directors. You really get a sense of how that dynamic works and doesn't work and what films are possible when both parties are really invested in the final product.

Her commentary on men and life spoke right to my heart. This woman here knew the score.

And the book read like pure poetry. I was engrossed from the first page and quickly finished within hours. She had a ghostwriter and honestly, I think more public figures who are not writers should have one. A good ghostwriter will help you organize your thoughts and, most importantly, maintain your voice. If you don't write, then it's very easy to lose yourself when you write and as a result we get crappy memoirs from people who actually have important things to share. This book sounded exactly like Davis. I felt like I had been invited over for tea and I sat and listened as she talked. I was so sad when it was time for me to leave.

Lee Anne

Those of you who know me know that my heart belongs to Joan Crawford. But I love Bette, too, and I'll easily admit she's the better actress. This autobiography, written (ghostwritten, no dobut, but the voice is pure Bette) in the early sixties, is a fantastic look at a STAR. She readily admits to ego, temper tantrums, perfectionism, bull-headedness--everything for which Bette Davis is famous.

Her childhood sounds awful--her parents divorced around WWI, and her equally tough-as-nails mother is portrayed as a dynamo, taking jobs to support herself and her two daughters (Bette's sister, Bobby, is a classic nervous-breakdown prone sibling of a forceful personality, always condemned to a life in her sister's shadow, grateful yet resentful of her sister's support). But Bette makes it sound tough, romantic, and plucky.

Her marriages were also a rough go--first husband Ham hated having a more famous wife, and forced her to have an abortion; second husband Farney fell and hit his head and died; Sherry apparently roughed her up and drank; Gary Merrill was torn between the life of a free-spirited actor and the comforts of home and family. And then there are the kids--B.D., who will grow up to write a Mommie Dearest-style hatchet job about her (I just ordered it from ABEbooks, of course); Margot, who turns out to be developmentally handicapped and is sent to live in a home (fifty years ago, you know, that's what they did); Michael, who is barely mentioned.

Bette tells tales on her famous co-stars, too, although most are favorable. I am looking forward to reading her later memoir, This'n That, written in the eighties. Good stuff.


This is a great read. Her strong personality radiates through each line.

Juan A. Ramirez

"I have always been driven by some distant music—a battle hymn no doubt—for I have been at war from the beginning. I rode into the field with sword gleaming and standard flying. I was going to conquer the world.

When the war was won and I knew the triumph of standing victorious over my own dead body, there among the vanquished, I found a woman lying at my feet. A gold band and a silver thimble on her left hand. Against my full regalia, she had been defenseless.

With my passion for order, I tidied up the battlefield and buried her with full military honors. I even wrote her epitaph. It is the most honorable I know. HERE LIES RUTH ELIZABETH DAVIS ... 1908-1961 ... SHE DID IT THE HARD WAY."

So begins The Lonely Life, and not that I ever doubted Bette Davis was an intelligent, passionate, empathic, literate and powerhouse creature, but it's nice to read the Queen's eloquent own words. What a lady, what a life. And she finishes it with two Gypsy quotes.


This book was originally written in about 1962. In the late 1980s' Bette Davis came back to the book and added a couple more chapters to go from 1962 up to near her death. A pretty good read by the actress. I can sure hear her voice in her words. She writes of her father abandoning the family and her mother Ruthe raising Bette and her younger sister "Bobbie". They grew up struggling. Bette decided to become an actress and she writes of her mother supporting her wishes and helping her by moving to NYC and then L.A. California.
She talks about the movies she was in, the husbands she married { there were four} the ups and downs of her career. It was when she came back in the 80s when she writes briefly about the movie "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" I was surprised that she wrote that she and Joan Crawford got along famously. considering to this day I hear about the feuds the women had during the filming. Nice to read about this talented actress.

Russell J. Sanders

I first read Bette Davis’s autobiography The Lonely Life over fifty years ago—back when everyone in the world knew who Bette Davis was. I saw it on my shelf recently and thought I should re-read it, now that she has been dead for many years. The book covers her life from birth until her triumph in the early 1960s in Tennessee Williams’s stage play The Night of the Iguana. Along the way, we hear of four failed marriages, a mother who was extremely involved in her daughter’s life, an absent father, two Oscars, three children, and a lot of philosophy of life. Davis was a strong, strong woman who, in many cases, placed her career above everything else. Here she expounds on her struggles as a superstar whose principles were quite different from what her bosses wanted from her. She also lets us know how she feels about men, and it ain’t pretty. She felt that men, for the most part, were afraid of strong women and weak themselves in nature. And we hear of her views on method acting, praising Brando for his great talents, which, she says, transcended his method. As for other method actors, she has little respect. An autobiography is a curious genre (made curiouser when there is a ghost writer involved.) We hear a life through the voice of the person who led it, yet we can’t trust that voice to be objective or even truthful. Here, it is a joy to “hear” Davis relate her life in her own voice (and I believe that mostly her ghost only shaped the book and had little to do with how she said things.) But we can’t trust everything she says. She speaks at length about her philosophy of raising children, making us feel she was extremely hands-on and demanding while pouring out love all the while. Yet she also lets us know she had a nanny for the older child and a baby nurse for the two younger ones, and then when they were older, the older girl and the boy were packed off to boarding school. The younger girl was diagnosed as special needs—or as Davis says in the perfectly okay vernacular of her time, retarded. She was sent off to a special school. Davis explains it was the best choice for her (and it probably was) but there is little warmth in her explanation and very little regret that her child was gone from her. Still, this book was written when Davis was in her prime, had many years left of her career, and most probably didn’t want to damage her public image. My regret is that she spends not much time describing her films and the experience of making them, with the exception of her most high profile performances in Of Human Bondage, Jezebel, and All About Eve. And she repeats the oft-told legend of how she is the one who gave the Oscar his nickname (the Academy admits it is uncertain where the nickname came from, but they ascribe it, most likely, to the original secretary of their organization.) But let’s not quibble. This book is a chance to get into the mind of one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, and that’s a good thing for us movie fans.

Sugarpuss O'Shea

Truth be told, I am a Stanwyck girl through & through. No one else has even come close. But then I saw FEUD & wanted to learn more about Bette Davis, which led me to this book. Now I can say, while Stanwyck will ALWAYS be my queen, I think I have now found a woman who can give her a run for her money!

I really enjoyed this book--and I heard Bette's voice in my head with every word I read. She is such a fascinating person. And she's VERY human--something we tend to forget our celebrities are even capable of. I truly admire how willing & able Bette was to put herself on the line, and buck the system. She wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty & show her soul. I can't wait to go back & re-watch some of her pictures, because this time, I'll be a HUGE fan.

My only gripe, is that the e-book version that I read, did not include any pictures. Otherwise, I would've given this 5 stars.