A Mary Wickes Week Celebration! (#2): "and on to the next performance" - The Letters of Bette Davis to Mary

A Mary Wickes Week Celebration! (#2): "and on to the next performance" - The Letters of Bette Davis to Mary

My week-long celebration of character actress Mary Wickes continues today with a look at the letters of actress Bette Davis to Mary. Davis and Wickes appeared in three films together: The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942), Now, Voyager (1942), and June Bride (1948).

In a series of letters, Bette unloads her troubles onto Mary's shoulders, including the dissolution of her marriage to William Sherry (and her husband running off with their nursemaid), the joys of seeing her daughter B.D. grow up, and the hectic life of the movie star.

It is interesting to note, as Steve Taravella points out in I Know I've Seen That Face Before that when Mary attended the 1977 American Film Institute tribute to Davis, Mary "extended a respectful, professional handshake, with a courteous, "Congratulations, Miss Davis" instead of "an 'Oh, darling' embrace." Taravella attributes this merely to the passage of years since their last correspondence in 1950. (pg. 299)

(These two letters catalogue the dissolution of Davis' marriage and are the two letters that contain the most personal depth. I have transcribed each letter below the image.)


("Dear Mary W.

I have owed you a letter for to [sic] long. And you were sweet to write me and wish me well. My mind has not been free to think of anything but lawyers, publicity, B.D. and getting free. These past nine months - no pregnant woman could have...")


("...had more luck giving birth to a child - and the last month was truly a succession of labor pains. But - as we say, the curtain has to come down. and it has. and on to the next performance. This last gesture of taking my nursemaid to be his future wife made it necessary for me to...")


("...whisk B.D. out of California which we did in 3 days notice.

We have a charming house on Lake Arrow...we arrived a week ago. Now I am en route back as far as Albuquerque. Then I drive to El Paso and on Friday...into Mexico to marry Gary Merrill. We then drive back to Bass...")


("...Rocks and then after visiting B.D. for a few days - we go off for two weeks.

This is what I should have waited for. The reverse financial situation makes a horror of the nicest man. Sherry is really well off. Alimony and all - plus the fact my money supports Sherry and nurse girl for 4 years!! I hope I never meet her in a dark alley!")


("Was glad to read you were so busy. We may go to Germany this fall - Gary has an assignment with Litvak over there. If so will see you in New York. I hope so. Would love to. Wanted you to know my news. Wish me luck. It has to happen sooner or later. :)

Much love, 



("Dear Mary,

How nice to hear from you and to also [sic] your summer was an exciting one and that you have high hopes for this season. Hope by now something wonderful is all set and that all your energy for acting is having an outlet.

We are still here in Prouts Neck. I had never been here before - and must say it is the garden spot of Maine. We have been here for a month already - we wait daily for the idiot from Fox as to when Gary takes off for Germany. I am not going as I do not think a good place to take my chick. We go back to the coast after he leaves. I then have to dismember the house at Laguna - settle Gary's house and find a place for what's left over - and take care of five dogs and eventually find homes for three of them. I think all this will keep me busy enough to fill in the time while Gary is off picture making.

We will be in Westport Conn. for a few days before Gary leaves and if we do spend any time in New York will...)


("...let you know and we  can have a visit. I would love this.

B.D. is so grown up and so tall and I think of course very attractive. She is having a romance with Gary that in a few years bodes no good for me. She is so much younger I'm afraid I am not going to stand a chance. He is very like the Pied Piper with children anyway - which is wonderful - thank god for that - I could not have taken a chance for her sake on someone without a gnack [sic] with the small fry. Of course I go home to a most awkward situation - how to explain to a three year old that her father just up and married her nurse-girl has me a bit baffled. I have trouble enough trying to explain it to myself. What a shock that was - I must say in a long list of blows over a period of months - this was the best. I have been having quite a time to recover these past months - The pines and the sea and lots of sleep have done much and I imagine soon I will be full of energy for acting again. No script that is sent me would seem very exciting in comparison to my true life drama of this past year.")


("This afternoon we go off to Portland to buy B.D. some shoes - nothing fits her anymore - yesterday spent trying on dresses and letting down hems - sounded just like my Mother as I sat there saying - walk away from me dear - now turn around - all this of course with pins in my mouth-

We have eaten lobsters and clams until they literally come out of our ears. I even learned how and made clam fritters - lobster stew and the like. Am now at the point of worrying about getting into my city clothes - so eat meat and tomatos [sic] every meal quite a come down

If I don't see you in New York let me know how your life goes - and come out soon and make a picture - we can lie on the beach at Malibu and settle the world. It gets tougher all the time to figure it all out but if anyone can - we can.

Much love, 


(The following letters are mere pleasantries and have not been transcribed. I still wanted to include them, as they are charming. I have synopsized each above the letter in question.)

(Bette talks about seeing a play that Mary is in.)



(Bette expresses regret over Mary's Mother's death and updates on B.D.)



(A short note from Bette, referencing Mary's liking of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.)


(Bette expresses delight that Mary approves of her new "beau.")



(Bette applauds the fact that Mary will be June Bride.)


(Bette laments the distance between Mary and herself in this short note.)


(All letters courtesy of: Mary Wickes Papers, Washington University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, University Archives - Series 7, Box 1)

**I implore you to continue watch my blog this week (October 17th through the 21st) , as I'm devoting the entire week to the life and times of character actress Mary Wickes! I scoured her personal archives at Washinton University in St. Louis and have many fascinating discoveries to share with you!**

I invite you to visit my new website, StevenKrage.com! I'm very proud of my new creation and would love to hear your feedback about it.

And, as always, remember to subscribe to this blog and remember to listen to my podcast, The Objectivist and The Vegan, on SoundCloud with a new episode every Thursday!

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