Star, The (1952): Heisler’s Melodrama, Starring Bette Davis in Oscar-Nominated Performance

In the soap melodrama The Star, directed by Stuart Heisler from a screenplay by Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson, for which Bette Davis received her ninth nomination, she plays Margaret Elliot, a has-been, a former Oscar-winner who is now a pathetic, bitter, violent woman.
As in her first Oscar-winning film, Dangerous, an admirer (Sterling Hayden), who’s a former actor helps Margaret after she’s arrested for drunken driving, by convincing her to give up her career and live a more normal, that is, domestic, life.
The part was originally planned for Joan Crawford, Davis’ competitor, with whom she would make just one film, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.
As I noted in my Oscar book (All About Oscar), women playing actresses stand the best chance to win nominations and Oscars. The Acting Branch, which contains the largest number of members, is favorably biased toward portraits of showbiz personalities. Besides, playing a performer provides a meaty and juicy part that lends itself to the display of histrionics and wide gamut of intense emotions.
Two images of the acting profession, both stereotypical, have informed Hollywood pictures: The fading star and the ingenue.
The first type is that of the fading star, an actress slipping from the top to skid row as a result of aging and declining looks, drinking problem, frustrated love, or unhappy marriage. The other image is the reverse, the young and ambitious ingenue who gets her big break at the very last moment, usually on opening night when the veteran actress is unable to perform.
Some movies, such as the 1950 Oscar-winning All About Eve, juxtapose the two stereotypes. Bette Davis, in the greatest performance of her career, plays Margo Channing, the aging star who cannot come to terms with her progressing age (forty), which by today’s standards is young but in the 1950s was considered old. Anne Baxter plays the young, driven Eve Harrington, scheming to take over everything that Margo has–her roles, her friends, and even her lover.
Bette Davis specialized in portraying suffering actresses: Four out of her ten nominations were for such roles. In her first Oscar role, Dangerous, Davis plays Joyce Heath, a booze?swilling once?famous stage actress bent on her own destruction until she meets an admiring young architect (Franchot Tone) who sponsors her comeback. When her husband (John Eldredge) refuses Joyce a divorce so that she can marry the architect, she attempts to kill both of them by driving her car into a tree. The couple survive, but Joyce’s husband is crippled for life. Returning triumphantly to the stage, Joyce has learned the value of sacrifice.
Bette Davis’s last nomination was for Robert Aldridge’s cult horror flick, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? She is cast as Jane Hudson, the genius child-star whose talent faded when she grew up, turning her into a demented alcoholic, and sadistic toward her crippled sister (Joan Crawford). Davis gave a flashy, grotesque performance, which opened a new phase in her career as a horror queen.
Gloria Swanson created an indelible shading in Sunset Boulevard as Norma Desmond, the aging silent movie queen terrified of the camera but still dreaming of a big comeback. Geraldine Page did her best work, on stage and on screen, as Alexandra De Lago in Tennessee Williams’s Sweet Bird of Youth, as another aging, drug-addicted star, entertained by an opportunistic stud (Paul Newman), who finds out that her last film was not as disastrous as she had thought.
Oscar Nominations: 1
Best Actress: Bette Davis
Oscar Awards: None
Oscar Context:
The winner of the Best Actress Oscar was Shirley Booth for recreating successfully her stage role in “Come Back, Little Sheba.”
Credits
Fox (Bert E. Friedlob production)

 

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