Hollywood rivals Bette Davis and Joan Crawford had one heartbreaking thing in common — their eldest daughters would betray them with shocking tell-all books.
Christina Crawford’s 1978 book, “Mommie Dearest,” depicted her adopted mother as an abusive alcoholic prone to rage and was published a year after the star’s death. Davis’ biological daughter Barbara “B.D.” Hyman released her own damaging tale, “My Mother’s Keeper,” in 1985. It portrayed the actress as a ruthless bully who faked attempted suicides for sympathy.
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Hyman released her story on Mother’s Day, just months after Davis underwent a mastectomy and suffered a stroke that nearly killed her.
Kathryn Sermak, who served as Davis’ personal assistant from 1979 until her death in 1989, told Fox News the publication left Davis so humiliated she didn’t want to live anymore.
“It was a huge betrayal,” said Sermak. “Miss D never got over it. Never. You don’t just get over something like that… But that doesn’t mean you stop loving the person. It was so horrible… Even with all of that, Miss D said, ‘She’s still my daughter.’ But it broke her heart forever. You don’t get over that.”
Sermak has released her own book called “Miss D and Me,” which explores the friendship she developed with the legendary actress, who made over 100 films and was nominated for 10 Oscars throughout her lifetime. She recalled that fateful day when Davis learned of Hyman’s public accusations.
“She always had a wonderful relationship with her,” insisted Sermak. “I felt B.D. loved her mother immensely. Miss D loved her more than anything in the world… I couldn’t understand why she wrote that book.”
Sermak described her former boss as someone who was willing to do anything for her daughter. But after her stroke, Davis wondered if Hyman assumed she wouldn’t survive.
“When she had that stroke, it was devastating,” said Sermak. “They had to use the paddles to bring her back to life. During that time, doctors believed she wouldn’t make it past three weeks… She was on medications, she was hallucinating. Nurses came and went. And you’re dealing with the press.”
Sermak claimed Hyman’s husband Jeremy had a trucking business that had gone bankrupt at the time. He then asked Davis’ lawyer and friend Harold Schiff if he could release some of her money for help, only to be shot down. But even before then, many of Hyman’s bills were reportedly sent to Schiff and taken care of by Davis.
Still, Davis perservered. In Sermak, she found a young woman completely devoted to her well-being. Hired in 1979 when she was just 23, Sermak was taught by the screen icon how to walk, talk, dress and even give a firm handshake.
When Davis’ health was deteriorating, Sermak stayed by her hospital bed every single day. Their bond became so close, Davis began calling Sermak her “stepdaughter.”
Sermak made sure to help Davis feel young again.
“She loved pranks,” Sermak recalled. “Whenever we were in New York, Harold [Schiff] would invite us to his home in Pound Ridge. Miss D told me she had never heard of TPing [toilet papering]. When I told her, she said, ‘Let’s do it!’ We waited until everyone went to bed. We had it all planned out. We started with the kitchen… She had so much fun. We fell to the floor laughing. We hit the alarms and instantly went back to our beds.”
But the pranks didn’t just end with Davis’ lawyer. Once, when guests came over to Davis’ Hollywood home for cocktail hour immaculately dressed, she had surprises in store for them.
“I went to a magic shop and bought these fake ice cubes that looked real,” recalled Sermak. “We also had a dribble glass. It was summer and really hot… And yet [her guests] said their drinks were wonderful. I thought it was amazing because these were her friends, but they were intimidated to tell her something was wrong. We also used a whoopee cushion and we practiced with it! We also found an ink pen that spilled blue ink… She was full of great pranks.”
Davis found happiness again. When she was only given a few days to live in 1989 after her breast cancer returned, the 81-year-old chose to savor every moment with joy, all while keeping her terminal illness a secret from the public.
“She got an invitation to the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain… She so wanted to go,” recalled Sermak. “The doctors gave her the green light… The town got a band to play and they were serenading her. There was a mass of people waiting for hours just to see her.”
After Davis was honored for her acting career, she arrived in Paris and was gearing up to head back to Los Angeles. However, she became increasingly weak and was instead taken to a hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine, where she passed away.
“Miss D told me she was born during a thunderstorm. And when she passed it was pouring,” said Sermak. “She was at peace. She’d just had the world serenade her.”
And just like Crawford, who famously omitted Christina from her will “for reasons well known,” the Los Angeles Times reported Davis also disinherited Hyman. She currently runs a ministry in Virginia. Sermak, along with Davis’ adopted son Michael Merrill, are co-executors of the Bette Davis Estate.
But Davis’ tale doesn’t just end with Sermak’s book. On Sunday night, Ryan Murphy’s “Feud,” a mini-series that tells the story of Davis’ collaboration with Crawford in the highly publicized 1962 film “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?” is up for 18 Emmy awards.
“I will always thank Ryan Murphy,” she said. “It has introduced Miss D to a whole new younger group, which is honestly what I was hoping for.”