Be careful what you wish for, it may come true.
On May 28, 1985, Elizabeth Fuller was thrilled when her friend Robin Brown brought her childhood screen idol, Bette Davis, to dinner at her Weston home. The next day, Ms. Davis called and asked if she could stay with the Fullers for “one night, possibly two,” because of a hotel workers strike in New York City.
The legendary screen actress ended up staying for 32 days, and Ms. Fuller’s life has never been the same.
This wildly funny, real-life story was the subject of Ms. Fuller’s 1992 non-fiction book, Me and Jezebel. In 1994, the book was adapted into a two-person play and enjoyed runs in Washington, D.C., and off-Broadway.
Since then, it has been performed around the world, and is currently running in Warsaw, Munich and Berlin.
Now, a staged reading of Me and Jezebel will be performed right here in Weston, on Sunday, Oct. 14, at La Roue Elayne at Cobb’s Mill Inn. Veteran actor Joel Vig, who performed on Broadway in Hairspray, will portray Bette Davis, and Ms. Fuller will play herself.
In a recent interview at her River Road home, Ms. Fuller looked back on the time she spent with one of Hollywood’s greatest and most mercurial stars.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ms. Fuller loved going to movies with her grandmother. Their favorite actress was the feisty Oscar-winner Bette Davis who made a name for herself playing tough, complicated characters in films like Of Human Bondage, The Little Foxes, All About Eve, and Jezebel.
So Ms. Fuller was in awe and quite a bit more shock , when following her dinner with the star, Ms. Davis arrived in a limousine followed by a station wagon filled with luggage — just to spend “a night or two.” Ms. Davis was supposed to stay at the Ritz Carlton in New York, while waiting for word on a film in Italy, but because of a hotel workers strike, she had to make other plans.
Years earlier, Ms. Davis had lived in nearby Westport, so she was familiar with the area and was happy to stay on River Road.
Hosting the famous houseguest proved quite a balancing act for Ms. Fuller, a writer who was in the midst of conducting interviews for a book she was working on.
In addition to writing, Ms. Fuller’s four-year old son Christopher required attention; home improvement workers were loudly milling about the home; a born-again Christian was trying in vain to convert Ms. Davis by throwing information at her; and her husband was warily wondering who was paying for Ms. Davis’s long distance phone calls to Italy and food bills for the lobster, Pepperidge Farm Cookies, and cartons of Vantage cigarettes that she enjoyed.
Ms. Fuller’s description of Ms. Davis is exactly how one might imagine her. The star walked around the house all day with a lit cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. She cursed like crazy and took frequent digs at her off screen rival, the late Joan Crawford, with whom she starred in the horror film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Ms. Fuller recounted Ms. Davis saying, “My mother Ruthie said I should only say good things about the dead. Joan Crawford is dead. Good.”
Ms. Davis was also riding an emotional roller coaster from the publication of a recent tell-all book, My Mother’s Keeper, written by her daughter B.D. Hyman, which Ms. Davis claimed was full of lies from an ungrateful daughter. Her son, Michael Merrill, would later defend his mother and condemn his sister’s book. But at that time, the media was playing the book as a “Mommie Dearest” type of exposé.
During the stay, Ms. Fuller saw a woman who was sad and at times angry, but she also saw an unexpected side of Ms. Davis too. When Ms. Fuller’s son Christopher screamed to go to McDonald’s for lunch as his mom had promised, Ms. Davis said, “For Chrissake, take the kid to McDonald’s!”
Once inside the fast food restaurant, Ms. Davis discussed her disappointment at not getting the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With the Wind. As fans started hovering around her, instead of dismissing them, she graciously answered questions about her films and signed autographs. She told Ms. Fuller, “When they stop wanting your autograph, you’re finished. Finished!”
After a solid month with the Fullers, including an evening seance, the hotel strike ended and Ms. Davis packed her limousine and station wagon and left.
On her way out she told Ms. Fuller she had hidden some poems around the house. Ms. Fuller found several original poems written by Ms. Davis about her time spent with the family.
One short poem read:
“As I sit here and wait
To drive away
Not in a one horse open sleigh,
Please do not feel dismay,
If you want to clap your hands with glee,
Because you will see no more of me!!
Another poem expressed her love for Christopher, whom he always called by her full name Bette Davis.
“Never again say yes
To any request to stay with you
During a strike,
As you now know,
It is possible for this guest
To stay for life!!
Much love always,
Chris’s Bette Davis
Give him a hug and kiss for me.”
Ms. Davis would die from breast cancer four years after her stay on River Road. Ms. Fuller said she gained great insight into her own self and psyche from the star’s visit, and it was a once in a lifetime experience she will never forget.
The staged reading of Me and Jezebel, featuring Joel Vig and Elizabeth Fuller will be performed on Sunday, Oct. 14, at 4 p.m. at La Roue Elayne at Cobb’s Mill Inn. There will be a Q&A session with the stars after the show.
Tickets are $15 and advance reservations are suggested as space is limited. Tickets will also be available at the door. Cash bar and snacks are available for purchase.
Following the performance, there will be an optional prix fixe dinner available for $25 per person. The prix fixe menu includes Ceasar salad, choice of Coq Au Vin (chicken in wine) or a vegetarian entree, and pumpkin cheesecake for dessert. Advance reservations for the dinner are required.
To make reservations for the show, dinner, or both, call 203-227-7221, ext. 26.