'Feud:' 10 Things to Know About the Bette Davis Tell-All 'My Mother's Keeper'

Dissecting B.D. Hyman's tell-all book about her mother, Bette Davis.
Courtesy Photo

When Christina Crawford released her 1978 memoir Mommie Dearest, her name became synonymous with the first celebrity “tell-all” book. It catapulted her to a certain level of fame while tarnishing Joan Crawford’s reputation posthumously. The tome drew sympathy from many in Hollywood, including Bette Davis.

So when Davis’ own daughter, B.D. Hyman, released a memoir in the form of My Mother’s Keeper seven years later, it was no surprise that the backlash was just as, if not more, fierce. Many questioned Hyman’s motivations in releasing the 1985 book, especially since her mom was still alive and as beloved by fans as ever.

Some of the things Hyman wrote about begin to surface in Sunday’s penultimate episode of Feud: Bette and Joan, as tensions between Davis (Susan Sarandon) and B.D. (Kiernan Shipka) continue to rise. The episode, titled "Abandoned,” also follows the eventual collapse of Davis and Crawford’s (Jessica Lange) second attempt to work together on Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte, bringing the infamous feud one step closer to completion.

Heading into the episode, THR compiled a few things to know about Hyman’s memoir.

1. Her Motivations

According to Hyman, the entire reason she released the book was to get her mother’s attention and to repair their fractured relationship. She claimed she had tried to speak with Davis and wrote her letters that went ignored, so by bringing her grievances about their relationship to the public eye, she felt Davis would have to finally address it.

2. Davis’ Failing Health

Bette Davis was 77 when Hyman released her book, and her health was rapidly deteriorating. Davis had suffered a stroke, a mastectomy and a broken hip before the book was published, andpublic sympathy for the actress was at an all-time high. Many viewed Hyman as an opportunist who was hammering the final nail in her mother’s coffin.

3. The Accusations

Throughout the book, Hyman paints a picture of a mother who had trouble defrosting a pasta microwave dinner, called her handicapped daughter “retarded,” drank too much, acted possessively toward her children and faked her own suicide in order to get her family’s attention.

4. A Man-Hater

Despite Davis’ several marriages and oh-so-public relationships, Hyman insists in the book that her mother hated men and saw them as the biggest scum on the planet. Her own failed relationships supposedly made her jealous of Hyman’s long-lasting marriage. This in spite of the fact that Davis consented to her daughter marrying an older man at the age of 16 and even threw her a lavish wedding.

5. The Grandchildren

According to Hyman, one of the real motivating factors in writing the book was the fact that Davis failed to treat her grandsons with respect. Given her “hatred” for men, Davis was supposedly repulsed by the idea that Hyman had boys instead of girls and supposedly felt her daughter did it purposefully in order to spite her.

6. B.D.’s Father

Hyman writes about how her biological father, William Grant Sherry, left with her nanny (Marion Richards) and started a relationship that lasted more than 50 years. Originally she wrote that he had no interest in being a part of her life, but following the release of the book, the two reconnected and Hyman went on in her book-tour interviews to claim that Davis was actually the one who insisted there be no contact between father and daughter. “He got himself out of a rotten situation, which life with my mother had to be back then,” Hyman later said.

7. A Happy Childhood

While many compared Christina Crawford's and B.D. Hyman’s books, the only similarity was the fact that they were both written by the daughters of famous actresses of the era. While Crawford’s view of her childhood was unhappy and abusive, Hyman insisted that her book was about an adult relationship and that she had nothing but a happy, loving childhood.

8. The “Possessive” Relationship

Of all the grievances Hyman had, the biggest one perhaps was the fact that Davis was possessive of her. The daughter details the ways Davis supposedly tried to break up her marriage in order to get her daughter back and outlines actions such as her mom buying a house in Connecticut two miles away as an act of jealousy and obsession. “Mother believes that love and ownership are synonymous,” Hyman said while on her book tour. “She doesn’t believe that love can be shared.”

9. The Backlash

It wasn’t just the public that was outraged at Hyman’s book; her own adoptive brother, Michael Merrill, stopped talking to his sister. Eventually he went on to co-found The Bette Davis Foundation, which doles out awards to aspiring actors on behalf of his deceased mother.

10. Davis’ Reaction

Bette Davis never really publicly commented on her daughter’s book, but she took her out of her will along with her other daughter, Margo, and her grandsons. In the 1987 document, she wrote, “I declare that I have intentionally and with full knowledge omitted to provide herein for my daughter, Margo, and my daughter, Barbara, and-or my grandsons, Ashley Hyman and Justin Hyman."

Furthermore, Davis took her own biography as an opportunity to address her daughter once and for all, writing this passage: "Dear Hyman, You constantly inform people that you wrote this book to help me understand you and your way of life better. Your goal was not reached. I am now utterly confused as to who you are or what your way of life is. Your book is a glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life I feel you have been given. If my memory serves me right, I've been your keeper all these many years. I am continuing to do so, as my name has made your book about me a success."

Feud: Bette and Joan airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on FX.

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Twitter: @amber_dowling

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