Did she really say that?

After watching a couple of old Bette Davis films, a friend & I were talking about Bette and her nemesis Joan Crawford. We recalled the infamous story about what Davis said on the “Tonight Show” about Crawford soon after her death:

“My mama always told me to say nothing but good about the dead. Well she’s dead. GOOD!”

But the thing is, I can’t find an actual clip of her saying this, on youtube or hulu or several other sites. I would have imagined that it would be available somewhere, given how notorious the incident was. I’ve heard several people claim that they’ve seen it, but even in this day & age of internet search engines I can’t locate it. The fact that it’s unavailable leads me to suspect that this may be an urban legend, or wildly conflated story (like Zsa Zsa inviting Carson to ‘pet her pussy.’) But on the other hand, Snopes doesn’t refute the story either. Does anyone have an actual link to a clip of it? Just wondering.

Feel free to chime in on any other bits of pop lore that you feel might be of dubious veracity.

I don’t have much light to shed on whether Davis actually said that or not, but I wouldn’t put too much weight on the absence of You-Tube clips as evidence she did not. There are lots of holes in television history.

It’s a relatively recent phenomenon that absolutely everything that gets shown on TV is saved and easily available for online viewing. Videotape used to be prohibitively expensive, and tapes were often re-used to save money. Once upon a time, shows that were broadcast live (as the Tonight Show used to be) were sometimes not even recorded at all.

I realize 1977 (the year of Crawford’s death) doesn’t exactly count as the Early Days of Television, but even then I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if not every Tonight Show from that era still exists, and those that do are likely to be closely guarded by NBC or whoever else owns them.

That said, I hope you do get a definitive answer to your question! :slight_smile:

Virtually all episodes of The Tonight Show exist on videotape after 1972; in fact, you can even order a copy of a particular episode (for an arm and a leg) from Carson’s production company.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the line originated in the act one of the drag artists who impersonated Bette Davis, like Charles Pierce.

Here are summaries of Davis’ three appearances on The Tonight Show after Crawford’s death in 1977.

Feb. 9, 1983:

May 22, 1986:

Jan. 7, 1988:

Peter Jones, the writer-director of the 2006 TCM documentary Stardust: The Bette Davis Story, said in an interview on National Public Radio that he was unable to find the source of that quip.

The 1999 obituary of drag artist Charles Pierce in The Independent (London) said that it was his line.

It totally sounds like something Pierce would have said; absolutely not Davis herself.

I had never heard of that particular supposed exchange, but have always heard about the long-standing bitterness between them. Made me think: are Angelina and Jennifer the new Joan and Bette?