The Uncial Letter – June 2018

For Loretta Bolger Wish, Fifty Years of
‘What If’ Led to Bette Davis’ Bumpy Night

Like a lot of books, my novel Bumpy Night on the Walk of Fame is the product of a “What if.”

Not many writers take half a century to answer that question, but better late than never.

After I read Gone with the Wind as a teenager, I couldn’t wait to see the film. I hadn’t heard of Vivien Leigh, but I knew she’d defeated hundreds of contenders for the part of Scarlett O’Hara.

Bette Davis had been among them, I knew, having skimmed my grandmother’s copy of The Lonely Life. In this memoir, Davis called it “insanity” that she was not chosen. Even she acknowledged, however, that Leigh’s performance was “beautiful.”

I couldn’t agree more. In my first viewing, I decided the casting was just right. Lovely and charismatic, Leigh seemed to embody the Southern belle’s passionate, willful nature.

But what if…?

Later, as I became immersed in other classic films, Bette Davis emerged as one of my idols. Watching her many superb performances–the witty, aging diva of All About Eve, the recovering ugly duckling of Now, Voyager and the noble writer of Old Acquaintance–I knew why she felt destined to play Scarlett. And why she was certain she would have nailed it.

I’ve seen Gone with the Wind over twenty times and Leigh still seems perfect. Yet if she hadn’t shown up, Davis may well have been cast. A 1938 poll did cite her as the public’s top choice.

Losing the part seemed to haunt Davis despite all her success, awards and accolades.

I couldn’t shake the “what if” for decades, so maybe she hadn’t either. Even, hypothetically, in the Hereafter.

That was the germ of my novel: What if Bette Davis got a cosmic do-over and finally won the role of a lifetime? Would it truly make her happy or only disrupt and complicate her life? How might its ripple effects alter world history?

Playing Scarlett would have meant giving up other films–very likely Dark Victory, Davis’ admitted favorite. She might not have met her co-star and future husband yet possibly have played opposite Ronald Reagan in a film that won him an Oscar and kept him out of politics.

Pursuing your “what if” is an exciting process. As long as you’re consistent, you can remake the universe any way you want. Create alternate movie stars and designate new Presidents like Robert Kennedy and Tom Kean, New Jersey’s wonderful ex-governor. Imagine your version of the afterlife and its leader. (Mine plays basketball, sings karaoke, shops at Woolworth’s and can’t always find the TV remote.) So that’s what I did. Because I could.

Now that I’ve shuffled the Hollywood Walk of Fame stars and, after much chaos, put them back, I may try another “what if.”

In the meantime, what’s a favorite “What if” of yours? Frankly, my dear, I’d love to know.

~~Loretta Bolger Wish

~*~

Most fiction derives, one way or another, from its author wondering “what if?” The result is sometimes called fantasy, but in this case it can also be termed alternate reality. In Bumpy Night on the Walk of Fame Loretta Bolger Wish has built a believable, and sometimes charmingly quirky, world in which Bette Davis achieves her ambition to star in Gone With the Wind. The effects are cataclysmic to Patrice Clark, whose star status evaporates, to Dana Foster, whose lovingly created exhibits in the Bette Davis Library are suddenly and inexplicably different, and to Davis herself, who sees the price she would pay by achieving her ambition. And the changes don’t just stop there: Jack Kennedy chooses a different wife, Ronald Reagan wins an Oscar instead of a White House, and Grace Kelley never wears a crown. Oh, yes, and Patrice Clark learns a valuable lesson.

Bumpy Night on the Walk of Fame (ISBN 978-1-60174-239-1; $5.99; http://www.uncialpress.com/bumpy-night-on-the-walk-of-fame.html) was chosen by Long and Short Reviews Readers as the Book of the Month.

One of the best ways to while away a long, hot July afternoon is with a chilling mystery. Next month Adam Larsen, that trouble-magnet, impetuous lawyer gets himself stabbed on the golf course, warned to beware The White Horse, and tangled in a convoluted divorce case that just might get him killed. Kenneth L. Levinson has surpassed himself with this newest installment in the Adam Larsen Mysteries.

James Russell Lowell said, “And what is so rare as a day in June? Then, if ever, come perfect days.” Make yours even more perfect with exciting reads from Uncial Press.

Star & Jude

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