Actress Bette Davis wrote an advice column back in the ’40s, and here’s what she said

Vintage actress Bette Davis for Lustre-Creme shampoo 1951

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Back in the 1940s, Photoplay-Movie Mirror magazine asked Actress Bette Davis, the famous Hollywood movie star, to give readers love and relationship advice. Here’s what she suggested!

What should I do? Reader problems answered by vintage actress Bette Davis

Photoplay-Movie Mirror institutes the greatest advice feature of the year

Believing that there is a great need for wise counsel in this troubled world, Photoplay-Movie Mirror has persuaded Bette Davis, the woman who is Hollywood’s famous advice star, to act as consultant to its readers. So every month, Miss Davis will study the letters you send her and give her answers on these pages.

Naturally, she cannot cover every individual query; she will of necessity have to choose those problems which seem most universal. But you may rest assured your letter will be read personally by her and, as proof, each one of you will receive her acknowledgment. Address your letters to Miss Bette Davis, c/o Photoplay-Movie Mirror.

And have no fear that your identity will be revealed to the world, for no names of towns are given and all names of persons are changed to protect the writers. From her personal mail, Bette Davis has selected these letters as the ones to be answered this month through the pages of Photoplay-Movie Mirror. – The Editors

Bette Davis 1942

Lonely and bored young wife asks actress Bette Davis for tips

Dear Miss Davis:

My husband has been drafted and sent to a training camp nearly 2,000 miles away. A good many girls have had to give up their husbands to the Army, but I wonder how many of them face the same problem that I do. You see, I had only known my husband six months before we were married. And we were married chiefly because he was going to be drafted and he said he couldn’t bear to leave me unless he knew that I belonged to him.

He didn’t know that for two years before I met him I had been going steady with a nice boy, Tom, in our town. Tom won’t be taken into the Army because he was blinded in one eye during a hunting accident.

He has telephoned me several times, asking for dates. I told my mother at first that I didn’t want to talk to him but she says I’m foolish.

I’m still in love with my husband and I write to him every day, but I’m only twenty-two and I’ll have to admit that I think I’ll go crazy sitting at home night after night.

What do you think I should do? Refuse to see Tom? Or go out with him on a strictly friendly basis? If I do that, should I tell my husband about the dates or just keep it quiet?

Eleanor J.

ALSO SEE: So this happened… 12 too-cute vintage engagement stories from the ’20s

Dear Eleanor J.:

You are probably only one out of the hundreds of girls who married in haste because of the war.

My deduction is that you are more in love with Tom than you are with your husband, in spite of what you say. However, let us suppose that you don’t realize that fact yourself.

In a way, it seems selfish for a boy to want to marry just before he leaves for camp; this is a man’s way of putting a girl on the shelf for the duration although he can do nothing for her, not even offer her companionship. It is, in fact, a type of hoarding.

I think you want me to say that it is quite all right for you to go out with Tom. Personally, that is exactly what I would do under the circumstance, being careful to keep our relationship entirely friendly — if you could manage it that way.

Every girl has to look down the road of the future and decide upon one of two paths for herself. She has to foresee the consequences of any given act. In this case, there is a chance that townspeople are not going to understand your going out with Tom, and that you may suffer from undue criticism. Also, Tom may get out of hand.

If you don’t tell your husband you have been seeing Tom, he will learn of it in time, make no mistake about that. Then pray that your husband is an understanding soul. Finally, beware of propinquity. Being with Tom a great deal may create even greater problems than loneliness and boredom.

Sincerely yours,

Bette Davis.

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Bette Davis advice - Dec 1942

Young widow looking for the right man

Dear Miss Davis:

This is not the typical “fan” letter. I have never before written a stranger a letter, but I suppose there is a first time for everything.

I’m a widow, Miss Davis. I’m only twenty-seven, financially independent, and I have a rather good education. But I can’t seem to meet the right sort of man.

I try not to be too particular; I’ve done all the usual little stunts such as going out with a perfect bore of a man just on the chance that I might meet someone interesting. Alas, I meet only more bores.

Worse, practically every man who takes an interest in me eventually works around to the old cliche — “Well, well, are you a merry widow!” In the town in which I am now living only a girl who will try anything once is considered a good sport.

I don’t intend to sacrifice my ideals for cheap companionship. Yet I don’t want to live my life alone. So my problem is this: How can I meet a “good” man? How does one attract a man one meets casually? And how does a girl who has been married keep a man interested while refusing to grant him certain taboo favors?

I shall appreciate any advice you care to give me.

Most cordially yours,

Mary-Jo G.

Young actress Bette Davis in the 1930s (2)

Dear Mrs. G.:

In any woman’s life, she meets only a few men who really appeal to her, so she must be careful not to drive those away. Life has a way of solving itself, if one doesn’t push it too impatiently.

Apparently, you are trying too hard to find a man to marry. Men sense this hunting quality instantly and are frightened away by it. A man friend of mine once said, “Why do women let that acquisitive gleam come into their eyes after they have known a man for an hour and learned that he has a decent job, has pleasant manners and is free?”

Let that be a warning. If I were you, since you have a good education and are only twenty-seven and financially independent, I should travel about the country.

For some reason, a newcomer to town has special charm. If I were you, I’d take advantage of that fact. I think the only way to secure and hold a man’s respect is to be good spirited company, interested in everything he says, but to keep him guessing.

The best of luck to you,

Bette Davis.

ALSO SEE: 129 ways to get a husband: Truly terrible vintage tips from the 1950s

A meddling mother-in-law

Dear Miss Davis:

Please don’t get the impression that I’m one of those girls who runs around complaining to all her friends about her woes. But I feel as if you were a member of my family, Bette.

Sometimes I think I’m going to tell Burke’s mother right to her face what I think of her. The only way I could keep from it today was to sit down and write to you.

I’d better begin at the beginning. Burke and I have been married four years–we were both twenty-one on our wedding day. Burke explained to me when we were making plans for marriage that we would have to live with his mother. For two years, things were really swell. Mrs. R. was very nice to me. She let us live our lives and she lived hers.

But at the end of that time, she decided that we should have a baby. She began to tell me about the mental troubles of some women she knew who had never had children. After that, she began to hint that I should see a doctor because I might not be “normal.”

Young actress Bette Davis in the 1930s (1)

Burke and I have talked it over and decided not to have children yet. Both his mother and I are self-supporting, and he is likely to be taken into the Army. He told his mother that he didn’t want to leave me with a child to care for alone.

She scoffed at that and said she had raised him, she guessed she could care for a grandson. She said everyone had a baby during wartime.

ALSO SEE: The truth about Hollywood draft deferments during WW2 (1942)

I thought it was bad enough to live in a house with a woman who was sulking all the time, but the next thing I knew she was telling around town that I couldn’t have a child. And she began to invite a young divorcee to the house practically every Sunday for dinner. This girl is very pretty and full of wisecracks. She has a little girl aged three that she brings along occasionally.

If you think that isn’t something, you should see the performance. Mrs. R. hands the baby to Burke, saying that she can’t get over how much the child resembles Burke. Then the baby’s mother makes eyes at Burke and says he certainly could sire a handsome son.

I’ve tried to get Burke to move out, but the one time he agreed, his mother had a fainting spell. The doctor told me that she did have a tricky heart, but that she would live for years unless something unforeseen should happen. Of course, I don’t want to do anything to upset her heart, but on the other hand, I’ve nearly choked, trying to keep from telling her that I think she’s a meddling old fool.

Forgive me, Miss Davis, for going on this way, but you can see that I have my hands full. I just can’t see any way out. What would you do?

Janet R.

Dear Mrs. R.:

Your problem interests me very much. It seems to me that it is the right of every married couple to decide if and when they are going to have children, without interference from anyone.

By all means, go to your library and borrow a play titled “The Silver Cord” by Sydney Howard. This is the story of a managing mother-in-law and the trouble she caused in two households.

The only solution to a problem of this kind, and the action I would take is to explain to Burke how you feel about his mother’s behavior, then to move out. Burke will soon see that his mother’s attacks are phony.

If it were I in this spot, I’d act — definitely, vigorously, and with full knowledge that one of two things would happen. Either I’d have my husband and home to myself, or I’d lose him entirely.

That is a gamble I’d have to take for the sake of my peace of mind. Incidentally, if he doesn’t stand by you, he doesn’t love you.

Incidentally, if he doesn’t stand by you, he doesn’t love you.

Sincerely yours,

Bette Davis.

DON’T MISS THIS: Did married couples really sleep in separate beds back in the ’50s?

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