We know from Feud that Bette Davis and Joan Crawford didn’t get along with each other, but from a little bit of digging, it doesn’t seem like they got along with many people in the outside world, either, including their families. Christina Crawford, the adopted daughter of Joan Crawford, wrote a tell-all book about her mother, called Mommie Dearest, in 1978. The book eventually became a movie of the same name starring Faye Dunaway. That is the tell-all mother book that everyone knows, but Bette Davis’ daughter, B.D. Hyman, wrote a book about her mom, too. Actually she wrote two of them.
Hyman’s book, My Mother’s Keeper, came out in 1985. It describes Hyman’s young life of mansions and pet horses, adopted siblings (so she wouldn’t be an only child), and alleged abuse from her stepfather, actor and Davis’ All About Eve co-star Gary Merrill. According to the memoir, Davis never acknowledged this alleged abuse, and Hyman alleged her mother was abusive too. She claimed these alleged abuses included Davis staging suicides as punishment when her children did something wrong and taking Hyman out of school at age eleven to be Davis’ personal assistant. In 1985, Merill told People that the claims were exaggerated, saying, "There are kernels of truth in it, but multiplied. Bette and I were both big drinkers, and sure I slapped her and B.D. We had physical fights, but not much more than the average family. Usually Bette pushed me first or something. I’m a lazy slob. I wouldn’t start a fight."
When Davis published her own memoir in 1987, she ended the work with a letter to Hyman refuting Hyman's allegations. "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," Davis said. "The sum total of your having written this book is a glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life I feel you have been given."
I guess Hyman didn’t get it all out the first time, because she had a follow-up memoir, called Narrow Is The Way, in 1987. The work continues to chronicle Davis’ alleged abuses and her bad relationship with her daughter, but it was also written around the time that Hyman and her husband became evangelical Christians. Narrow Is The Way is less salacious than My Mother’s Keeper. And, Hyman defended her works to the Los Angeles Times, saying that they were very different than Mommie Dearest.
"I wrote this book while my mother is still alive and able to say what she likes about it. And I don't claim she abused me. She did not. I really wrote the book in an attempt to understand her. And right to the end I wasn't sure I'd have it published. I kept on hoping my mother would finally accept me as I am and stop regarding my husband and our two sons as threats to my relationship with her. But of course she can't."
Davis may have gotten the last word, though — As reported by the Los Angeles Times, when Davis died in 1989, she had already written Hyman, Hyman’s sons, and Hyman’s sister, Margot, out of her will. Michael Merrill, Davis’ adopted son, received half of Davis’ reportedly $1 million estate instead, with Davis’ close friend and secretary Kathryn Sermack getting the rest of it.
It just goes to show you — the truth, or at least both sides of it, is always stranger than fiction.