Steven Spielberg buys Bette Davis’s Oscar for Jezebel at a Christie’s auction, 2001. In the 1938 film, Davis played a strong-minded New Orleans belle who gets boy (Henry Fonda), loses boy, and hopes to get boy back amid a yellow fever outbreak in the antebellum South. The movie, sometimes referred to as the black-and-white Gone With the Wind, was based on a Broadway play starring Miriam Hopkins and Joseph Cotten. The unpopularity of the stage production (it ran a mere 32 performances) allowed Warner Bros. to buy the rights at a bargain-basement price, with the contract stipulating that Hopkins would be considered—only considered—for the movie. Warners opted for Davis instead and began production in October of 1937 with director William Wyler shooting the most lavish scenes first in an attempt to keep the budget under control. With Wyler’s propensity for multiple takes, production went over budget and over schedule anyway. For one scene, Davis required 45 takes to simply lift her skirt with her riding crop. Immediately following the 2001 Christie’s auction, Spielberg donated Davis’s Academy Award—for which he paid $57,800—back to the Academy for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
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Miriam Hopkins dies of a heart attack in New York City, 1972. Hopkins made her movie debut in Fast and Loose (1930) and, in the three years that followed, made some of her best films: The Smiling Lieutenant (1931), Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), Trouble in Paradise (1932) and Design for Living (1933). Through it all, she developed a reputation for being difficult and temperamental on the set. “Me temperamental?” the actress responded. “I never was. Proof of that is that I made four pictures with Willie Wyler, who is a very demanding director. I made two with Rouben Mamoulian, who is the same. Two with Ernst Lubitsch, such a dear man.” In 1940, she butted heads with her Virginia City director. “[Michael Curtiz] was a complete madman—mad and adorable,” Hopkins remarked. “For 12 weeks he yelled at me and I yelled back at him. We’re exactly alike.” Harmony was also absent during the shooting of The Old Maid (1939) and Old Acquaintance (1943), both costarring Bette Davis, who said, “Miriam is a perfectly charming person, socially. Working with her is another story…I usually had better things to do than waste my energies on invective and cat fights.”