Hollywood's First Lady ... and my friend for 50 years

TUCKED away in a well- worn black attache case are a lifetime of memories bearing witness to a unique friendship between a Hollywood superstar and a Grangemouth woman.

Bette Davis was known as the 'First Lady of the American

Screen' and, even more than two decades after her death, is still regarded as one of the most powerful actresses ever to appear

in front of the camera.

Her charismatic presence transformed whatever screen and stage she appeared on and the list of her well-know films includes Oscar-winning performances in 'Dangerous' and 'Jezebel', as well as a staggering 10 Best Actress nominations.

But to Olive Geddes, the former Co-op worker and bus company cashier, she was simply Bette; her friend of 50 years who wrote lengthy letters telling of her life on the other side of the Atlantic, her work and her family.

This strong friendship began with a chance visit to the cinema in 1939 while Olive, now 85, was visiting relatives down south.

She explained: "There was a double bill on, a Claudette Colbert

film and 'The Sisters', which starred Bette Davis and Errol Flynn. I loved it from the minute it began. It just hit me.

"I started going through to Glasgow and Edinburgh to see her films whenever they came out – I couldn't wait until they reached Falkirk.

Although I remember seeing 'All About Eve' at The Cinema in Melville Street – it had a tin roof and if it rained, you couldn't hear very well. I would buy all the film magazines,'Picturegoer Magazine' cost two

old pence at that time, just to read articles about her.

"I started to write to her care of Warner Brothers Studios and

got a signed photograph back. I don't know what made her start

to write back to me personally, but perhaps it was because I used

to give her a critique of every new film. And, if there was something

I didn't like, then I would tell her!"

Olive saw her idol in person for the first time in 1963 when the star flew in to London, but had to be content with a fleeting glimpse.

It wasn't until eight years later that the pair would finally meet,

although their prolific letter-writing continued.

Bette was on the island of Mull, filming 'Madame Sin' with Robert

Wagner and got in touch to say that, if Olive could get herself

there, she would try to arrange a meeting.

Friends agreed to drive her up and and, after arriving by ferry at

Craignure, they started looking for somewhere to stay.

"But it was the end of August and between visitors and all the

film people, most places were booked," said Olive. "However, we eventually got somewhere.

"We went to where Bette was staying and this woman came to talk to us – I didn't realise at the time that she was the film's producer – and said that if we got ourselves back for 4.30 p.m. she would try to arrange everything.

"She was always very particular about time, so we didn't want to

be late. Mr Scott was a bit shy and he waited in the car, but his wife

and I went into the foyer of the hotel.

''We were just standing there waiting and I realised that, after

writing to each other for more than 30 years, we were finally

going to meet. I could hardly believe it when she walked up to the reception desk.

"She then turned round, saw us and came across to speak. She insisted we bring Mr Scott in and we all went downstairs to the bar to chat. Bette Davis and her understudy were there, her chauffeur, and Robert Wagner was on the other side of the room being interviewed by German

journalists.

"I was scared that I would get tongue-tied when I met her, so

had three questions that I wanted to ask – I can't remember what

they were now.

''I thought that we would chat for about 10 minutes but three

hours later we went back to the reception and all these film people

were standing about, wondering whowas keeping Miss Davis from

her dinner. And, despite it being a howling gale, she came outside

to wave us off."

Olive's next meeting with the starwas to be when the inimitable

Miss Davis brought her one-woman show to Edinburgh and she was summoned by telegram to meet her at the capital's Caledonian Hotel.

She had even arranged for a room to be made available for her Scottish friend and was bemused when Olive said she couldn't accept the kind offer because she had to get home to see to her cat.

However, in 1975 the pair were to have a longer meeting – and

one the tiny Scotswoman would never forget.

Bette was appearing at the London Palladium and asked if Olive could get there.

"I told her I had relatives in London and would stay with them, but she replied that I was to have accommodation on her floor in the hotel," said the devoted fan.

"I remember it was Guy Fawkes night and I arrived at Victoria coach station then went looking for a taxi. I was dressed for travelling with my raincoat and headsquare on and when I asked the taxi driver to take me to the Grosvenor House Hotel, he looked me up and down and said

was it not the Grosvenor Hotel which was just up the road. But I

said no, it was the five-star hotel in Park Lane!

"However, he must have been impressed because, when we arrived at the hotel and I reached to get my case, he said 'leave it, he gets that' and pointed to the doorman. I was shown up to the penthouse floor and had a wonderful time.

"She had been due to take her one-woman show to Ireland but this was at the time of the IRA bombings and she was advised not to go. That's why the extra show was put on at the Palladium and I'm so glad, otherwise I might never have got to go inside and see her wonderful performance."

After the show, the pair returned to the palatial hotel with armfuls of bouquets sent to the Hollywood star.

Although Bette had a reputation for being difficult to work with, as

well as demanding of colleagues, Olive saw her caring side.

"She took a note of every bouquet that had the sender's name and wrote

personally to thank them. But the ones which had no cards she gave

to her chauffeur. He and his wife had just moved house that day

and she told him these were for their new home."

The unlikely pair's friendship continued for years with letters

flying back and forward across the Atlantic, but then they suddenly stopped. Olive knew the star had been ill and said she had been expecting it to happen.

However, she was unprepared for news brought by her next-door

neighbour.

"He'd heard on the radio that she had died. It was October 6, 1989, three days aftermy birthday.

She'd died in France and had been working right up until the end. I

knew she would."

Now Olive has her mementoes of a remarkable bond that lasted half a century. Letters, photographs, telegrams and press cuttings are all kept safely in her memory box.

Asked if the star ever gave her any gifts, she pauses for a moment, then says: "She gave me the gift of friendship."