Tag Archives: Bette Davis

What did playwright Laura Maria Censabellado do after meeting Bette Davis? She wrote a play.

Laura Maria Censabella

By France-Luce Benson

Laura Maria Censabella’s achievements are too many to even begin to name here. But if you are not familiar with her work, look her up. Now. And be sure to join us this Saturday for our final Saturday Matinee of the year, followed  by Fountain Theatre’s Holiday Party. Censabella will be our featured guest as we present her play Interviewing Miss Davis, based on her actual interview with Bette Davis many years ago.

What was it really like meeting Bette Davis? What do you remember from that day?

I remember it was boiling hot and I was sweating, and my curly hair had morphed into a ball of straw, so I was incredibly self-conscious.  Also, I was intimidated by Miss Davis’s poised and beautiful assistant.  When Miss Davis came in—and she did make an entrance–I was shocked by how diminished she was physically.  She had to kind of throw her hip as she walked, and her shriveled face made her look like a sharp-eyed bird—but I immediately realized that none of her spirit was diminished.  I had been told not to tell her I was a writer since her daughter was coming out with a tell-all book but at a certain point I couldn’t help it.  I kept asking her what my hours might be and she wouldn’t tell me because I think basically they were meant to be 24/7.  At that time I would get up at 5:30 a.m. to write before office temp jobs.  That hour and a half–or two hours–a day I had to write was sacred and all I wanted to know was would I be able to still have that.  And yet…I was so broke.  I’d had a few short stories published in tiny literary magazines.  I felt so small, and so scared that I would never be able to make my dreams happen.  I think Miss Davis could smell that.

How do you imagine your life turning out if you did take that job?

I don’t think I would have lasted a day. 

As someone who’s been teaching and facilitating writing groups for many years, what is the most important piece of advice you have for young writers?

There are an infinite number of ways to be a very good or great writer.  There are only a finite number of ways of being bad and you can learn what those things are and avoid them.

Do you believe the industry has changed for women since you first started writing professionally? How so? In what ways is the industry still behind in gender equality? What needs to happen?

When I was in my 20’s I was selected for the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference.  At that time I was one of only three women playwrights out of sixteen total playwrights.  The next year I was one of five women playwrights.  The last time I was selected for the O’Neill the majority of playwrights were women; however, most of us could not get our work produced.  Since then we can be thankful for the 2008 Town Hall called by Julia Jordan, Marsha Norman and Sarah Schulman out of which The Count was eventually born to document the number of women+ and BIPOC plays produced.  There is also the Kilroys List.  Because of these big initiatives and many smaller ones we’ve seen an uptick in the statistics of women being produced although at this rate it will take another hundred years to achieve parity, most especially for older women writers who may have been ignored when they were young and now face discrimination due to age which is why the action and advocacy group Honor Roll! was born. 

What have you been working on? Anything coming up you’re excited about?

A play based on my severely disabled aunt.  About the day late in life that she decided to stop being infantilized by her family and assert her own will and the price she paid for that–and the joy she experienced as well.   I’m also beginning to workshop my play Beyond Words, which is essentially a 30-year love story between a scientist who studies animal cognition (Dr. Irene Pepperberg) and her extraordinary research subject, the African Grey parrot Alex.  Together they opened a window into the animal mind.  The parrot is embodied by a human actor on stage.

What’s been keeping you sane?

I’ve had some very big personal challenges this year.  But knowing that we all are suffering in some way, that we’re united by this pandemic, that we’ve all lost dreams, livelihoods, family, loved ones to Covid, unites us as a world community and can, if we let it, increase our compassion for one another.

What gives you hope?

That Biden and Harris were elected.  Our very democracy has been at stake.  The lust for power has outweighed the very values this democracy stands for.  We’ve got to slowly rebuild faith in democratic institutions.  We have a very steep climb but at least we’re moving in the right direction.

Interviewing Miss Davis, Saturday, December 19 @ 5pm PST


Fountain Theatre’s virtual end-of-year party features playreading on Hollywood legend Bette Davis

Settle in with your favorite beverage on Saturday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. PT / 8 p.m. ET when the Fountain Theatre winds up 2020 and its monthly Saturday Matinee series with an Old Hollywood-themed holiday party filled with joy, games, and — of course — an online playreading. Admission is free at fountaintheatre.com.

Venerable actress Karen Kondazian, a lifetime member of the Actors Studio and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award-winner best known for her work in the plays of Tennessee Williams (with whom she was a personal friend), takes on the role of Hollywood legend Bette Davis in Interviewing Miss Davis by award-winning playwright Laura Maria Censabella.

After the reading, stick around for party games and a celebration of friends, fellow artists and the Fountain’s all-important audience. Bring something glamorous! (optional)

Inspired by a true event in Ms. Censabella’s own life, the one-act is set in 1985 as Davis interviews a new personal assistant (Wonjung Kim) upon learning that her current, beloved assistant (and nurse) Jacqueline (Aleisha Force) is leaving.

“I was just out of college and very, very broke — no furniture, a folding chair, folding table, mattress on the floor, and I was working for someone who said I’d make a great assistant for Bette Davis,” Censabella explained in an interview. “I went to the interview but was very conflicted because I wanted to be a writer and at the same time I wanted instant validation, and I felt like if I became Bette Davis’s assistant, I would have that.”


Take Fountain! Just Don’t Take It for Granted

The "take Fountain" mural across the street from the Fountain Theatre in Hollywood.

When Johnny Carson asked Bette Davis for advice on “the best way an aspiring starlet could get into Hollywood,” Ms. Davis replied without hesitation, “Take Fountain.”

Fountain Avenue is a local favorite for many people who use it to cut across Hollywood quickly. It runs parallel between Sunset Boulevard to the north and Santa Monica Boulevard to the south. Only 6 miles in length, Fountain Avenue runs from Silverlake Blvd in the East all the way to La Cienega Blvd in the West with a break between Van Ness and Bronson streets for La Conte Middle School. As you zip along Fountain Avenue, on your way to your next big Hollywood meeting or audition, you’ll see a few notable buildings.

El Mirador apartment building.

In the late 1920s, The Mirador apartment building was built on the corner of Fountain and Sweetzer by renowned theatre architect S. Charles Lee. Mr. Lee is an American architect, born in Chicago, recognized as one of the most prolific and distinguished motion picture theater designers on the West Coast. Lee also designed the Max Factor building, The Los Angeles Theatre and The Bruin Theatre, to name only a few.

In 1930, Cedar-Sinai was moved from Whittier Boulevard to Fountain Avenue where it was renamed Cedars of Lebanon. In 1976, after having merged with the Westside’s Mt. Sinai Hospital, Cedars of Lebanon moved out of its building on Fountain and into a new hospital complex near Beverly Hills and became the world-famous Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Today, the old Cedars of Lebanon building now belongs to the Church of Scientology.

La Fountaine

Also around the same time period, architect Leland Bryant designed La Fountaine,  a replica of a château he had seen in Europe, on the corner of Fountain Avenue and Crescent Heights. Leland Bryant is also responsible for the designs of several other landmark buildings in Los Angeles, including the Argyle HotelSunset Tower, Savoy Plaza and the Trianon – a grande apartment building tucked away from major streets in Hollywood, near Thai Town.

Villa Primavera Apartments

The Villa Primavera Apartments at the corner of Fountain Avenue and Harper was used for the shooting locations of several movies, including In A Lonely Place (1950) starring Humphrey Bogart.

Humphrey Bogart outside the Villa Primavera Apartments.

Joan Crawford lived in Apt D

Movie star Joan Crawford lived in this Fountain Avenue apartment after the death of her husband, Steele, through the early 1970s. It was in a building owned by Loretta Young.

El Palacio Apartments

Actress and singer Dorothy Dandridge lived in the El Palacio Apartments on Fountain Avenue and Crescent Heights. She  committed suicide there in 1965 at age 42, overdosing on prescription barbiturates.

The Patio Del Moro

The Patio Del Moro is a complex of Spanish apartments on Fountain Avenue and was once the home of Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard.

And, of course, there is The Fountain Theatre (5060 Fountain). Founded in 1990 by Co-Artistic Directors Deborah Lawlor and Stephen Sachs, the Fountain Theatre has been an operating theatre for over 50 years. In the 1960’s it was known as The Evergreen Stage. A charming two-story building, tales are told that decades ago the bottom floor was once a liquor store, the upper floor held apartments. Today, the Fountain main stage holds 78 seats and the second floor includes a cafe, offices, a full kitchen, balcony and studio apartment. In addition to the award-winning caliber of work presented on its stage, the warm feeling of the venue makes the Fountain Theatre a favorite “home” for LA audiences.

The Fountain Theatre

For 22 years, Fountain Avenue has been our happy home and our road to success. Take a stroll or car ride down the Avenue and see for yourself!