Davis & Flynn

Errol Flynn and Bette Davis (who had wanted to play queen Elizabeth opposite Laurence Olivier rather than Flynn) did not get along during the production of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939). One day the pair found themselves rehearsing a scene in which the queen gives her young lover (Lord Essex) a cold reception at court because he failed to visit her immediately upon returning from Ireland. "Well, m'lord Essex," Davis declared, "what have you to say for yourself?" "I have much to say for myself," Flynn replied, "but little for you!" -- whereupon Davis slapped him in the face before the court. Though the slap had been scripted, Davis hit Flynn so hard that he nearly passed out.

After the rehearsal, Flynn, understandably peeved, visited Davis in her dressing room. "Bette," he said, "I want to talk to you about something." "Oh, I know perfectly well what you are going to say," she retorted, "but if you can't take a little slap, that is just too bad! I can't do it any other way. That's the kind of actress I am -- and I stress actress!"

Flynn left peacefully but resolved to retaliate if it happened again. When they shot the actual scene, however, Davis's hand did not even make contact, missing his nose by a fraction of an inch. While Flynn was grateful for his co-star's restraint, he was still annoyed by her arrogant attitude.

A few days later the pair found themselves rehearsing another scene. This time, Flynn was called upon to give Davis a playful slap on the back. "I held my hand way out there," he later recalled, "and it went sailing right through her Elizabethan dresses, slappo, smack on her Academy Award behind." Davis was furious. Flynn, on the other hand, was unrepentant. "I'm awfully sorry," he explained. "I don't know how to do it any other way..."

Davis never spoke to Flynn in a non-professional capacity again.

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