It was a whirlwind romance. Bette Davis and Gary Merrill met on the set of All About Eve, and while playing lovers on-screen, they became lovers off-screen too.
As Celeste Holm remembered, “Bette had taken one look at Gary, and Gary had taken one look at Bette, and something had happened.”
Merrill said, “I was irresistibly drawn to her. My first feeling of compassion for this misunderstood woman was quickly replaced by a robust attraction, an almost uncontrollable lust."
While the affair started as a secret, it wasn’t long before they decided to end their respective marriages and wed each other in 1950, months before Eve had even been released to the public. The film was a smash hit, winning six Academy Awards and earning Davis an Oscar nomination. It seemed the new couple had more than their newfound flame to celebrate.
When Douglas Fairbanks Jr. approached Davis with the script for Another Man’s Poison, Bette agreed to the role and advocated for her new husband to be her co-star.
Fairbanks said, “I said yes because he is a very good actor, and the part seemed right for him.”
Later, when Phone Call from a Stranger came along for Merrill, he returned the favor, and Bette took a small role in the film (though not before making sure the salary was upped from $1,500 to $35 thousand for three days’ work).
The same passion that sparked their relationship also caused problems however, and the pair began to find themselves continually at odds with each other. According to Davis, their fights included abuse – something Merrill denied. However, his alcoholism and the couple’s poor financial circumstances didn’t help matters, and their marriage deteriorated, ending in a bitter divorce and custody battle.
In 1960, approximately ten years after meeting for the first time, the pair called it quits.
“Maybe I did fall in love with Margo Channing, but Bette shattered all my dreams,” Merrill said.
Bette later reflected, “Gary was a macho man, but none of my husbands was ever man enough to become Mr. Bette Davis.”