It’s no secret that Boulder City and the Hoover Dam are popular pass-through stops for tourists on their way to either Las Vegas or Phoenix for vacation, but one Hollywood legend made our city her go-to vacation spot. In 1934, the legendary Bette Davis decided to take a break from filming “Of Human Bondage” to spend time in Boulder City, staying at our very own Boulder Dam Hotel.
Before “Of Human Bondage” debuted on the silver screen, Davis was an actress but not a star. The film offered her a controversial role playing a disturbed prostitute, which guaranteed to push boundaries — something the actress was becoming personally known for at that time. Just like her character’s role in the movie, Bette’s life was filled with chaos and the unexpected. So, it was quite fitting that our city turned out to be just the place for the troubled starlet to visit when in need of some peace and quiet.
Boulder City has always had a lot to offer Hollywood’s elite. It’s our city’s kindness and culture of privacy that seems to appeal to those looking for some downtime accompanied by lovely, scenic views. Many celebrities are able to sneak in to Boulder City when they have the desire to shop for antiques in the historic district, ride their customized motorcycles, or simply take in the sun at Lake Mead.
Others, however, don’t mind a little added media attention. For example, actress Melissa Joan Hart (“Not Another Teen Movie,” “Sabrina the Teenage Witch”) was tagged on various social media accounts last year at our local Starbucks after stopping for a latte before heading off for some sightseeing at the Hoover Dam.
Senior United States Senator and former Republican presidential nominee John McCain was tagged on Facebook grabbing a bite to eat at The Dillinger (politics aside; we can all agree McCain has great taste when it comes to burgers). Rapper Flavor Flav often frequents Vinny’s Pizza, and actors Michael Douglas, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Heather Locklear and Joe Pesci, along with musicians Alice Cooper and Jerry Cantrell (Alice in Chains) have all teed off at our very own Cascata Golf Course, according to Jetsetter magazine.
But back when Bette Davis visited Boulder City in 1934 it was assumed that her vacation here was indeed a way for her to get some much-needed rest outside of filming her most recent and grueling role. “Of Human Bondage” required her character, Mildred Rogers, to engage the audience by telling the story of a very troubled relationship with Philip Carey (played by Leslie Howard), which was seeded in mental illness and thrived on obsession. The love life of Bette Davis seemed only a stone’s throw away from the fictional plot of the movie. A biography titled “Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis” describes Davis as “ruthless,” “creative” and even a “lightning bolt.”
According to the book, many Davis films ran over schedule and over budget because she caused delays, stormed off sets, and faked illnesses. Davis suffered through various nervous breakdowns, had multiple marriages and several reported abortions throughout her career. She was known to pick fights with strangers, confront studio executives, had on-set tantrums, and was mean to her mentally ill sister. In fact, it was Davis’ melodramatic, emotional meltdowns that suited her for a Broadway role in 1929 prior to her ever hitting the silver screen as a bona fide actress. These same meltdowns fired up the rumor mills that Davis, like her sister, also was suffering from a mental illness, if not a personality disorder — neither of which were ever confirmed. When Davis stood at the Boulder Dam Hotel, the backdrop of Boulder City and our community’s ingrained kindness must have been refreshing for the actress as I could not find any remarkable reports of bad Hollywood behavior in the archives.
“Of Human Bondage” went on to become a box office success for Davis, which of course led to even more controversy between Davis and her two contracted movie studios. The success of the movie, and Davis’ now-elevated fame as a result, caused political fallout around the Academy Awards. Her peers and moviegoers were all expecting an Oscar nomination, but Davis was snubbed thanks to a last minute rule change.
Davis did go on to win two Academy Awards later on in her career and had eight additional nominations. And, to this day, IMDB.com lists her role in “Of Human Bondage” as a “write-in” nomination for an Academy Award.
For me, on this Throwback Thursday, I think it is nice to think of Davis’ desire to visit Boulder City as a reflection of our community’s unchanging spirit. Perhaps Davis saw our city as a place where even the strongest of lightening rod personalities can take a deep breath and enjoy all we have to offer.
On a side note, if you have some Boulder City throwback dirt that you want me to uncover, or a favorite celebrity you want me to write about, please drop me a line at Hollywoodfatgrl@gmail.com or send me a direct message on Instagram.
Tanya Vece is an entertainment and music writer who resides and volunteers in Boulder City. You can follow her adventures on Instagram @hollywoodwriter.