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Bette Davis Eyes

Aprile 2008
Nel 1981 gli occhi inconfondibili di Bette Davis vennero celebrati in una bellissima canzone cantata da Kim Carnes. Protagonista, una donna affascinante e pericolosa...

di Fergal Kavanagh

File audio:

Bette Davis Eyes
Bette Davis Eyes
Fergal Kavanagh
Fergal Kavanagh

Speaker: Chuck Rolando (Standard American accent)

The closing scene of 1942’s Now, Voyager inspired Jackie DeShannon to co-write and originally perform the haunting “Bette Davis Eyes.” One film review referred to Bette Davis’ “huge eyes widening further at the end of each sentence, watering with the spirals of cigarette smoke.” The song became a huge hit for Kim Carnes, winning two Grammy Awards in 1981.
The song paints a sophisticated woman with golden hair like fellow 1930s Hollywood star Jean Harlow’s. Her words are unpredictable (her lips sweet surprise), and it is easy to fall for her charm (she’ll turn her music on you, you won’t have to think twice). Bette Davis was very innocent as a girl (pure as New York snow) – in fact at 17 she expected Henry Fonda to marry her after a kiss on the cheek – but a different picture soon emerges. She has fun at others’ expense (she’ll tease you, she’ll unease you), although she believes they enjoy it (all the better just to please you). Davis was not afraid to speak her mind (she’s precocious) and could embarrass even the most experienced man (she’ll make a pro – professional – blush), dismissing others (stand off) with a sigh similar to Greta Garbo’s (Garbo was famously quoted as saying “I want to be alone”).
The third verse refers to the star’s sexual appetite – one description of Davis was as “a temperamental star for whom sex was an artistic necessity.” After many failed relationships she had a reputation for playing with men (like dice), who will invariably lose (you come up blue). Her eyes see through people (she’ll expose you) as she freezes them out (she snows you) with occasional kind gestures similar to giving a dog crumbs from a table. Not a very kind woman (she’s ferocious), her unapproachableness gives the impression she is a spy.
Bette Davis loved the song, saying in a 1982 interview “I think the writers are damned clever. I wrote them and said, ‘How did you know me so well?’” The letter also thanked Kim Carnes for making her “a part of modern times” and joked that her grandson now thought she was “cool.”  Davis and Carnes became firm friends (despite the actress telling the singer she sounded like she had “just swallowed a safety pin!”), and Carnes performed the song for Davis at a tribute shortly before her death in 1989. 

Fergal Kavanagh, the author of this article, runs the website www.tuneintoenglish.com. The Students’ Area features activities for learning English through pop music.

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haunting - affascinante.

huge eyes widening further - occhi enormi che si spalancano sempre più.

watering - lacrimando.

unpredictable - imprevedibili.

cheek - guancia.

she’ll tease you... - si fa beffe di te, ti mette a disagio.

to speak her mind - dire quello che pensa.

blush - arrossire.

dismissing others - liquidando la gente.

sigh - sospiro.

quoted - citata.

dice - dadi.

she’ll expose you - ti smaschera.

crumbs - briciole.

unapproachableness - inavvicinabilità.

are damned clever - sono maledettamente in gamba.

just swallowed a safety pin - appena ingoiato una spilla.