“Spankings Soothe The Soul” Says Bette Davis (1938) 🇺🇸
“Spankings Soothe The Soul,” says Bette Davis, who believes that one of the best civilizing influences in America today is the good old invitation to see the good old woodshed.
by Ruth Ranking
In her latest picture, “That Certain Woman,” Bette Davis plays the mother of a four-year-old boy; her first mother role on the screen.
A discussion of the picture, one recent afternoon, and of her experience at playing mother, led naturally to a hypothetical child of her own. If or when there is ever a little Bette Davis Nelson, or Harmon O. Nelson, Jr., or both, Bette is prepared to take the situation in hand with that intelligent directness for which she is celebrated...
We will now take a quick hurdle over that old theory about the women who have no children being the ones who can tell you best how to bring ‘em up. But don’t be too quick, because any theory is liable to explode. The observations of mothers are apt to be limited to their own child or children, while theoretical mothers have a much wider range. They are not nearly so prejudiced. They have had ample opportunity to witness, with unbiased eye, the mistakes and successes of their friends; which friends are, of course, ambushed in droves hardly able to contain themselves until the time when Madame Now-If-I-Had-A-Child will be practicing her theories. It is always a matter of great astonishment to them, you tell me why, when she turns out to be a good mother.
It will no doubt be a matter of great astonishment to you to discover most of Bette’s theories to be the sane-and-sensible old-fashioned variety. Which is perfectly logical. Any girl who had the advantage of a good New England upbringing would hardly be expected to advance ultra-modern ideologies.
This speaks well for Bette’s own childhood — to any psychologist, even to amateurs like most of us. If she had been sternly sat upon, repressed, inhibited, more than likely she would be one of the most enthusiastic advocates of the new school of child culture which says, in effect, no impulse should be thwarted, no child should be made to do anything he doesn’t want to do — and above all, no spankings.
“No spankings, my eye!” Bette exclaims with her characteristic speak-up manner. “There seems to be an alternation-of-generations principle applied to child-rearing. One generation wallops them, so the next is a bunch of softies, and so on. Well, no generation can afford to neglect the civilizing influence of a good spanking. Children are natural little savages who will get away with all they can. If they are not taught discipline and control at home then the world will teach them later, and it will be a much tougher lesson.
“Personally, I should have been spanked a lot more than I was. It would have helped control a perfectly vile temper,” said Bette, looking angelic. “I would lie on the floor and kick and scream with all my strength. If my father had been around after I was ten years old (the time when he and my mother were separated) he would have done something about it. Ham’s father had a few sessions in the woodshed with him; the result is that he can be in a boiling rage and you’d never know it. I have yet to see him lose his temper.
“It is a very hard thing for one parent alone, especially a mother, to bring up children, and all the more credit to my mother for doing as well by Bobbie (Bette’s sister) and me as she did.
“We learned independence at an early age. Mother was working and could not be with us very much of the time, so she had to leave certain things to our judgment and common sense — after giving us a good groundwork in both.
“I think children respond to routine and responsibility. They do not enjoy a lack of discipline. If you have never
been taught to do what you do not want to do, when you get out in the world and have to for the first time, how do you cope with it? Must be pretty grim for some of the present-day ultra progressives.
“Bobbie and I traveled alone on the train to see our father from the time we were ten. At nineteen, I went to dramatic school alone in New York. Mother said, ‘If you can’t take care of yourself now, all my training has been for nothing.’ I got along very well, and all her training had not been for nothing. But had I been wrenched from the side of an all-shielding protecting silver-cord sort of mother, I would have been in a fine fog. Or from a mother who had never required me to do anything I didn’t want to do, or had not thwarted a few of my impulses of which I had plenty of all kinds.
“I have one real theory about children: treat them like grown-ups. A child is a person without benefit of experience; but a person who has learned all the fundamentals necessary to shape his character by the time he is ten years old.
“Children are much more intelligent than the average person realizes. Adults are too prone to be influenced by size. I have met children four feet tall who were more interesting conversationalists than some men six feet tall.
“Two mistakes I have most frequently observed among parents: the sin of bribery, and the holy horror of telling children they are attractive.
“There is no earthly reason why a child should have to be bribed to eat his dinner or take a bath. On the other hand, they should be rewarded for extra duties such as doing the dishes or raking the lawn, if this has been agreed upon in the beginning. An early realization of the value of money seems to me very important
“Also, I see no reason why a child shouldn’t be brought up with an accurate evaluation of his or her own appearance so it will be taken for granted, and not make them self-conscious, vain, or shy, when they meet the world. There was some kind of a phobia in the elder generation against paying compliments to a child. My grandmother typified it perfectly when she always said: ‘Now my dear, if you act as well as you look, you’ll be all right.’ Leaving me with the feeling that there was some doubt about both, but nothing much I could do about it.
“Mother was given to harmless flattery, never carried too far. Just enough to give us confidence. And that seems to me one of the most important qualities with which to arm your child. The world will try to take it out of him soon enough, so you can afford to bestow an extra large endowment at home. There has been an awful lot of loose talk going around about the ‘self-confidence of youth.’ It is simply a defense, in most cases, to cover an alarming lack of it.
“Plenty of praise for children is my platform. Not meaningless or undeserved, but a lot of things could be modestly praised that often go unnoticed.
“The same thing could go for school-teachers too.
“And speaking of school: I have read a lot of discussion pro and con about teaching sex knowledge in school. Of course the place for children to learn what is called the facts of life, is right at home, from their mothers and fathers. But if actually there are parents who neglect or evade this vitally important subject, then it seems to me better that children learn from a qualified person than get distorted ideas from other children. When they discover their facts this way, mother is pretty apt to be regarded as a coward afraid of the truth, or as a smug reactionary left over from the bustle era. In the end, she forfeits a lot of the respect of her children.
“And that,” exclaimed Mrs. Nelson, triumphantly — reaching for the afghan she is knitting somebody’s baby, “is quite enough to involve me in a controversy with all the mothers in the land!”
“Ah, yes, but just a minute! They grow up and go to high school. What then?”
“That’s another department,” Bette countered neatly. “They are no longer children, at least not to hear them tell it. Anyway, I’ll say this much. The public school system of tests is all wrong. That has been one of my favorite peeves for years. A thorough teacher shouldn’t need tests to know who is good and who isn’t. Lots of youngsters go all to pieces and can’t do a thing in an exam, when they know the subject perfectly.
There was a short pause. “Oh, to be a child again,” I murmured, idly.
“Oh, go jump in the lake!’ shrieked Bette who had maintained a painfully ladylike demeanor throughout this discussion. “Who said anything about being a child again? I probably had a childhood far more happy than the average, but I wouldn’t go through that again for anything on earth!” Even the planes and prisms in her jewelled clip shot out indignant sparks.
“Only a congenital idiot yearns for his childhood, or an incurable adolescent, or one who has made a complete mess of adult life. So, of course, they are filled with maundering escapist wishes backward to a childhood which probably had no discipline or responsibilities. Nobody with a grain of sense wants to go back to that chaotic time when the world was a whirling frenzy of facts and ourselves trying desperately to reach out and grab a place for ourselves. When all was confusion and bewilderment and impatience, and things were much too slow and tomorrow never came. When we didn’t know a dog-gone thing and made it harder by thinking we knew it all...
“No, thank you. Every interval in life has its own compensations and nothing is so deadly as to go back, even though it is good to have pleasant memories of each interval. But to live in the past is to admit you have no future.
“I would see to it that any child of mine had a childhood as happy as I could possibly give, without neglecting the very important fact that childhood is a preparation for a busy and useful life, and not entirely for having fun.”
With which the lady who talks the best mother we have ever heard in a long time folded up her baby-blanket, drank her tea, and departed. A few minutes later, I pried our six-year-old loose from what was left of a chocolate cake — and took Bette’s advice on page 33. (“Spankings Soothe The Soul”)
In between shots of “Having a Wonderful Time,” in which she is playing at Radio, Lucille Ball has a good time working on her career as a sculptress.
Source: Hollywood, January 1938