Presidents come and go, wars begin and end, but in Hollywood, few things seem as eternal as Bette Davis and the adoration of her fans.
Several thousand of them demonstrated their abiding feelings for the 79-year-old actress Saturday as Davis--her eyes as startling as always, her slender figure elegant in basic black-- chain-smoked her way through an autograph session for the paperback version of "This 'n' That," one of her autobiographical accounts.
The event appeared to blend show business with the veneration reserved for religious objects.
The media had a brief session with Davis before the customers were allowed near her.
"It is wonderful you all came," she said to a phalanx of cameras as she submitted good-naturedly to requests to turn this way and that.
Davis was the star of the show, and B. Dalton Bookstore manager Sheldon McArthur functioned as director.
After 15 minutes, he cut off filming.
"The press must leave the room. No cameras. The press must leave!" he barked.
"Thirty seconds only! I'm counting! Out!"
Davis was unruffled, despite pleas for just one more picture.
"I thank all of you, very, very much," she said in a throaty voice. As grumbling reporters were shooed away, she touched her fingers to her lips and blew a kiss at them.
McArthur signaled and, like a congregation coming forward for communion, her fans inched forward.
The first on a line that stretched around the block was Michael Dreyer, 25, a data entry clerk from Sacramento who had arrived at 6 a.m.
"Miss Bette Davis is a Hollywood institution. She's a legend," he said.
Hands Were Shaking
Dreyer knelt as she signed his copy. His hands were shaking.
"It was worth waiting for," he said afterward. He bought 10 copies of the $3.95 book.
Steve Hutton, 30, a Pasadena accounting clerk, was one of the next. He was hyperventilating afterward.
How did he feel?
"Numb," he said.
"I always wanted to meet her. I never thought it would happen."
Many brought flowers for the star.
Lisa Fogle, 19, a student at Cerritos College, brought a lawn chair for the long wait on the line.
"I've always watched old movies," she said. "She's always been my favorite. The way that she can always make it through, that gives me inspiration."
The event attracted more than a few trying to make it in show biz, including William Faulkner, 32, a Delta Airlines flight attendant who said he has directed some commercials and is writing a screenplay.
With him was a friend, Ann Hulegard, 28, a former PSA flight attendant who is an aspiring actress. "I hope to start a career as a new Bette Davis," she said with a giggle.
The location was itself a Hollywood landmark of earlier days--the former Pickwick bookstore on Hollywood Boulevard, an old hangout for Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby and Charles Laughton.
But, in a sign of the times, while Davis' white stretch limo waited outside, a group of leather-clad motorcyclists and their girlfriends watched the line with bemusement from their hangout on the curb a few stores down.
Jerry Killingsworth, 44, a Los Angeles resident, said he had wondered what all the excitement was about.
"I didn't know till people told me," he said.