Nearly always when I’m asked, “Did you know...?” I didn’t.
The streak continued Monday with the email that wondered if I’m aware that in 1955 a local girl had a speaking role alongside Bette Davis in “Storm Center.” It was filmed in Santa Rosa and will be shown today at the Roxy 14 cinemas.
Darlene McCullough was 17 and a theatrical senior at Santa Rosa High when first-time (and last-time) director Dan Taradash, who’d won an Oscar for screenwriting “From Here to Eternity,” came to town.
I met Darlene at her home in Santa Rosa Monday and found her lovely, lively and happy to recall the movie in which, as she quipped, “Bette Davis was my co-star.”
Now 79 and named Darlene McCullough Bath, she was in ’55 appropriately star-struck over Davis, and also Brian Keith and Kim Hunter and Paul Kelly, during the making of “Storm Center.” Davis, then 47, played a McCarthy-era librarian who resisted demands for the banning of a book on communism.
Much filming took place in Santa Rosa’s beloved former Carnegie Library. Before the cameras rolled, Taradash put out a casting call for several roles, one of them a teenager who works at the library a few hours a day after school.
IT WAS GLEN GUYMON, then Santa Rosa High’s superb drama teacher, who encouraged Darlene to audition. Imagine the thrill when Taradash told her she had the part.
“I had my own makeup man and everything,” she said.
One rule Darlene learned early on was that Bette Davis did not mingle with the cast and crew, and she honored the star’s desire to be left alone.
One day during a break in the filming inside the half-century-old stone Carnegie Library on Fourth Street, Darlene saw Davis sitting in shade on the lawn between the library and the Tower Theater. Director Taradash approached and told the teenager, “Miss Davis wants you to go over.”
Sweet ecstasy. The two of them chatted, and got to know each other a bit.
“She was delightful,” Darlene said.
FOR THEIR SCENES, Darlene was given a few lines and told to respond naturally to whatever Davis, as librarian Alicia Hull, said to her. The one superstar on the set made that easy.
“She so controlled the scene with those eyes, those Bette Davis eyes,” Darlene said. “She drew out of me what she needed.”
The filming in Santa Rosa lasted six or eight weeks, as Darlene recalls. What do you suppose she earned? Remember, this was 1955.
“I was paid $80 a day,” she said. That’s the equivalent of more than $700 today.
By the time the crew left town, Darlene was certain after her graduation from Santa Rosa High she’d “go on and be a movie star.” She remembers Taradash telling her mother, Helen McCullough, “You know, she has more talent than most, but don’t let her go. It will change her.”
INSTEAD SHE WENT to college, married and became a stay-home mom to Rey and Robin. Darlene now has few regrets and many plans.
Most imminently: to grab a decent seat at the Roxy for today’s 6 p.m. Historical Society of Santa Rosa screening of her and Bette Davis’ movie.