The 1942 film Now, Voyager, which was based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, is tear-jerker/melodrama with a nearly unrecognizable Bette Davis in the lead role. Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a dowdy, repressed woman who, overwhelmed by her evil, aristocratic dowager mother (Gladys Cooper), is on the verge of a nervous collapse. Charlotte’s sister-in-law intervenes and introduces the desperate, unibrowed spinster to a kind sanitarium psychiatrist, Dr. Jaquith (Claude Rains). Now away from her freakishly fierce mother, Charlotte is transformed into a new woman and embarks on a pleasure cruise where she meets the unhappily married architect, Jerry (Paul Henreid). After a series of mishaps at sea, Charlotte and Jerry fall in love. However, the two decide to part ways and vow never to see one another again. Back at home, Charlotte’s family is shocked by her new appearance and her domineering mother vows to regain control of her wayward daughter. After a bitter mother/daughter argument with a heart-stopping outcome, Charlotte is forced back to the sanitarium where she finds solace in helping a young, depressed girl Tina (who turns out to be Jerry’s daughter). Unrequited love and a swelling orchestral crescendo mark the end of the film as Charlotte becomes the adoptive, caregiving mother figure for Jerry’s daughter. Now, Voyager which was directed by Irving Rapper, is considered to be one of the classic love stories in American cinema. The film is best known for the indelible scene in which Henreid places two cigarettes in his mouth, lights them both and hands one over to the doe-eyed Davis- a move that the actress later turned into her own personal trademark.
Now, Voyager, a successful film featuring big stars, a campy style and oft-quoted lines, nabbed 3 Academy Award nominations and one win. The film’s sole victory was for Max Steiner- winning the Oscar for Best Original Score. The second nomination went to Bette Davis for her portrayal of the ugly duckling Charlotte Vale. This marked Davis’ sixth Academy Award nomination. The film’s third Oscar nomination went to Gladys Cooper, nominee, (139), for her supporting work as Mrs. Windle Vale, Charlotte’s verbally-abusive mother. Cooper handled the role of Mrs. Windle Vale with steely calculation- breathing life into a brilliantly monstrous mama. Cooper’s Mrs. Windle Vale is someone who is terrified of simply letting her daughter grow up and become her own woman. While Cooper truly exudes classic maternal tyranny, she never resorts to overwrought scenery chewing. She is simply one bad ass mother. This was Cooper’s first of three nominations in this category. She lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 1942 to Teresa Wright in Mrs. Miniver.