Hometown to hollywood: Geena Davis reflects on Wareham roots

Oct 17, 2022

Wareham native Geena Davis has become an internationally recognized actor and two-time Oscar winner.

But unlike some stars who leave their hometowns and never look back, Wareham remains her home, at least for some of her time.

She and her brother Dan still own her childhood house, which she finds “incredibly comforting. It’s nice to be reminded of my parents.’’

Her late parents play a key role in her new memoir, “Dying of Politeness,’’ in which she shares the story of her life and the lessons she learned about speaking up and out.

Unlike some popular memoirs that relate the horrors of poor parenting, Davis writes warmly of her mother and father, Lucille and Bill. Both hailed from small towns in Vermont. When they relocated to Wareham and raised their children, they shared their values with Davis and her brother.

“I got my stoic New England spirit from them,’’ she said.

She recalls helping her mother grow vegetables, which they then shared with neighbors. She looks back “astounded’’ at a more carefree time.

“Once I had a bicycle, I could go anywhere,’’ she said, without her parents knowing exactly where she was. Today, as the mother of three children, “the idea of that makes me break out in hives,’’ she said, laughing.

Her parents gave her the confidence, she said, to tackle challenges without reservation. “I grew up with the sense that I could do the things I wanted to do, that I was very capable,’’ she said. “If my dad was going to paint the house, I was going to paint the house too.’’

Reflecting that spirit, her parents encouraged her to follow her dreams of becoming a professional actor.

But they never lost their small-town values. Davis once put them up at the Ritz-Carlton in New York City during a visit while she was filming. She urged her parents to enjoy the room service breakfast and only learned later that they had insisted on walking “many blocks’’ to a nearby McDonald’s for coffee and Egg McMuffins.

“They couldn’t be talked out of it,’’ she wrote.

As her career blossomed, Davis developed a high profile in her roles in such films as “The Fly,’’ “A League of Their Own’’ and “Thelma and Louise,’’ which remains a cultural touchstone with its depiction of two female leads taking on the world on their own terms.

Working with Susan Sarandon, the Louise to Davis’ Thelma, changed her life in more ways than one. The movie cemented Davis’s place on the cultural map; she still hears of women friends who describe themselves as the title characters.

She also learned a valuable lesson, she wrote, from what Sarandon didn’t do. The always polite but direct Sarandon didn’t couch her opinions with qualifiers, such as “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way…’’ Instead, she spoke out, simply and without fear.

That “was like learning a new language or something. She was just who she was at all times. It was enlightening to me just how normal this was perceived to be,’’ Davis wrote.

You could speak directly, she realized, without having to apologize for having an opinion.

Hiding one’s opinion in an effort not to offend someone, she said, can lead to “dying of politeness,’’ something she said she did for many years and that led to the book’s title.

She hopes that by sharing her experiences, people will recognize when they are “giving their power away’’ and realize you “absolutely don’t need to.’’

There’s a “cultural message that girls need to be nice and sweet and not cause trouble, or people won’t like you.’’

Adults need to counteract this message by ensuring that girls learn to speak up and that their messages should be heard.

“It’s incumbent on adults to get that message out to girls,’’ she said. “It’s important what is being modeled for you.’’

Inspired by this awareness, Davis sponsored the largest research projects ever undertaken on the representation of female characters in kids’ and established the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

Davis’ work with the Institute led to her being awarded her second Oscar, the Academy’s prestigious Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. (She won her first Oscar as best supporting actress for “The Accidental Tourist.’’)

Her book takes her throughout the world, filming in exotic locations and meeting the world’s biggest luminaries. Jack Nicholson, Bill Murray, Brad Pitt and George Clooney all play supporting roles in the memoir.

But she still holds onto memories of her years in Wareham. “I really feel like such a product of Wareham,’’ she said. “You have to live there to get it. Wareham was wonderful.’’