Bette Davis, born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, was a remarkable and dynamic American actress whose career spanned an impressive 50 years. Her unparalleled talent and unrestrained intensity made her a constant presence at the pinnacle of her profession.
Davis’s passion for acting blossomed during her time at Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, her mother’s alma mater. She honed her craft with experience in summer stock theater and then elevated her skills at John Murray Anderson’s acting school, quickly distinguishing herself as a star pupil. In 1929, she made her debut on Broadway in productions like “The Earth Between” and “Broken Dishes,” which paved the way for her entry into the world of cinema with a contract from Universal Pictures.
Upon her arrival in Hollywood, however, studio executives deemed her lacking in “sex appeal.” She endured a series of thankless roles in films such as “Bad Sister” (1931) and found herself loaned out to various studios with similarly unfulfilling roles. It appeared that her acting career might falter. However, a turning point came when actor Murray Kinnell, her co-star in “The Menace” (1932), recommended her for the ingenue role in Warner Brothers’ “The Man Who Played God” (1932). Her exceptional performance garnered critical acclaim, leading to a significant contract with Warner Brothers.
Throughout her career, Bette Davis became a true icon of American cinema, earning numerous accolades andShe left an enduring legacy that has left an indelible imprint on the entertainment industry. Her story is one of resilience and talent triumphing over adversity, solidifying her legacy as one of the greatest actresses in film history.After a string of undemanding roles at Warner Brothers, Bette Davis took the bold step of requesting the studio to loan her to RKO Radio Pictures for the role of the vicious and relentlessly unsympathetic character Mildred in the 1934 film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel, “Of Human Bondage.” Her bravura performance as Mildred garnered critical acclaim and industry respect, even though studio politics prevented her from receiving an Academy Award for her outstanding work. However, her talent was duly recognized when she later received an Oscar for her portrayal of an alcoholic and self-destructive actress in “Dangerous” (1935).
Despite her remarkable achievements, Warner Brothers persisted in assigning Bette Davis to roles she considered beneath her talents and resisted compensating her according to her worth. Frustrated by a suspension imposed by the studio for declining an inconsequential role, she sought better opportunities in England. A legal battle with Warner Brothers ensued when the studio prevented her from working outside her contract, a battle she ultimately lost. However, the outcome ultimately favored her. Upon her return to Warner Brothers, she was accorded luxurious treatment, her salary demands were met, and her choice of film assignments significantly improved.
This period marked her triumphant second Academy Award win for her role in “Jezebel” (1938), the initial of three fruitful collaborations with director William Wyler. Her other notable films from this era included “Dark Victory” (1939), which earned her an Oscar nomination, “The Little Foxes” (1941), “Now, Voyager” (1942), “Watch on the Rhine” (1943), and “The Corn Is Green” (1945). In these films, her exceptional performances garnered acclaim, solidifying her status as a cinematic powerhouse and a revered figure in the entertainment industry.
However, as the decade drew to a close, Davis faced challenges in her career. In 1949, she severed her 18-year association with Warner Brothers. This marked the beginning of several remarkable comebacks, with one of her most iconic roles as the Broadway diva Margot Channing in “All About Eve” (1950), which garnered another Academy Award nomination. She also portrayed Queen Elizabeth I for a second time in “The Virgin Queen” (1955). Despite being written off as past her prime in the early 1960s, she revitalized her career with the Grand Guignol classic “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962), earning yet another Academy Award nomination.
In 1977, Bette Davis achieved a significant milestone by becoming the first woman to be honored with the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. Just two years later, she added to her accolades by winning an Emmy for her outstanding performance in the made-for-television movie “Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter” (1979). Her enduring contributions to the entertainment industry were further celebrated with a prestigious Kennedy Center honor in 1987.
In her final decade, Davis faced significant health challenges, yet she continued to work in the industry until just a year before her passing. Throughout her life, she was married four times and eloquently chronicled the ups and downs Bette Davis shared her experiences of fame in her autobiographical works, “The Lonely Life” (1962) and “This ‘n’ That” (1987). Additionally, she offered insights into her career in… valuable insights into her film career in Whitney Stine’s book The book titled “Mother Goddam: The Career of Bette Davis” was published in 1974 and offers an insightful account of Bette Davis’s illustrious career in the film industry. Bette Davis left an enduring legacy as a trailblazing and iconic figure in the world of cinema.
Bette Davis, originally named Ruth Elizabeth Davis, came into the world on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts, born to Ruth (Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis. Her early life was marked by her parents’ divorce when she was just seven years old, leaving her mother to singlehandedly care for Bette and her younger sister, Barbara.
During her teenage years, Bette Davis began to discover her passion for acting through school productions at the Cushing Academy in Massachusetts. After gaining initial experience in summer stock theater in Rochester, New York, she made her way to New York City, where she enrolled in the John Murray Anderson/Robert Milton School of Theatre and Dance. Interestingly, one of her fellow classmates during this time was the renowned Lucille Ball.
In 1934, Warner Brothers extended Bette Davis to RKO Pictures for the production of “Of Human Bondage,” a compelling drama based on W. Somerset Maugham’s novel. It was in this role that Davis earned her first Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of the vulgar and cold-hearted waitress, Mildred. This marked the beginning of a recurring theme in her career, as she frequently brought to life strong-willed, and sometimes unlikable, women who challenged societal norms.
Davis’s first Academy Award victory came in 1935 for her performance as a troubled young actress in “Dangerous.” She followed this success with a notable appearance alongside leading male stars Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart in “The Petrified Forest” in 1937. Despite facing a challenging period at Warner Brothers, marked by suspensions for rejecting roles and a legal battle with the studio, during which she spent some time in England, Davis eventually returned to Hollywood. Upon her return, she secured a higher salary and a more appealing selection of roles.
The year 1938 brought Davis her second Academy Award for her exceptional portrayal of a rebellious Southern belle in “Jezebel.” Following this achievement, she continued to achieve both critical acclaim and box office success with notable roles. She portrayed an heiress grappling with a terminal illness in “Dark Victory” and took on the role of Elizabeth I in “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex,” both released in 1939. Her impressive performances extended into the 1940s, including roles in “The Little Foxes,” the comedy “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” the American drama “Now, Voyager,” and the drama “The Corn Is Green.” By the time she severed her ties with Warner Brothers in 1949, Bette Davis had established herself as one of the studio’s most prominent and respected talents.In 1950, Bette Davis delivered one of her most unforgettable performances in the world of show business in the iconic drama “All About Eve.” She portrayed the character Margo Channing, a seasoned theater actress who grapples with the insecurities of encroaching middle age and contends with the conniving maneuvers of a manipulative protegé. Davis’s portrayal was marked by her sharp wit and a fair share of cocktails. One of her enduring lines from the film has become legendary: “Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
Bette Davis’s illustrious career continued with her portrayal of Elizabeth I in “The Virgin Queen” (1955) and her Broadway appearance in Tennessee Williams’s “The Night of the Iguana” in 1961. However, her work during this period also ventured into more sensational territory. In the cult horror film “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?” (1962), she co-starred alongside Joan Crawford as a former child star responsible for the care of her disabled sister, creating a memorable and lurid cinematic experience. This was followed by her role in another horror film, “Hush…Hush Sweet Charlotte” (1964), and her portrayal of an eye-patch-wearing matriarch in the melodrama “The Anniversary” (1968).
Despite facing health challenges in her later years, including a battle with breast cancer, Davis persisted in her acting career. She graced the screen in the horror movie “Burnt Offerings” (1976) and joined an all-star ensemble cast in the Agatha Christie mystery “Death on the Nile” (1979). One of her final film roles saw her as a blind woman in “The Whales of August” (1987), where she shared the screen with the legendary Lillian Gish. She also made notable appearances on television, winning an Emmy Award for her role in “Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter” in 1979.
Bette Davis received numerous awards and accolades in her later years, including the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1977 and the Kennedy Center Honors Award in 1987, further solidifying her status as an icon in the world of entertainment.
Sadly, Bette Davis passed away on October 6, 1989, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, at the age of 81. At the time of her passing, she was returning from a film festival in Spain, where she had just received a well-deserved honor for her remarkable contributions to the world of cinema.
Bette Davis’s personal life included four marriages. Her first marriage was to bandleader Harmon Oscar Nelson Jr., which ultimately ended in divorce. Her second husband was businessman Arthur Farnsworth, but tragically, he passed away in 1943. With her third husband, William Grant Sherry, Davis welcomed a daughter named Barbara. During her marriage to Gary Merrill, her co-star in “All About Eve,” she adopted two children, Margot and Michael, although this union also ended in divorce.
In addition to her illustrious career in film, Bette Davis shared her life experiences through two autobiographies published during her lifetime: “The Lonely Life” in 1962 and “This ‘n’ That” in 1987. These books provided valuable insights into her personal journey and the challenges and triumphs she encountered throughout her life.
Name: Bette Davis
Birth Year: 1908
Birth Date: April 5, 1908
Birth State: Massachusetts
Birth City: Lowell
Birth Country: United States
Best Known For: Bette Davis is celebrated as one of Hollywood’s legendary leading ladies, renowned for her iconic and powerful presence on screen, and for her extensive career spanning nearly 100 film appearances.
Theater and Dance
Astrological Sign: Aries
John Murray Anderson/Robert Milton School of Theatre and Dance
Death Year: 1989
Death Date: October 6, 1989
Death City: Neuilly-sur-Seine
Death Country: France