Bette Davis
American actress of film, television and theater
Bette Davis
Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress of film, television and theater. Noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.
Biography
Bette Davis's personal information overview.
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Photo Albums
Popular photos of Bette Davis
News
News abour Bette Davis from around the web
At FringeNYC, women artists dominate - The Villager
Google News - over 5 years
Women as diverse as Anne Frank (Carol Lempert's “After Anne Frank”), Jewish mail-order bride “Rachel Calof,” Australian actress Virgie Vivienne (Renee Newman-Storen's “Virgie”) and movie icon Bette Davis (“Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies”) have their say
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Normal Theater this weekend: 'Baby Jane', 'Sunset Boulevard' - WJBC News
Google News - over 5 years
Well, I disagree and here's why – Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in the same movie. And Gloria Swanson, after William Holden tells here she used to be big in pictures, telling us “I am big, it's the pictures that got small”. These are moments meant for
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Now, Voyager (1942)-English Movie starring Bette Davis - Calcutta Tube
Google News - over 5 years
Aug 22, 2011 (Calcutta Tube): Now, Voyager is 1942 English movie directed by Irving Rapper with Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and others in the cast. Set in the backdrop of Boston, it is a story of self revelation and discovery of a woman,
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Free film screenings in the Hartford area, Aug. 18-24, 2011 - Hartford Courant
Google News - over 5 years
All About Eve — Bette Davis stars in this 1950 comedy about a ruthless up-and-coming actress. Tuesday, 6 pm, Rockville Public Library, 52 Union St., Vernon. August Evening — An aging farm worker sees his life change. Spanish with subtitles
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Free film screenings in the Hartford area, Aug. 18-24, 2011 - Hartford Courant
Google News - over 5 years
All About Eve — Bette Davis stars in this 1950 comedy about a ruthless up-and-coming actress. Tuesday, 6 pm, Rockville Public Library, 52 Union St., Vernon. August Evening — An aging farm worker sees his life change. Spanish with subtitles
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Ann Dvorak Pt.4: Warner Bros. Co-Stars, THREE ON A MATCH - Alt Film Guide (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Could you tell us a little about that film, and about Dvorak's relationship with director Mervyn LeRoy, and fellow players Joan Blondell and Bette Davis? Three on a Match is a compact and gritty pre-Code gem. At sixty-three minutes running time,
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Bette Davis Movie Schedule: THE CORN IS GREEN, JUAREZ, THE LETTER - Alt Film Guide (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Bette Davis has a cameo in John Paul Jones (1959), which happens to be an insufferable bore despite the presence of Robert Stack in the title role, and she plays second banana to Spencer Tracy in the run-of-the-Warners-mill prison drama 20000 Years in
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Opening night - Victoria Times Colonist
Google News - over 5 years
It seems apropos since Tilly fleetingly evoked memories of Bette Davis, who played Margo Channing in All About Eve, amid her mesmerizingly distinctive tour-de-force turn as Martha in Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre's stellar production
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It's not just the eyes that have it - Express Buzz
Google News - over 5 years
I didn't know that Gwyneth could sing till I accidentally heard her sing a song that I hadn't heard since maybe college, Bette Davis Eyes on the net. When I first heard it, the song didn't quite sound like the one that I heard way back
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Revelations: Of old movie bondage - Victoria Advocate
Google News - over 5 years
And I think I've developed a fascination with Bette Davis and Elizabeth Taylor. I always knew them from their aged faces and reputations of grandeur. But in their heyday, and for decades after, they were beautiful, refined, well-educated,
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94-Year-Old Oscar Winner And 48-Year-Old Husband Battle Her Family For Her Money - Gothamist
Google News - over 5 years
Holm, who won an Oscar for her role in Gentleman's Agreement and was nominated for her work in All About Eve (apparently when she greeted Bette Davis on set, Davis said, "Shit! Manners!"), married her fourth husband, Frank, a waiter/aspiring opera
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Peter Falk: A Look Back in Photos - Wall Street Journal (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
Actor Peter Falk starred in films opposite Bette Davis, Frank Sinatra and Gene Barry before playing the crafty lieutenant Frank Columbo. Throughout his wide-ranging career he was nominated for two Oscars and worked with the likes of ... -
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Lucille Ball's Two Least Favorite TV Guest Stars - Village Voice (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
17 2011 at 10:30 AM ​When Bette Davis dropped out of a guest role on The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, they naturally got Tallulah Bankhead to fit the arm swiveling bill. According to the new book, Lucille Ball FAQ, Tallu came to work intoxicated,
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Timeline
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Bette Davis
    LATE_ADULTHOOD
  • 1989
    Age 80
    A few months before her death in 1989, Davis was one of several actors featured on the cover of Life magazine.
    More Details Hide Details In a film retrospective that celebrated the films and stars of 1939, Life concluded that Davis was the most significant actress of her era, and highlighted Dark Victory (1939) as one of the most-important films of the year. Her death made front-page news throughout the world as the "close of yet another chapter of the Golden Age of Hollywood." Angela Lansbury summed up the feeling of those of the Hollywood community who attended her memorial service, commenting after a sample from Davis's films were screened, that they had witnessed "an extraordinary legacy of acting in the twentieth century by a real master of the craft," that should provide "encouragement and illustration to future generations of aspiring actors." In 1977 Davis became the first woman to be honored with the AFI Life Achievement Award. In 1999, the American Film Institute published its list of the "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars," which was the result of a film-industry poll to determine the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends" in order to raise public awareness and appreciation of classic film. Of the 25 actresses listed, Davis was ranked at number two, behind Katharine Hepburn.
    She collapsed during the American Cinema Awards in 1989 and later discovered that her cancer had returned.
    More Details Hide Details She recovered sufficiently to travel to Spain where she was honored at the Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival, but during her visit her health rapidly deteriorated.
  • 1988
    Age 79
    During 1988 and 1989, Davis was fêted for her career achievements, receiving the Kennedy Center Honor, the Legion of Honor from France, the Campione d'Italia from Italy and the Film Society of Lincoln Center Lifetime Achievement Award.
    More Details Hide Details She appeared on British television in a special broadcast from the South Bank Centre, discussing film and her career, the other guest being the renowned Russian director, Andrei Tarkovsky.
  • 1983
    Age 74
    In 1983, after filming the pilot episode for the television series Hotel, Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy.
    More Details Hide Details Within two weeks of her surgery she suffered four strokes which caused paralysis in the left side of her face and in her left arm, and left her with slurred speech. She commenced a lengthy period of physical therapy and, aided by her personal assistant, Kathryn Sermak, gained partial recovery from the paralysis. Even late in life, Bette smoked 100 cigarettes a day. During this time, her relationship with her daughter, B. D. Hyman, deteriorated when Hyman became a born-again Christian and attempted to persuade Davis to follow suit. With her health stable, she traveled to England to film the Agatha Christie mystery Murder with Mirrors (1985). Upon her return, she learned that Hyman had published a memoir, My Mother's Keeper, in which she chronicled a difficult mother-daughter relationship and depicted scenes of Davis' overbearing and drunken behavior. Several of Davis' friends commented that Hyman's depictions of events were not accurate; one said, "so much of the book is out of context." Mike Wallace rebroadcast a 60 Minutes interview he had filmed with Hyman a few years earlier in which she commended Davis on her skills as a mother, and said that she had adopted many of Davis' principles in raising her own children. Critics of Hyman noted that Davis had financially supported the Hyman family for several years and had recently saved them from losing their house. Despite the acrimony of their divorce years earlier, Gary Merrill also defended Davis.
    In 1983, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.
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  • 1981
    Age 72
    Davis' name became well-known to a younger audience when Kim Carnes' song "Bette Davis Eyes" (written by Jackie DeShannon) became a worldwide hit and the best-selling record of 1981 in the U.S., where it stayed at number one on the music charts for more than two months.
    More Details Hide Details Davis's grandson was impressed that she was the subject of a hit song and Davis considered it a compliment, writing to both Carnes and the songwriters, and accepting the gift of gold and platinum records from Carnes, and hanging them on her wall. She continued acting for television, appearing in Family Reunion (1981) opposite her grandson J. Ashley Hyman, A Piano for Mrs. Cimino (1982) and Right of Way (1983) with James Stewart.
  • 1977
    Age 68
    In 1977 Davis became the first woman to receive the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award.
    More Details Hide Details The televised event included comments from several of Davis's colleagues including William Wyler who joked that given the chance Davis would still like to refilm a scene from The Letter to which Davis nodded. Jane Fonda, Henry Fonda, Natalie Wood and Olivia de Havilland were among the performers who paid tribute, with de Havilland commenting that Davis "got the roles I always wanted". Following the telecast she found herself in demand again, often having to choose between several offers. She accepted roles in the television miniseries The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978) and the theatrical film Death on the Nile (1978), an Agatha Christie murder mystery. The bulk of her remaining work was for television. She won an Emmy Award for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979) with Gena Rowlands, and was nominated for her performances in White Mama (1980) and Little Gloria... Happy at Last (1982). She also played supporting roles in two Disney films, Return from Witch Mountain (1978) and The Watcher in the Woods (1980).
  • 1972
    Age 63
    In 1972 she played the lead role in two television films that were each intended as pilots for upcoming series for NBC, Madame Sin with Robert Wagner, and The Judge and Jake Wyler, with Joan Van Ark, but in each case, NBC decided against producing a series.
    More Details Hide Details She appeared in the stage production, Miss Moffat, a musical adaptation of her film The Corn is Green, but after the show was panned by the Philadelphia critics during its pre-Broadway run, she cited a back injury and abandoned the show, which closed immediately. She played supporting roles in Burnt Offerings (1976), and The Disappearance of Aimee (1976), but clashed with Karen Black and Faye Dunaway, the stars of the two respective productions, because she felt that neither extended her an appropriate degree of respect, and that their behavior on the film sets was unprofessional.
  • FIFTIES
  • 1962
    Age 53
    A Perry Mason fan, Davis was the first of the guest stars. "The Case of Constant Doyle" began filming on December 12, 1962, and aired January 31, 1963.
    More Details Hide Details
    In September 1962, Davis placed an advertisement in Variety under the heading of "Situations wanted—women artists," which read, "Mother of three—10, 11 & 15—divorcee.
    More Details Hide Details American. Thirty years experience as an actress in Motion Pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood. (Has had Broadway)." Davis said that she intended it as a joke, and she sustained her comeback over the course of several years. Dead Ringer (1964) was a crime drama in which she played twin sisters. The film was based in a plot previously filmed in Mexico by Dolores del Rio". Where Love Has Gone (1964) was a romantic drama based on a Harold Robbins novel. Davis played the mother of Susan Hayward but filming was hampered by heated arguments between Davis and Hayward. Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) was Robert Aldrich's follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which he planned to reunite Davis and Crawford, but when Crawford withdrew allegedly due to illness soon after filming began, she was replaced by Olivia de Havilland. The film was a considerable success and brought renewed attention to its veteran cast, which also included Joseph Cotten, Mary Astor and Agnes Moorehead. The following year, Davis was cast as the lead in an Aaron Spelling sitcom, The Decorator. A pilot episode was filmed, but was not shown, and the project was terminated. By the end of the decade, Davis had appeared in the British films The Nanny (1965), The Anniversary (1968), and Connecting Rooms (1970), but her career again stalled.
  • 1961
    Age 52
    In 1961 Davis opened in the Broadway production The Night of the Iguana to mostly mediocre reviews, and left the production after four months due to "chronic illness."
    More Details Hide Details She then joined Glenn Ford and Ann-Margret for the Frank Capra film A Pocketful of Miracles (1961) (a remake of Capra's 1933 film, Lady for a Day), based on a story by Damon Runyon. She accepted her next role, in the Grand Guignol horror film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) after reading the script and believing it could appeal to the same audience that had recently made Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) a success. She negotiated a deal that would pay her 10 percent of the worldwide gross profits, in addition to her salary. The film became one of the year's biggest successes. Davis and Joan Crawford played two aging sisters, former actresses forced by circumstance to share a decaying Hollywood mansion. The director, Robert Aldrich, explained that Davis and Crawford were each aware of how important the film was to their respective careers and commented, "It's proper to say that they really detested each other, but they behaved absolutely perfectly." After filming was completed, their public comments against each other allowed the tension to develop into a lifelong feud. When Davis was nominated for an Academy Award, Crawford contacted the other Best Actress nominees (who were unable to attend the ceremonies) and offered to accept the award on their behalf should they win, which was exactly what happened when Anne Bancroft was announced as winner. Crawford accepted the award on Bancroft's behalf.
  • 1960
    Age 51
    In 1960, Davis, a registered Democrat, appeared at the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, California, where she met future President John F. Kennedy, whom she greatly admired.
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    As her career declined, her marriage continued to deteriorate until she filed for divorce in 1960.
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  • 1959
    Age 50
    During the same time, she tried television, appearing in three episodes of the popular NBC western Wagon Train as three different characters in 1959 and 1961; her first appearance on TV had been February 25, 1956, on General Electric Theatre.
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  • FORTIES
  • 1952
    Age 43
    Davis and Merrill adopted a baby boy, Michael, in 1952, and Davis appeared in a Broadway revue, Two's Company directed by Jules Dassin.
    More Details Hide Details She was uncomfortable working outside of her area of expertise; she had never been a musical performer and her limited theater experience had been more than 20 years earlier. She was also severely ill and was operated on for osteomyelitis of the jaw. Margot was diagnosed as severely brain damaged due to an injury sustained during or shortly after her birth, and was eventually placed in an institution after age ~3years. Davis and Merrill began arguing frequently, with B.D. later recalling episodes of alcohol abuse and domestic violence. Few of Davis' films of the 1950s were successful and many of her performances were condemned by critics. The Hollywood Reporter wrote of mannerisms "that you'd expect to find in a nightclub impersonation of Davis," while the London critic, Richard Winninger, wrote, "Miss Davis, with more say than most stars as to what films she makes, seems to have lapsed into egoism. The criterion for her choice of film would appear to be that nothing must compete with the full display of each facet of the Davis art. Only bad films are good enough for her." Her films of this period included The Virgin Queen (1955), Storm Center (1956), and The Catered Affair (1956).
  • 1951
    Age 42
    In January 1951 Davis and Merrill adopted a 5-day-old baby girl they named Margot, named after the character Margo Channing.
    More Details Hide Details The family traveled to England, where Davis and Merrill starred in a murder-mystery film, Another Man's Poison (1951). When it received lukewarm reviews and failed at the box office, Hollywood columnists wrote that Davis' comeback had petered out, and an Academy Award nomination for The Star (1952) did not halt her decline.
  • 1950
    Age 41
    On July 3, 1950, Davis' divorce from William Sherry was finalized, and on July 28 she married Gary Merrill.
    More Details Hide Details With Sherry's consent, Merrill adopted B.D., Davis' daughter (Barbara) with Sherry.
  • 1949
    Age 40
    She also received the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award as "Best Actress", having been named by them as the "Worst Actress" of 1949 for Beyond the Forest.
    More Details Hide Details During this time she was invited to leave her handprints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre.
    By 1949, Davis and Sherry were estranged and Hollywood columnists were writing that Davis' career was at an end.
    More Details Hide Details She filmed The Story of a Divorce (released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1951 as Payment on Demand) but had received no other offers. Shortly before filming was completed, the producer Darryl F. Zanuck offered her the role of the aging theatrical actress Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950). Davis read the script, described it as the best she had ever read, and accepted the role. Within days she joined the cast in San Francisco to begin filming. During production, she established what would become a lifelong friendship with her co-star, Anne Baxter, and a romantic relationship with her leading man, Gary Merrill, which led to marriage. The film's director Joseph L. Mankiewicz later remarked, "Bette was letter perfect. She was syllable-perfect. The director's dream: the prepared actress." Critics responded positively to Davis' performance and several of her lines became well-known, particularly, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." She was again nominated for an Academy Award and critics such as Gene Ringgold described her Margo as her "all-time best performance." Pauline Kael wrote that much of Mankiewicz' vision of "the theater" was "nonsense" but commended Davis, writing "film is saved by one performance that is the real thing: Bette Davis is at her most instinctive and assured. Her actress—vain, scared, a woman who goes too far in her reactions and emotions—makes the whole thing come alive."
    Despite the lackluster box office receipts from her more recent films, in 1949, she negotiated a four-film contract with Warner Bros., which paid $10,285 per week and made her the highest-paid woman in the United States.
    More Details Hide Details Jack Warner refused to allow her script approval, however, and cast her in Beyond the Forest (1949). Davis reportedly loathed the script and begged Warner to recast the role, but he refused. After the film was completed, Warner released Davis from her contract, at her request. The reviews that followed were scathing; Dorothy Manners writing for the Los Angeles Examiner described the film as "an unfortunate finale to her brilliant career." Hedda Hopper wrote, "If Bette had deliberately set out to wreck her career, she could not have picked a more appropriate vehicle." The film contained the line, "What a dump!," which became closely associated with Davis after it was referenced in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and impersonators began to use it in their acts. In later years, Davis often used it as her opening line at speaking engagements.
  • THIRTIES
  • 1948
    Age 39
    In 1948 Davis was cast in the melodrama Winter Meeting; and, although she was initially enthusiastic, she soon learned that Warner had arranged for "softer" lighting to be used to disguise her age.
    More Details Hide Details She recalled that she had seen the same lighting technique "on the sets of Ruth Chatterton and Kay Francis, and I knew what they meant." She began to regret accepting the role; and, to add to her disappointment, she was not confident in the abilities of her leading man, James Davis in his first major screen role. She disagreed with amendments made to the script because of censorship restrictions and found that many of the aspects of the role that had initially appealed to her had been cut. The film was later described by Bosley Crowther as "interminable;" and he noted that "of all the miserable dilemmas in which Miss Davis has been involved this one is probably the worst". It failed at the box office, and the studio lost nearly one million dollars. While making June Bride (1948), Davis clashed with co-star Robert Montgomery, later describing him as "a male Miriam Hopkins... an excellent actor, but addicted to scene-stealing." The film marked her first comedy in several years and earned her some positive reviews; but it was not particularly popular with audiences and returned only a small profit.
  • 1947
    Age 38
    In 1947, at the age of 39, Davis gave birth to a daughter, Barbara Davis Sherry (known as B.D.) and later wrote in her memoir that she became absorbed in motherhood and considered ending her career.
    More Details Hide Details As she continued making films, however, her relationship with her daughter B.D. began to deteriorate and her popularity with audiences was steadily declining. Among the film roles offered to Davis following her return to film making was Rose Sayer in The African Queen (1951). When informed that the film was to be shot in Africa, Davis refused the part, telling Jack Warner, "If you can't shoot the picture in a boat on the back lot, then I'm not interested." Katharine Hepburn played the role and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress. Davis was also offered a role in a film version of the Virginia Kellogg prison drama Women Without Men. Originally intended to pair Davis with Joan Crawford, Davis made it clear that she would not appear in any "dyke movie." It was filmed as Caged (1950), and the lead roles were played by Eleanor Parker (who was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress) and Agnes Moorehead. She lobbied Jack Warner to make two films, Ethan Frome and a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln; however, Warner vetoed each proposal.
    In 1947, the U.S. Treasury named Davis as the highest paid woman in the country, with her share of the film's profit accounting for most of her earnings.
    More Details Hide Details Her next film was Deception (1946), the first of her films to lose money. Possessed (1947) had been tailor-made for Davis and was to have been her next project after Deception. However, she was pregnant and went on maternity leave. Joan Crawford played her role in Possessed and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress.
  • 1945
    Age 36
    In 1945, Davis married artist William Grant Sherry, who also, when necessary, worked as a masseur.
    More Details Hide Details She had been drawn to him because he claimed he had never heard of her and was, therefore, not intimidated by her. The same year, Davis refused the title role in Mildred Pierce (1945), a role for which Joan Crawford won an Academy Award, and instead made The Corn Is Green (1945) based on a play by Emlyn Williams. Davis played Miss Moffat, an English teacher who saves a young Welsh miner (John Dall) from a life in the coal pits, by offering him education. The part had been played in the theatre by Ethel Barrymore, but Warner Bros. felt that the film version should depict the character as a younger woman. Davis disagreed and insisted on playing the part as written and wore a gray wig and padding under her clothes, to create a dowdy appearance. The film was well received by critics and made a profit of $2.2 million. The critic E. Arnot Robertson observed that "only Bette Davis... could have combated so successfully the obvious intention of the adaptors of the play to make frustrated sex the mainspring of the chief character's interest in the young miner." She concluded that "the subtle interpretation she insisted on giving" kept the focus on the teacher's "sheer joy in imparting knowledge."
  • 1943
    Age 34
    In August 1943, Davis' husband, Arthur Farnsworth, collapsed while walking along a Hollywood street and died two days later.
    More Details Hide Details An autopsy revealed that his fall had been caused by a skull fracture he had suffered two weeks earlier. Davis testified before an inquest that she knew of no event that might have caused the injury. A finding of accidental death was reached. Highly distraught, Davis attempted to withdraw from her next film Mr. Skeffington (1944); but Jack Warner, who had halted production following Farnsworth's death, convinced her to continue. Although she had gained a reputation for being forthright and demanding, her behavior during filming of Mr. Skeffington was erratic and out of character. She alienated Vincent Sherman by refusing to film certain scenes and insisting that some sets be rebuilt. She improvised dialogue, causing confusion among other actors, and infuriated the writer, Julius Epstein, who was called upon to rewrite scenes at her whim. Davis later explained her actions with the observation, "when I was most unhappy I lashed out rather than whined." Some reviewers criticized Davis for the excess of her performance; James Agee wrote that she "demonstrates the horrors of egocentricity on a marathonic scale;" but despite the mixed reviews, she received another Academy Award nomination.
  • 1942
    Age 33
    At John Garfield's suggestion of opening a servicemen's club in Hollywood, Davis—with the aid of Warner, Cary Grant and Jule Styne—transformed an old nightclub into the Hollywood Canteen, which opened on October 3, 1942.
    More Details Hide Details Hollywood's most important stars volunteered to entertain servicemen. Davis ensured that every night there would be a few important "names" for the visiting soldiers to meet. She appeared as herself in the film Hollywood Canteen (1944), which used the canteen as the setting for a fictional story. Davis later commented, "There are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them." In 1980, she was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the United States Department of Defense's highest civilian award, for her work with the Hollywood Canteen. Davis showed little interest in the film Now, Voyager (1942) until Hal Wallis advised her that female audiences needed romantic dramas to distract them from the reality of their lives. It became one of the best known of her "women's pictures." In one of the film's most imitated scenes, Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes as he stares into Davis' eyes and passes one to her. Film reviewers complimented Davis on her performance, the National Board of Review commenting that she gave the film "a dignity not fully warranted by the script."
    Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Davis spent the early months of 1942 selling war bonds.
    More Details Hide Details After Jack Warner criticized her tendency to cajole crowds into buying, she reminded him that her audiences responded most strongly to her "bitch" performances. She sold two million dollars worth of bonds in two days, as well as a picture of herself in Jezebel for $250,000. She also performed for black regiments as the only white member of an acting troupe formed by Hattie McDaniel, which included Lena Horne and Ethel Waters.
  • 1941
    Age 32
    Davis starred in three movies in 1941, the first being The Great Lie, opposite George Brent.
    More Details Hide Details It was a refreshingly different role for Davis, as she played a kind, sympathetic character. Brent tickled Davis during many of the film's scenes, which allowed the audience, used to Davis' strong-willed character, a rare glimpse of her succumbing to giggles and squirms. William Wyler directed Davis for the third time in Lillian Hellman's The Little Foxes (RKO, 1941), but they clashed over the character of Regina Giddens, a role originally played on Broadway by Tallulah Bankhead (coincidentally, Davis had portrayed in film roles initiated by Bankhead on the stage twice before, in Dark Victory and Jezebel). Wyler encouraged Davis to emulate Bankhead's interpretation of the role, but Davis wanted to make the role her own. She received another Academy Award nomination for her performance, and never worked with Wyler again.
    In January 1941, Davis became the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences but antagonized the committee members with her brash manner and radical proposals.
    More Details Hide Details Faced with the disapproval and resistance of the committee, Davis resigned, and was succeeded by her predecessor Walter Wanger.
  • 1940
    Age 31
    Davis and Farnsworth were married at Home Ranch, in Rimrock, Arizona, in December 1940.
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  • 1939
    Age 30
    She appeared in three other box office hits in 1939, The Old Maid with Miriam Hopkins, Juarez with Paul Muni and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex with Errol Flynn.
    More Details Hide Details The latter was her first color film and her only color film made during the height of her career. To play the elderly Elizabeth I of England, Davis shaved her hairline and eyebrows. During filming she was visited on the set by the actor Charles Laughton. She commented that she had a "nerve" playing a woman in her sixties, to which Laughton replied, "Never not dare to hang yourself. That's the only way you grow in your profession. You must continually attempt things that you think are beyond you, or you get into a complete rut." Recalling the episode many years later, Davis remarked that Laughton's advice had influenced her throughout her career. By this time, Davis was Warner Bros.' most profitable star, and she was given the most important of their female leading roles. Her image was considered with more care; although she continued to play character roles, she was often filmed in close-ups that emphasizes her distinctive eyes. All This and Heaven Too (1940) was the most financially successful film of Davis' career to that point, while The Letter (1940) was considered "one of the best pictures of the year" by The Hollywood Reporter, and Davis won admiration for her portrayal of an adulterous killer, a role originated by famed actress Katharine Cornell. During this time, she was in a relationship with her former costar George Brent, who proposed marriage.
  • TWENTIES
  • 1938
    Age 29
    In 1938, Nelson obtained evidence that Davis was engaged in a sexual relationship with Howard Hughes and subsequently filed for divorce citing Davis' "cruel and inhuman manner."
    More Details Hide Details She was emotional during the making of her next film, Dark Victory (1939), and considered abandoning it until the producer Hal B. Wallis convinced her to channel her despair into her acting. The film became one of the highest-grossing films of the year, and the role of Judith Traherne brought her an Academy Award nomination. In later years, Davis cited this performance as her personal favorite.
  • 1937
    Age 28
    For her performance in the film she was awarded the Volpi Cup at the 1937 Venice Film Festival.
    More Details Hide Details Her next picture was Jezebel (1938), and during production Davis entered a relationship with director William Wyler. She later described him as the "love of my life," and said that making the film with him was "the time in my life of my most perfect happiness." The film was a success, and Davis' performance as a spoiled Southern belle earned her a second Academy Award, which led to speculation in the press that she would be chosen to play a similar character, Scarlett O'Hara, in Gone with the Wind. Davis expressed her desire to play Scarlett, and while David O. Selznick was conducting a search for the actress to play the role, a radio poll named her as the audience favorite. Warners offered her services to Selznick as part of a deal that also included Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, but Selznick did not consider Davis as suitable, and rejected the offer, while Davis did not want Flynn cast as Rhett Butler. Newcomer Vivien Leigh was eventually cast as Scarlett O'Hara, while de Havilland landed a role as Melanie, and both of them would be nominated for the Oscars, with Leigh winning.
  • 1936
    Age 27
    Convinced that her career was being damaged by a succession of mediocre films, Davis accepted an offer in 1936 to appear in two films in Britain.
    More Details Hide Details Knowing that she was breaching her contract with Warner Bros., she fled to Canada to avoid legal papers being served upon her. Eventually, Davis brought her case to court in Britain, hoping to get out of her contract with Warner Bros. She later recalled the opening statement of the barrister, Sir Patrick Hastings, who represented Warner Bros. Hastings urged the court to "come to the conclusion that this is rather a naughty young lady and that what she wants is more money." He mocked Davis's description of her contract as "slavery" by stating, incorrectly, that she was being paid $1,350 per week. He remarked, "if anybody wants to put me into perpetual servitude on the basis of that remuneration, I shall prepare to consider it." The British press offered little support to Davis, and portrayed her as overpaid and ungrateful.
  • 1932
    Age 23
    In 1932 she married Harmon "Ham" Nelson, who was scrutinized by the press; his $100 a week earnings compared unfavorably with Davis's reported $1,000 a week income.
    More Details Hide Details Davis addressed the issue in an interview, pointing out that many Hollywood wives earned more than their husbands, but the situation proved difficult for Nelson, who refused to allow Davis to purchase a house until he could afford to pay for it himself. Davis had several abortions during the marriage. After more than 20 film roles, the role of the vicious and slatternly Mildred Rogers in the RKO Radio production of Of Human Bondage (1934), a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's novel, earned Davis her first major critical acclaim. Many actresses feared playing unsympathetic characters and several had refused the role, but Davis viewed it as an opportunity to show the range of her acting skills. Her co-star, Leslie Howard, was initially dismissive of her, but as filming progressed his attitude changed and he subsequently spoke highly of her abilities. The director, John Cromwell, allowed her relative freedom, and commented, "I let Bette have her head. I trusted her instincts." She insisted that she be portrayed realistically in her death scene, and said, "the last stages of consumption, poverty and neglect are not pretty and I intended to be convincing-looking."
  • 1931
    Age 22
    A second test was arranged for Davis, for the 1931 film A House Divided.
    More Details Hide Details Hastily dressed in an ill-fitting costume with a low neckline, she was rebuffed by the director William Wyler, who loudly commented to the assembled crew, "What do you think of these dames who show their chests and think they can get jobs?" Carl Laemmle, the head of Universal Studios, considered terminating Davis's employment, but cinematographer Karl Freund told him she had "lovely eyes" and would be suitable for Bad Sister (1931), in which she subsequently made her film debut. Her nervousness was compounded when she overheard the Chief of Production, Carl Laemmle, Jr., comment to another executive that she had "about as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville," one of the film's co-stars. The film was not a success, and her next role in Seed (1931) was too brief to attract attention. Universal Studios renewed her contract for three months, and she appeared in a small role in Waterloo Bridge (1931) before being lent to Columbia Pictures for The Menace and to Capital Films for Hell's House (all 1932). After nine months, and six unsuccessful films, Laemmle elected not to renew her contract.
  • 1930
    Age 21
    Davis and her mother traveled by train to Hollywood and arrived on December 13, 1930.
    More Details Hide Details She would later recount her surprise that nobody from the studio was there to meet her at the train. In fact, a studio employee had waited for her, but left because he saw nobody who "looked like an actress." She failed her first screen test but was used in several screen tests for other actors. In a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett, she related the experience with the observation, "I was the most Yankee-est, most modest virgin who ever walked the earth. They laid me on a couch, and I tested fifteen men They all had to lie on top of me and give me a passionate kiss. Oh, I thought I would die. Just thought I would die."
    In 1930, Davis moved to Hollywood to screen test for Universal Studios.
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  • 1929
    Age 20
    After performing in Philadelphia, Washington and Boston, she made her Broadway debut in 1929 in Broken Dishes, and followed it with Solid South.
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  • TEENAGE
  • 1926
    Age 17
    She attended Cushing Academy, a boarding school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, where she met her future husband, Harmon O. Nelson, known as "Ham." In 1926, she saw a production of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck with Blanche Yurka and Peg Entwistle, a well-known Broadway actress who killed herself in 1932 by jumping off the H of the Hollywood Sign.
    More Details Hide Details Davis later recalled that Entwistle inspired her full commitment to her chosen career, and said, "Before that Entwistle." She auditioned for admission to Eva LeGallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory, but was rejected by LeGallienne who described her attitude as "insincere" and "frivolous." Upon graduating from Cushing Academy, Bette enrolled in John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School. She auditioned for George Cukor's stock theater company, and although he was not very impressed, he gave Davis her first paid acting assignment anyway—a one-week stint playing the part of a chorus girl in the play Broadway. She was later chosen to play Hedwig, the character she had seen Entwistle play, in The Wild Duck.
  • 1921
    Age 12
    In 1921, Ruth Davis moved to New York City with her daughters, where she worked as a portrait photographer.
    More Details Hide Details Betty was inspired to become an actress after seeing Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Mary Pickford in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921), and changed the spelling of her name to "Bette" after Honoré de Balzac's La Cousine Bette.
  • CHILDHOOD
  • 1915
    Age 6
    In 1915, Davis's parents separated and Betty and Bobby attended a Spartan boarding school called Crestalban in Lanesborough, which is located in the Berkshires.
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  • 1908
    Born
    Ruth Elizabeth Davis, known from early childhood as "Betty," was born on April 5, 1908, at 22 Chester Street, Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Harlow Morrell Davis, a law student from Augusta, Maine, and Ruth Augusta "Ruthie" (née Favór), from Tyngsboro, Massachusetts.
    More Details Hide Details Betty's younger sister, Barbara Harriet "Bobby", was born October 25, 1909, at 55 Ward Street in Somerville, Massachusetts, by which time their father was a patent attorney.
Original Authors of this text are noted here.
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