By BettyJean Downing
- Davis was the co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen,
- First female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
- She won the Academy Award for Best Actress twice,
- The first person to accrue 10 Academy Award nominations for acting,
- The first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute.
Her career went through several periods of eclipse, and she admitted that her success had often been at the expense of her personal relationships.
Married four times, she was once widowed and thrice divorced, and raised her children as a single parent. Her final years were marred by a long period of ill health, but she continued acting until shortly before her death from breast cancer, with more than 100 films, television and theatre roles to her credit. In 1999, Davis was placed second, after Katharine Hepburn, on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest female stars of all time.
“I went back to work because someone had to pay for the groceries.” ~ Bette Davis
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her parents divorced when she was 10. She and her sister were raised by their mother, Ruthie. Bette demanded attention from birth, which led to her pursuing a career in acting. After graduation from Cushing Academy she was refused admittance to Eva Le Gallienne’s Manhattan Civic Repertory because she was considered insincere and frivolous. She enrolled in John Murray Anderson’s Dramatic School and was the star pupil. She was in the off-Broadway play “The Earth Between” (1923), and her Broadway debut in 1929 was in “Broken Dishes”. She also appeared in “Solid South”. Late in 1930, she was hired by Universal. When she arrived in Hollywood, the studio representative who went to meet her train left without her because he could find no one who looked like a movie star. An official at Universal complained she had “as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville” and her performance in The Bad Sister (1931) didn’t impress. In 1932 she signed a seven-year deal with Warner Brothers Pictures. She became a star after her appearance in The Man Who Played God (1932). Warners loaned her to RKO in 1934 for Of Human Bondage (1934), in which she was a smash. She had a significant number of write-in votes for the Best Actress Oscar, but didn’t win. She finally DID win for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938)). She constantly fought with Warners and tried to get out of her contract because she felt she wasn’t receiving the top roles an Oscar-winning actress deserved, and eventually sued the studio. Returning after losing her lawsuit, her roles improved dramatically. The only role she didn’t get that she wanted was Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Warners wouldn’t loan her to David O. Selznick unless he hired Errol Flynn to play Rhett Butler, which both Selznick and Davis thought was a terrible choice. It was rumored she had numerous affairs, among them George Brent and William Wyler, and she was married four times, three of which ended in divorce. She admitted her career always came first. She made many successful films in the 1940s, but each picture was weaker than the last and by the time her Warner Brothers contract had ended in 1949, she had been reduced to appearing in such films as the unintentionally hilarious Beyond the Forest (1949). She made a huge comeback in 1950 when she replaced an ill Claudette Colbert in, and received an Oscar nomination for, All About Eve (1950). She worked in films through the 1950s, but her career eventually came to a standstill, and in 1961 she placed a now famous Job Wanted ad in the trade papers.
She received an Oscar nomination for her role as a demented former child star in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), which brought her a new degree of stardom in both movies and television through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1977 she received the AFI’s Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979) (TV). In 1977-78 she moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles and filmed a pilot for the series “Hotel” (1983), which she called Brothel. She refused to do the TV series and suffered a stroke during this time. Her daughter Barbara Merrill wrote a 1985 “Mommie Dearest”-type book, “My Mother’s Keeper”. She worked in the later 1980s in films and TV, even though a stroke had impaired her appearance and mobility. She wrote a book “This ‘N That” during her recovery from the stroke. Her last book was “Bette Davis, The Lonely Life”, issued in paperback in 1990. It included an update from 1962 to 1989. She wrote the last chapter in San Sebastian, Spain. When she passed away of cancer on October 6, 1989, in France, many of her fans refused to believe she was gone.
IMDb Mini Biography By: Meredy
Her parents divorced when she was young. In her first year of high school, she gave up dance for acting. After a little time in John Murray Anderson’s acting school, she was in the off-Broadway play “The Earth Between” (1923). Her Broadway debut in 1929 was in “Broken Dishes”. Late in 1930, on a six-month Universal contract, she arrived in Hollywood. The studio representative who went to meet her train left without her because he could find no one who looked like a movie star. In 1932 she signed a seven-year deal with Warners. She won Oscars for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) and fought unsuccessfully to break her contract between awards. She received eight additional Oscar nominations, including one for the role of Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950), the role with which she remains most identified. A genuine box-office star in the 1930s and 1940s, all her films from 1953 to 1962 lost money; then What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) brought a new phase of stardom. In 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979) (TV), and in 1982 she moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles to be in the 1982-3 TV series “Hotel” (1983) (illness led to her replacement by Anne Baxter–shades of All About Eve (1950)!). She had three children, one of whom was severely retarded. Her daughter B.D. Hyman (AKA Barbara Merrill) wrote a 1985 torrid biography, “My Mother’s Keeper”. In 1977 the American Film Institute gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award.
IMDb Mini Biography By: Ed Stephan
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1908. Her parents divorced when she was 10. Her early interests were in dance. To Bette, dancers led a glamorous life, but then she discovered the stage. She gave up dancing for acting. To her, it presented much more of a challenge. She studied drama in New York City and made her debut on Broadway in 1929. In 1930, she moved to Hollywood where she hoped things would get better for her in the world of acting. They did indeed. She would become known as the actress that could play a variety of very strong and complex roles. She was first under contract to Universal Studios, where she made her first film, called Way Back Home (1931). After the unsuccessful film The Bad Sister (1931), made the same year, she was fired, which was wildly unpopular. She then moved on to Warner Brothers. Her first film with them was Seed (1931). More fairly successful movies followed, but it was the role of Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1934) that would give Bette major acclaim from the film critics. Warner Bros. felt their seven-year deal with Bette was more than justified. They had a genuine star on their hands. With this success under her belt, she began pushing for stronger and more meaningful roles. In 1935, she received her first Oscar for her role in Dangerous (1935) as Joyce Heath. In 1936, she was suspended without pay for turning down a role that she deemed unworthy of her talent. She went to England, where she had planned to make movies, but was stopped by Warner Bros. because she was still under contract to them. They did not want her to work anywhere. Although she sued to get out of her contract, she lost. Still, they began to take her more seriously after that. In 1938, Bette received a second Academy Award nomination for her work in Jezebel (1938) opposite the soon-to-be-legendary Henry Fonda. Bette would receive six more nominations, including one for her role as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950). While she was a genuine star in the ’30s and ’40s, the ’50s and early ’60s saw her in the midst of films that all lost money. Then came What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) in which she played a deranged former child star and a rather spooky one at that. This brought about a new round of super-stardom for generations of fans who were not familiar with her work. Two years later she starred in Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964). Bette was married four times. Her last marriage, to actor Gary Merrill, lasted ten years, longer than any of the previous three. In 1985, her daughter Barbara Davis (“B.D.”) Hyman published a scandalous book about Bette called “My Mother’s Keeper.” Sadly, Bette Davis died on October 6, 1989, of metastasized breast cancer.