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Profile of Bette Davis
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|Also Know As:
|Date of Birth:
||5th April 1908
|Place of Birth:
||Lowell, Massachusetts, USA
This article is about Bette Davis the actress; there is also a singer named Betty Davis.
Ruth Elizabeth Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989), was an American actress of stage, screen and television.
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts, she is better known as Bette Davis, this superstar was renowned for her intense, forceful persona and her artistic versatility during career that spanned six decades and over one hundred films. Founder of the Hollywood Canteen and one of the most beloved divas of cinema's Golden Age, Davis is most remembered as a symbol of feminist strength, stemming from her portrayals of ruthless, hysterical or unsympathetic women and her equally turbulent offscreen life that included several stormy marriages and legendary battles with male studio heads.
Alternately referred to as the "Queen of Hollywood" or the "First Lady of the Screen," Davis for a time held the record most Oscar nominations (11) for Best Actress, since broken by Katharine Hepburn (12). To this day, Davis remains one of the most lauded and idolized stars in film history, having been the subject of one of the most successful #1 songs of pop history, "Bette Davis Eyes" (1981), as well as becoming the first woman to serve as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was the first actress to receive the Lifetime Achievement Award (1979) from the American Film Institute, which in 1999 voted her the second greatest female film legend of all-time.
In 2004, Davis became the most represented actress on AFI's ballot of 100 Greatest Film Roles and in 2005 joined three others as the most represented actress on their ballot of 100 Greatest Film Quotes. Offscreen, Davis was the source of several now-famous quips about womanhood, acting, and Hollywood, often offered with biting wit. Villified by her critics as a histrionic, mannered overactor, she also suffered a reputation for being somewhat combative and difficult to work with. Despite this, according to respected film historian and critic Leonard Maltin "by the time she died Davis had won a status enjoyed by no other Hollywood actress" and many fans and film professionals still consider her the best screen actress of all time.
Davis's early years
Davis was born to Harlow Morrell Davis, a descendant of Welsh Puritans, and Ruth Favor, a descendant of Hugenot pioneers. In 1918, Davis's father left ran off leaving Bette and her sister, Barbara, to be raised in genteel poverty by their mother, who had aspired to be an actress. As a child, she aspired to be a dancer, until she decided that actors led a more glamorous life. Upon graduation from Cushing Academy, a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts, Davis was denied admission to Eva LeGallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory because she was considered insincere. Undeterred, she enrolled in John Murray Anderson's dramatic school (where classmate Lucille Ball was sent home because she was "too shy"), and became a star pupil.
Davis, the ingenue
Her first professional stage performance was The Earth Between, Off-Broadway in 1923. Her first Broadway performance was in 1929, in the comedy Broken Dishes and later in Solid South. The next year, she was hired by Universal Studios, but they felt she was not star material, and in 1932, they let her sign with Warner Brothers. Her first starring role was in The Man Who Played God, and she became a star in Of Human Bondage. The Motion Picture Academy failed to nominate Davis for this tour de force, and such was the outrage that she received many write-in votes from disgruntled Academy members.
A much-publicised legal battle with Warners to stop them from putting her in inferior movies led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of her films (although she lost the case). She went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938), and was able to name her own roles, with the exception of Gone with the Wind in 1939.
Davis, the established star
Davis was elected the ninth president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose award she claimed to have named the "Oscar", but only served from October to December 1941, when she resigned. With the outbreak of WWII, Davis took on a patriotic leadership role both as one of the founders and as the president of the Hollywood Canteen for visiting armed forces servicemen.
Her career began to stagnate through the 1940s, but her performance in All About Eve (1950), for which she received another Oscar nomination. Davis commented throughout the rest of her life that the role had "brought me back from the dead". The films that she appeared in through the remainder of the 1950s did not equal the quality of All About Eve, and by the end of the decade she was no longer in demand.
In 1961, she placed an advertisement for "job wanted" in the trade papers. Davis later observed that, although she intended it as a joke, there was considerable truth in it, and that above all else, she simply wanted the opportunity to continue working. Her role in 1962's over-the-top What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which she played a very scary parody of herself opposite her (mostly press-invented) long-time rival Joan Crawford, earned her another Oscar nomination. The film, which was the only time that Davis and Crawford ever worked together onscreen in either of their careers, was a smash hit and a top-grosser that year.
Sensing renewed box-office potential in his former contract player, Jack Warner signed Davis for another venture into the macabre in 1964's Dead Ringer, where she plays identical twin sisters (one of whom murders the other) opposite gigolo Peter Lawford and detective Karl Malden. In this updated homage to A Stolen Life (1946), Davis and her Now, Voyager (1942) co-star, Paul Henreid, were reunited as Henreid was the director.
Davis, the icon
In 1977, Davis became the first woman to receive the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy. She wrote a biography, The Lonely Life, in the 1960s, and Mother Goddam in 1975.
Davis's only biological child was by her third husband, William Grant Sherry, B.D. Hyman (born Barbara Davis Sherry, named after Davis's sister). In 1985, Hyman wrote a tell-all book, My Mother's Keeper, in which she savaged her mother and Gary Merrill, her adoptive father. Davis admitted that her career always came first, and, although she married four times and had several affairs, including ones with George Brent and William Wyler, many who knew both her and her daughter claimed the book was largely fiction and that Davis, although difficult, was really a loving mother and grandmother. Davis adopted two other children with Merrill, Margot, who was confined to special education schools for most of her life due to a brain injury, and Michael, with whom both Davis and Merrill maintained close relationships throughout their lives. Michael never confirmed nor denied the claims Hyman made in the book. She currently hosts a weekly half-hour show on the Christian cable network World Harvest Television.
Davis wrote another book, This 'N' That, in the late 1980s, and Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, which appeared the year after her death, updating what had happened since her first biography had been published. She died on October 6, 1989 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, following a long battle with breast cancer, and after having suffered several strokes. She is interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. On her tombstone is written: "She did it the hard way."
She walked out of her last film, "Wicked Stepmother", which was released posthumously in 1989 with her still included. She is also credited with many famous quotes about acting often about Hollywood and rivals like Crawford and Hepburn.
After the song "Bette Davis Eyes" became a hit in 1981, Davis wrote letters to songwriters Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon and singer Kim Carnes to thank them and to ask them how they knew so much about her. One of the reasons Davis loved the song is that her grandson thought she was now "cool" because she had a hit song written about her.
On July 19, 2001, Steven Spielberg purchased Davis's Oscar for Jezebel at a Christie's auction and returned it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
The actress and singer Bette Midler (born 1945), whose birth name is Bette Davis Midler, is named after Bette Davis. However, Midler pronounces her first name as one syllable, not two.
Academy Awards and Nominations
- Nominated What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
- Nominated The Star (1952)
- Nominated All About Eve (1950)
- Nominated Mr. Skeffington (1944)
- Nominated Now, Voyager (1942)
- Nominated The Little Foxes (1941)
- Nominated The Letter (1940)
- Nominated Dark Victory (1939)
- Won Jezebel (1938)
- Won Dangerous (1935)
- Nominated Of Human Bondage (1934)
- The Bad Sister (1931)
- Seed (1931)
- Waterloo Bridge (1931)
- Way Back Home (1932)
- The Menace (1932)
- Hell's House (1932)
- The Man Who Played God (1932)
- So Big! (1932)
- The Rich Are Always with Us (1932)
- The Dark Horse (1932)
- The Cabin in the Cotton (1932)
- Three on a Match (1932)
- 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932)
- The 42nd Street Special (1933) (short subject)
- Parachute Jumper (1933)
- The Working Man (1933)
- Ex-Lady (1933)
- Bureau of Missing Persons (1933)
- The Big Shakedown (1934)
- Fashions of 1934 (1934)
- Jimmy the Gent (1934)
- Fog Over Frisco (1934)
- Of Human Bondage (1934)
- Housewife (1934)
- A Dream Comes True (1935) (short subject)
- Bordertown (1935)
- The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935)
- Front Page Woman (1935)
- Special Agent (1935)
- Dangerous (1935)
- The Petrified Forest (1936)
- The Golden Arrow (1936)
- Satan Met a Lady (1936)
- Marked Woman (1937)
- Kid Galahad (1937)
- That Certain Woman (1937)
- It's Love I'm After (1937)
- Breakdowns of 1938 (1938) (short subject)
- Jezebel (1938)
- For Auld Lang Syne (1938) (short subject)
- The Sisters (1938)
- A Day at Santa Anita (1939) (short subject)
- Dark Victory (1939)
- Juarez (1939)
- The Old Maid (1939)
- The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939)
- All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
- The Letter (1940)
- The Great Lie (1941)
- Shining Victory (1941) (Cameo)
- The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)
- The Little Foxes (1941)
- The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
- In This Our Life (1942)
- Now, Voyager (1942)
- Show Business at War (1943) (short subject)
- Watch on the Rhine (1943)
- Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943)
- The Present with a Future (1943) (short subject)
- Mr. Skeffington (1944)
- Hollywood Canteen (1944)
- The Corn Is Green (1945)
- A Stolen Life (1946) (also producer)
- Deception (1946)
- Winter Meeting (1948)
- June Bride (1948)
- Beyond the Forest (1949)
- All About Eve (1950)
- Payment on Demand (1951)
- Another Man's Poison (1952)
- Phone Call from a Stranger (1952)
- The Star (1952)
- The Virgin Queen (1955)
- The Catered Affair (1956)
- Storm Center (1956)
- John Paul Jones (1959)
- The Scapegoat (1959)
- Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
- The Empty Canvas (1963)
- Dead Ringer (1964)
- Where Love Has Gone (1964)
- Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
- The Nanny (1965)
- Think Twentieth (1967) (short subject)
- The Anniversary (1968)
- Connecting Rooms (1970)
- Bunny O'Hare (1971)
- Madame Sin (1972)
- The Scientific Cardplayer (1972)
- Burnt Offerings (1976)
- Return from Witch Mountain (1978)
- Death on the Nile (1978)
- The Children of Sanchez (1979) (Cameo)
- The Watcher in the Woods (1980)
- Directed by William Wyler (1986) (documentary)
- The Whales of August (1987)
- Wicked Stepmother (1989)
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