RUTH ELIZABETH DAVIS was born on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts.
Her parents divorced when she was 7 and her mother encouraged her interest
in acting by taking her to New York in 1928 where she made her acting debut
in 1929. In 1930 Universal
Pictures signed her to a contract and Bette and her mother went to
Hollywood. Her first film was BAD SISTER (1931), which also featured Humphrey
Bogart, but her first big success came with George Arliss in THE MAN
WHO PLAYED GOD (1932).
Bette's career took a dramatic turn in 1934 when she was lent to
RKO to play opposite Leslie Howard
in OF HUMAN BONDAGE, and on account of her good reviews, she began to get
better parts. The following year, she made DANGEROUS (1935), for which
she won a Best Actress Oscar, the first of ten times she would be nominated.
In 1936 Bette challenged the studio system and went to London to make pictures
with a British company. After Warner
Bros. successfully sued her, she returned to Hollywood and signed a
new contract offering her even better roles. She won the second of her
two Best Actress awards for William
Wyler's JEZEBEL in 1938 (also starring Henry
Fonda), and made four notable films in 1939 including DARK VICTORY
with Humphrey Bogart, JUAREZ,
THE OLD MAID and THE PRIVATE LIVES OF ELIZABETH AND ESSEX.
Davis became famous and often imitated for her clipped diction and
distinct mannerisms (especially her extravagant cigarette smoking), and
her popularity continued to grow with successes such as ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN
TOO (1940), THE LETTER (1940) with Herbert
Marshall, THE LITTLE FOXES (1941) with Teresa
Wright, and NOW, VOYAGER (1942) with Paul
Henried. Her career faltered in the late forties, but she came roaring
back in 1950 playing the fading Broadway star Margo Channing in ALL ABOUT
EVE, the Best Picture of the year. Later in the '50s, her career began
to falter once more, but she came back once again in WHAT EVER HAPPENED
TO BABY JANE? (1962), also starring Joan
Bette continued to adapt to new acting opportunities throughout her
career, taking on roles in horror films in later years as well as making
various TV appearances. Her personal life was not as successful however,
having been married four times and suffering estrangement from her daughter
B.D. Her last significant film appearance was THE WHALES OF AUGUST in 1987.
Bette herself once said, "I adore playing bitches … there's a little
bit of bitch in every woman; and a little bit of bitch in every man."
In 1977, she was the first woman to receive the American Film Institute
Life Achievement Award, and she died on October 6, 1989 in Neuilly-sur-Seine,