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Bette Davis

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Biography:

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 Crawford.

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, France.

Biographical information from Cinemania '95.

Return to the Bette Davis main page.


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