Bette Davis was an American actress famous for her magnetic gaze and strong personality.
She was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1908. Her father was English and mother was French. Encouraged by her mother, young Bette studied dancing and acting. In 1929 she debuted on Broadway in the play Broken Dishes and was noticed immediately. Universal Studios hired her for the film The Bad Sister.
Bette was not a traditional beauty. She had bulging eyes, round cheeks, was short and her figure was not curvaceous enough. Universal Studios’s CEO Carl Laemmle Jr. did not think she could be successful. The following year, Bette left Universal and joined Warner Bros. Right from the start, Bette Davis gave her best performances when playing forceful women. In 20,000 Years in Sing Sing she played a woman helping her man escape from prison.
Two years later, in Of Human Bondage, she played a waitress who mistreats and humiliates her young fiancé. In 1935, in Alfred Green’s Dangerous, she played an alcoholic ex-actress, a role that earned her an Oscar just five years after her debut in movies.
Now that she’d become a star, Bette Davis could choose her roles. Her battles with Jack Warner, then the head of Warner Bros, became legendary. Histrionic and combative, she was also quick to spar with her colleagues, and developed an entertaining rivalry with Joan Crawford, with whom she competed for strong female roles.
One of her few defeats during these years was her inability to secure the role of Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind. Later, Davis took a Southern heroine role in William Wyler’s Jezebel tailored especially for her, and earned a second Oscar. In 1950, in Joseph Mankiewicz’s All about Eve, Bette Davis created a character that became legendary. Playing an over-the-hill actress who is eclipsed by a younger rival, Davis stole the show. The film proved sadly prophetic: Bette Davis was then 42, and suffering the pressure of a new wave of emerging young actresses. Davis soon disappeared from the scene.
She returned twelve years later in Robert Aldrich’s film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. She and Joan Crawford, her old rival, portrayed a morbid love and hate relationship between two sisters. Her career continued to flow smoothly after that. Afflicted by cancer, in 1987 she gave a touching interpretation in Lindsay Anderson’s film The Whales of August.
With more than 100 films, four marriages and three children to behind her, Bette Davis died on October 6, 1989 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, in France. She was 81.