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Bette Davis

 

Bette Davis

American actress
original name Ruth Elizabeth Davis

born April 5, 1908, Lowell, Massachusetts, U.S.
died Oct. 6, 1989, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France

versatile, volatile American actress, whose raw, unbridled intensity kept her at the top of her profession for 50 years.

Davis developed a taste for acting while attending her mother’s alma mater, Cushing Academy in Massachussetts. After gaining a smattering of experience in summer stock, she was accepted by John Murray Anderson’s acting school, where she quickly became a star pupil. In 1929 she made her first Broadway appearances, in Broken Dishes and Solid South, which led to a movie contract with Universal Pictures. Upon her arrival in Hollywood, however, the studio executives determined that she had no “sex appeal,” and after a series of thankless roles in such films as Bad Sister (1931) and a handful of equally unrewarding loanouts to other studios, Universal dropped her option. The dispirited young actress was on the verge of looking for another line of work when actor Murray Kinnell, with whom she had appeared in The Menace (1932), recommended her to play the ingenue in Warner Bros.’ The Man Who Played God (1932). The positive critical response to her work in this film prompted Warner Bros. to sign Davis to a contract.

After a series of undemanding roles for Warners, she begged the studio to lend her to RKO Radio Pictures to play the vicious, relentlessly unsympathetic Mildred in Of Human Bondage (1934), a film version of W. Somerset Maugham’s novel. Davis’s bravura performance as Mildred won her critical acclaim and industry respect, but studio politics prevented her from receiving an Academy Award. She subsequently won what many considered a “consolation” Oscar for her portrayal of an alcoholic, self-destructive actress in Dangerous (1935).

Her achievements notwithstanding, Warners continued to cast Davis in roles she considered beneath her talents and refused to pay her what she felt she was worth. Suspended by the studio for turning down yet another inconsequential role, she went to England to seek better roles. When Warners blocked her from doing any work outside of her contract, she sued the studio—and lost. In the long run, however, she won: upon returning to Warners, she was lavishly indulged. Her salary demands were met, and her choice of screen assignments improved dramatically. She went on to win a second Oscar for Jezebel (1938), the first of three rewarding collaborations with director William Wyler. Her other notable vehicles from this period include Dark Victory (1939), Juarez (1939), and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



 
 


 
 


 
 


 
 


 
 


 

 

 

 

 

 

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