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Most budding screen actresses might have thrown in the towel if they had been appraised, like Davis was, as having "about as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville." (That from Universal president Carl Laemmle, after seeing her debut performance in 1930's Bad Sister But this feisty, unique star defied her studio critics repeatedly and fooled them all by achieving ever greater success; by the time she died Davis had won a status enjoyed by no other Hollywood actress, and if her struggles took a heavy toll on her personal life, we can at least be grateful that they gave us so many memorable movie moments. Davis decided that she wanted to be an actress while in high school, and worked in student productions and regional theater. Famed acting teacher Eva Le Gallienne rejected Davis' application to study with her, so the young hopeful went instead to John Murphy Anderson's school. Her early professional career in stock was undistinguished to say the least; director George Cukor fired her from a show in upstate New York. She made her Broadway debut in 1929's "Broken Dishes," and the following year was rebuffed in her first attempt to crash the movies when she got a thumbs-down after screen-testing for Samuel Goldwyn. She was signed by Universal later that year, but her tenure there was brief, with sup porting stints in only a few movies, including Waterloo Bridge (1931). Davis freelanced briefly (making, among several lackluster movies, a ludicrous 1932 thriller, The Menace for Columbia) before securing a berth at Warner Bros., where she first showed her ability in a meaty supporting role in the George Arliss vehicle The Man Who Played God (1932). Although the studio didn't quite know how to exploit her, she was at least kept busy in a string of program pictures that included Cabin in the Cotton (also 1932, in which, as a spoiled Southern belle, she uttered the immortal line, "Ah'd like ta kiss ya, but ah jest washed mah hayyah!"), The Dark Horse, Three on a Match (both also 1932), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (with Spencer Tracy), Ex-Lady, The Working Man, Parachute Jumper, Bureau of Missing Persons (all 1933), Fashions of 1934 (a reasonably big musical, albeit one with a thankless part for Davis), The Big Shakedown, Fog Over Frisco and Jimmy the Gent (all 1934, in the last-named with James Cagney). After being loaned out to RKO to play the conniving waitress in John Cromwell's Of Human Bondage (a role for which she actively lobbied), and scoring her first major triumph in the part, Davis intensified her efforts to secure better roles in Warners pictures. Initially she was put off, but finally got a meaty character as the former star rehabilitated by Franchot Tone in Dangerous (1935), which earned Davis her first Academy Award. The studio brass, as much to humble the increasingly difficult star as for any other reason, continued to put her in lame programmers for a time, but eventually bestowed upon her the quality vehicles she richly deserved. (Not, however, before being sued unsuccessfully-by Davis in an attempt to break her contract.) She snagged Best Actress Oscar nominations five years in a row-for Jezebel (1938, which she won), Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), and Now, Voyager (1942)-then earned another in 1944 for Mr. Skeffington She played in both period pictures and contemporary dramas, bringing her own unique passion and charisma to each role while debunking the conventional wisdom that ceded superstar status to more "glamorous" female stars. Her other Warners films included The Petrified Forest (1936), Kid Galahad, Marked Woman, That Certain Woman (all 1937), The Sisters (1938), Juarez, The Old Maid, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (all 1939), All This, and Heaven Too (1940), The Great Lie, The Bride Came C.O.D., The Man Who Came to Dinner (all 1941, taking a supporting role-at her own request-in the last-named, a terrific adaptation of the hilarious George S. Kaufman-Moss Hart play), In This Our Life (1942), Watch on the Rhine, Thank Your Lucky Stars, Old Acquaintance (all 1943), Hollywood Canteen (1944), The Corn Is Green (1945), Deception, A Stolen Life (both 1946), June Bride (1948), and Beyond the Forest (1949, contributing another memorable movie line when, upon entering a shabby house, she says, "What a dump!"). Finally freed from her Warners contract, but with her star somewhat diminished by weaker pictures of the late 1940s, Davis bounced back with the stunning, Oscar nominated characterization of aging actress Margo Channing (who, in a Davis moment that almost descends to self caricature, utters the unforgettable "Fasten your safety belts ... it's going to be a bumpy night!") in All About Eve (1950). She played another actress, and received another Oscar nod, in The Star (1952), but her other, relatively few 1950s films with the exception of The Virgin Queen (1955) and Storm Center (1956)-were largely undistinguished. In 1961 Frank Capra gave her a scene-stealing character, Apple Annie, in Pocketful of Miracles and she received her last Academy Award nomination as a demented former child star in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962, costarring another legendary Hollywood bitch, Joan Crawford, with whom Davis didn't get along-to put it mildly). Davis' other 1960s vehicles included The Empty Canvas (1963), Dead Ringer, Where Love Has Gone (both 1964). Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte, The Nanny (both 1965), The Anniversary (1968), and Connecting Rooms (1969)-an uninspiring lot, to say the least. While she appeared in Bunny O'Hare (1971), Burnt Offerings (1976), Return From Witch Mountain, Death on the Nile (both 1978), and The Watcher in the Woods (1980), Davis spent most of the remainder of her career on the small screen, working in TV movies of varying quality. She did return to the big screen in Lindsay Anderson's elegiac The Whales of August (1987), which costarred her with another legendary star, Lillian Gish. Davis walked off the set of Wicked Stepmother (1990), a cheesy little horror comedy, but since she had already shot a number of scenes, director Larry Cohen elected to keep her in the final cut. She died shortly after working on the awful film. Davis' stormy personal life included four unsuccessful marriages, the last to actor Gary Merrill (1950-60), with whom she appeared in All About Eve In 1977, she was the first female recipient of the American Film Institute's Life Achievement Award.

Though plagued with illness, Davis was formidable to the last -- so much so that, when she died at age 82 in France, a lot of her fans refused to believe it.

 

 





 

 

 

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Film Scores

                    
                    
Classic Film Scores for Bette Davis

 

                                               

                                          

                                        

                     
      
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Other Videos

 

                   Bette Davis: The Bumpy Ride to Stardom

                   Empty Canvas, The

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       1991                             1999

                        Little Gloria Happy at Last

                   Strangers: Mothers & Daughters

                    Thank Your Lucky Stars  1943

                     Way Back Home

                      Hell House 1932

      

 

 

Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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Bette Davis
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Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
Bette Davis and Joan Crawford
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Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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Bette Davis
Bette Davis
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Bette Davis
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