June 10, 1922 - June 22. 1969
Bette Davis was avery strong-willed woman with an independent personality and a unique, powerful star. Large eyes, clipped New England diction, and distinctive mannerisms—including extravagant cigarette smoking—engendered frequent imitation. She made some 100 films, for which she received 10 Academy Award nominations, winning best actress twice.
Davis's parents divorced when she was 7 and she was raised by her mother, who encouraged her interest in acting by taking her to New York in 1928. Rejected for Eva Le Gallienne's acting classes, Davis joined a stock company in Rochester, New York, where after a few months she was dismissed by director George Cukor.
She made her New York acting debut in 1929 at the Provincetown Playhouse, in Virgil Geddes's "The Earth Between". Her excellent reviews led to parts in other successes, including her first Broadway hit, "Broken Dishes", at the age of 21. Universal Pictures signed her to a contract and in 1930 Davis and her mother went to Hollywood.
A survivor of four unhappy marriages and estrangement from her daughter B.D., Davis found her greatest satisfaction in working and continued to do so until the end, with her last significant film appearance in THE WHALES OF AUGUST (1987) opposite Lillian Gish. Despite her extraordinary talent, audiences flocked to see the spitfire as much as the genius. She died much-loved, admired for her scraps with studio bigwigs, her uncompromising view of self and her savage grasp of hard work. In 1977, she was the first woman to receive the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award. As she perfected her acting techniques and developed her famous mannerisms, Davis achieved a new level of artistic maturity. Filmgoers, especially women, loved her portrayals of fiercely independent characters who also suffered nobly.
The early 40s saw Davis's popularity continue to grow with such films as ALL THIS, AND HEAVEN TOO (1940), THE LETTER (1940), and THE LITTLE FOXES (1941), plus her roles as a timid spinster who blossoms into a vital woman of the world in NOW, VOYAGER (1942) and a vain society woman in MR. SKEFFINGTON (1944). By the end of the decade, however, Davis's career had begun to sag under the weight of weaker pictures, but she bounced back in 1950 with a stunning performance as Margo Channing, a tempestuous Broadway star (based on Tallulah Bankhead), in Joseph Mankiewicz's ALL ABOUT EVE. The film's wittily savage view of theater people offered Davis—here with her almost self-parodying grand gestures, and the now-famous line, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"—the role of a lifetime.