She had a reputation for being forthright and demanding. She was the first person to be nominated for a record ten Academy Awards. She was nominated for Academy Awards four decades straight. She was nominated for an Academy Award five straight years in a row. She was the first female president of Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was a co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen.
Since Bette Davis's arrival in Hollywood on December 13, 1930, things have never been the same again.
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts, the daughter of Ruth Favor and Harlow Davis, a patent attorney.
Young Bette was inspired to become an actress after seeing Rudolph Valentino in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Mary Pickford in Little Lord Fauntleroy (1921).
In 1926, she saw a production of Henrik Ibsen's The Wild Duck with Blanche Yurka and Peg Entwistle. Bette Davis later recalled that it inspired her full commitment to acting, and said, "Before that performance I wanted to be an actress. When it ended, I had to be an actress.."
Bette Davis auditioned for admission to Eva LeGallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory, but was rejected by LeGallienne who described her attitude as "insincere" and "frivolous". She next auditioned for the John Murray Anderson School of Theatre where she was accepted.
She auditioned for George Cukor's stock theater company, and although he was not very impressed, he gave Bette Davis her first paid acting assignment anyway – a one-week stint playing the part of a chorus girl in the play Broadway. She was next chosen to play Hedwig, the character she had seen in The Wild Duck.
In 1929, she made her Broadway debut in Broken Dishes and followed it with Solid South. A Universal Studios talent scout saw her perform and invited her to Hollywood for a screen test. She would abandon Broadway for Hollywood in 1930. She would later return to Broadway in the 1950s and 1960s to star in Two's Company and Night of the Iguana.
Bette Davis failed her first several screen tests and Universal Studios was considering letting her go. However, Cinematographer Karl Freund told Universal Studios she had "lovely eyes" and would be suitable for The Bad Sister (1931), in which she subsequently made her film debut.
Roles soon followed in films such as Waterloo Bridge (1931), Seed (1931), Hell's House (1932), The Menace (1932), 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) and Fashions of 1934 (1934).
After more than 20 film roles, Bette Davis had her big break. She was cast in the role of the vicious and slatternly Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1934).
When Bette Davis was not nominated for an Academy Award for Of Human Bondage, The Hollywood Citizen News questioned the omission and Norma Shearer, herself a nominee, joined a campaign to have Bette Davis nominated.
This prompted an announcement from the Academy president, Howard Estabrook, who said that under the circumstances "any voter ... may write on the ballot his or her personal choice for the winners", thus allowing, for the only time in the Academy's history, the consideration of a candidate not officially nominated for an award.
The uproar led to a change in Academy voting procedures the following year, whereby nominations were determined by votes from all eligible members of a particular branch, rather than by a smaller committee, with results independently tabulated by the accounting firm Price Waterhouse.
Following Human Bondage (1934), Bette Davis appeared in films such as Housewife (1934), The Girl from 10th Avenue (1935), and Special Agent (1935).
In 1935, she was cast to play Joyce Heath in Dangerous (1935). She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the performance.
Roles followed in The Petrified Forest (1936), Marked Woman (1937), Kid Galahad (1937) and That Certain Woman (1937).
In 1938, she was cast to play Julie Marsden in Jezebel. She won her second Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
The next year she appeared as Judith Traherne in Dark Victory (1939). She would be nominated for her third Academy Award for Best Actress.
After starring in Juarez (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), and All This, and Heaven Too (1940), Bette Davis starred as Leslie Crosbie in The Letter (1940) which earned Bette her fourth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress.
The four time nominee and two time Academy Award winner was one of the top box office stars. She starred in films such as The Great Lie (1941), The Shining Victory (1941) and The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941).
In 1941, she would earn her fifth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance of Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes (1941).
Bette Davis next appeared in The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942) before starring in Now, Voyager (1942) which earned Bette Davis her sixth Academy Award Nomination for Best Actress.
She next appeared in Watch on the Rhine (1942) before earning her record seventh Academy Award nomination for Mr. Skeffington (1944).
The later part of the 1940s, Bette Davis appeared in The Corn Is Green (1945), A Stolen Life (1946), Deception (1946), June Bride (1948), and Beyond the Forest (1949).
In 1950, Bette Davis received her eighth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve. Her nighth Academy Award nomination for Best Actress would occur two years later for her performance in The Star (1952).
The 1950s and early 1960s brought Bette Davis roles in The Catered Affair (1956), The Virgin Queen (1955), and Pocketful of Miracles (1961).
In 1962, Bette Davis would receive her tenth Academy Award nomination for Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. This movie also marked the first time she was cast opposite arch enemy Joan Crawford.
In 1964, Bette Davis appeared in Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
Following Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, Bette Davis devoted most of her time to made for television movies. In 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979) (TV).
In 1974, Bette Davis was awarded the Cecil B. DeMille Award. She also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: one for motion pictures and one for television.
Bette Davis died on October 6, 1989 of breast cancer.
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