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Biography for
Bette Davis

Birth name
Ruth Elizabeth Davis

The Fifth Warner Brother
The First Lady of Film

5' 3" (1.60 m)

Mini biography

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Massachusetts. She passed away from cancer October 6, 1989, in France. Her parents divorced when she was a child and she and her sister were raised by her mother, Ruthie. Bette demanded attention practically from birth, which led to her pursuing a career in acting. After graduation from Cushing Academy she was refused admittance to Eva Le Gallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory because she was considered insincere and frivolous. She enrolled in John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School and was the star pupil. She was in the off-Broadway play "The Earth Between" (1923), and her Broadway debut in 1929 was in "Broken Dishes". She also appeared in "Solid South." Late in 1930 she was hired by Universal. When she arrived in Hollywood, the studio representative who went to meet her train left without her because he could find no one who looked like a movie star. An official at Universal complained she had "as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville" and her performance in The Bad Sister (1931) didn't impress. In 1932 she signed a seven-year deal with Warner Brothers Pictures. She became a star after her appearance in The Man Who Played God (1932). Warners loaned her to RKO in 1934 for Of Human Bondage (1934), in which she was a smash. She had a significant number of write-in votes for the Best Actress Oscar, but didn't win (she finally did win it for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938)). She constantly fought with Warners and tried to get out of her contract because she felt she wasn't receiving the top roles an Oscar-winning actress deserved, and eventually sued the studio. When she came back after the lawsuit her roles improved dramatically. The only role she didn't get that she wanted was Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939). Warners wouldn't loan her to David O. Selznick unless he hired Errol Flynn to play Rhett Butler, which both Selznick and Davis thought was a terrible choice. It was rumored she had numerous affairs, among them George Brent and William Wyler, and she was married four times, all of which ended in divorce (she admitted her career always came first). She made many successful films in the 1940s, but each picture was weaker than the last and by the time her Warner Brothers contract had ended in 1949, she had been reduced to appearing in such films as the unintentionally hilarious Beyond the Forest (1949). She made a huge comeback in 1950 when she replaced an ill Claudette Colbertin (and received an Oscar nomination for) All About Eve (1950). She worked in films through the 1950s, but her career eventually came to a standstill, and in 1961 she placed a now famous "Job Wanted" ad in the trade papers.

She received an Oscar nomination for her role as a demented former child star in 1962's What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), which brought her a new degree of stardom in both movies and television through the 1960s and 1970s. In 1977 she received the AFI's Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979) (TV). In 1977-78 she moved from Connecticut to Los Angeles and filmed a pilot for the series "Hotel" (1983), which she called "Brothel". She refused to do the TV series and suffered a stroke during this time. Her daughter Barbara Merrill wrote a 1985 "Mommie Dearest"-type book, "My Mother's Keeper". She worked in the later 1980s in films and TV, even though a stroke had impaired her appearance and mobility. She wrote "This N That" during her recovery from the stroke. Her last book was "Bette Davis, The Lonely Life", issued in paperback in 1990. It included an update from 1962 to 1989. She wrote the last chapter in San Sebastian, Spain. When she passed away October 6, 1989, in France many of her fans refused to believe she was gone.

IMDb mini-biography by: Meredy <meredy@meredy.com> (qv's & corrections by A. Nonymous)

Mini biography

Her parents divorced when she was young. In her first year of high school she gave up dance for acting. After a little time in John Murray Anderson's acting school she was in the off-Broadway "The Earth Between" (1923). Her Broadway debut in 1929 was in "Broken Dishes". Late in 1930, on a six-month Universal contract, she arrived in Hollywood. The studio representative who went to meet her train left without her because he could find no one who looked like a movie star. In 1932 she signed a seven-year deal with Warners. She won Oscars for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) and fought unsuccessfully to break her contract between awards. She received eight additional Oscar nominations including one for the role of Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950), the role with which she remains most identified. A genuine box-office star in the 1930s and 1940s, all her films from 1953 to 1962 lost money; then What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) brought a new phase of stardom. In 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979) (TV) and in 1982 she moved from Connecticut to L.A. to be in the 1982-3 TV series "Hotel" (1983) (illness led to her replacement by Anne Baxter - shades of All About Eve (1950)). She had three children, one of whom was severely retarded. Her daughter B.D. wrote a 1985 scandal/bio "My Mother's Keeper". In 1977 the American Film Institute gave her its Lifetime Achievement Award

IMDb mini-biography by: Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Mini biography

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1908. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her early interests were in dance. To Bette, dancers led a glamorous life but then she discovered the stage. She gave up dancing for acting. To her, it presented much more of a challenge. She studied drama in New York City and made her debut on Broadway in 1929. In 1930, she moved to Hollywood where she hoped things would get better for her in the world of acting. They did, indeed. She would become known as the actress that could play a variety of very strong and complex roles. She was first under contract to Universal Studios where she made her first film called Way Back Home (1932). After the unsuccessful film, The Bad Sister (1931) made the same year, she was fired which was wildly unpopular. She then moved on to Warner Brothers. Her first film with them was Seed (1931). More fairly successful movies followed but it was the role of Mildred Rogers in Of Human Bondage (1934) that would give Bette major acclaim from the film critics. Warner Bros. felt their seven year deal with Bette was more than justified. They had a genuine star on their hands. With this success under her belt, she began pushing for stronger and more meaningful roles. In 1935, she received her first Oscar nomination for her role in Dangerous (1935) as Joyce Heath. In 1936, she was suspended without pay for turning down a role that she deemed unworthy of her talent. She went to England where she had planned to make movies but was stopped by Warner Bros. because she was still under contract to them. They did not want her to work anywhere. Although she sued to get out of her contract, she lost. Still they began to take her more seriously after that. By 1938, Bette received a second Academy nomination for her work in Jezebel (1938) in a film opposite the, soon to be, legendary Henry Fonda. Bette would receive six more nominations including her role as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950). While she was a genuine star in the 30s and 40s, the 50's and early 60s saw her in the midst of films which all lost money. Then came What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). This brought about a new round of super stardom for generations of fans who were not familiar with her work. Two years later she starred in Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) in which she played a deranged, former child actress and a rather spooky one at that. She was very convincing and strange in that role. Bette was married four times, her last to actor Gary Merrill which lasted ten years, longer than any of the previous three. In 1985, her daughter, Barbara Davis Hyman, published a scandalous book about Bette called My Mother's Keeper. Sadly, Bette Davis died on October 6, 1989 of an undisclosed illness.

IMDb mini-biography by: Denny Jackson

Gary Merrill (28 July 1950 - 6 July 1960) (divorced) 2 children
William Grant Sherry (30 November 1945 - 3 July 1950) (divorced) 1 child
Arthur Farnsworth (31 December 1940 - 25 August 1943) (his death)
Harmon Nelson (18 August 1932 - 6 December 1938) (divorced)


While she was the star pupil at John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School in New York, another of her classmates was sent home because she was "too shy". It was predicted that this girl would never make it as an actress. The girl was Lucille Ball.

Ranked #15 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]

In 1952, she was asked to perform in a musical, "Two's Company." After several grueling months at rehearsals, her health deteriorated due to osteomylitis of the jaw and she had to leave the show only several weeks after it opened. She was to repeat this process in 1974 when she rehearsed for the musical version of The Corn Is Green (1945), called "Miss Moffat" but bowed out early in the run of the show for dubious medical reasons.

On her tombstone is written "She did it the hard way".

She suffered a stroke and a mastectomy in 1983.

Attended Northfield Mt Hermon high school.

Interred at Forest Lawn (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California, USA, just outside and to the left of the main entrance to the Court of Remembrance.

Mother of Barbara Merrill and grandmother of J. Ashley Hyman.

Director Steven Spielberg won the Christie's auction of her 1938 Best Actress Oscar for Jezebel (1938) for $578,000. He then gave it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. [19 July 2001]

When Bette learned that her new brother-in-law was a recovering alcoholic, she sent the couple a dozen cases of liquor for a wedding present.

Bette was elected as first female president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in October 1941. She resigned less then two months later, publicly declaring herself too busy to fulfill her duties as president while angrily protesting in private that the Academy had wanted her to serve as a mere figurehead for the company.

She considered her debut screen test for MGM to be so bad that she ran screaming from the projection room.

Her first husband Arthur Farnsworth was killed in an accidental fall in which he took a blow to the head.

Her real true love was director William Wyler but he was married and refused to leave his wife.

In Marked Woman (1937), Davis is forced to testify in court after being worked over by some Mafia hoods. Disgusted with the tiny bandage supplied by the makeup department, she left the set, had her own doctor bandage her face more realistically, and refused to shoot the scene any other way.

When she first came to Hollywood as a contract player, Universal Pictures wanted to change her name to Bettina Dawes. She informed the studio that she refused to go through life with a name that sounded like "Between the Drawers".

Nominated for an Academy Award 5 years in a row for movies in 1938, 1939, 1940, 1941 and 1942. She shares the record for most consectutive nominations with Greer Garson.

After the song "Bette Davis Eyes" became a hit single, Ms. Davis wrote letters to singer Kim Carnes and songwriters Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon and asked how did they know so much about her. One of the reasons Davis loved the song is that her granddaughter heard it and thought her grandmother was "cool" for having a hit song written about her.

Measurements: 34C-21-34 (as a "too busty" starlet), 36C-25-35 (in 1940), (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)

While touring the talk show circuit to promote What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), she told one interviewer that when she and Joan Crawford were first suggested for the leads, Warner studio head Jack L. Warner replied: "I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for either of those two old broads." Recalling the story, Davis laughed at her own expense. The following day, she reportedly received a telegram from Crawford: "In future, please do not refer to me as an old broad!".

Was one of two actresses (with Faye Dunaway) to have two villainous roles ranked in the American Film Institute's 100 Years of The Greatest Heroes and Villains, as Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes (1941) at #43 and as Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) at #44.

Was named #2 on The Greatest Screen Legends actress list by the American Film Institute.

She was voted the 10th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.

Was almost fired her first day on the Warner Brothers lot. The first time studio head Jack L. Warner actually looked at her, he said, "Tell whoever hired this girl he's fired. Look at her! She's got about as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville!".

Attended Cushing Academy; a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. An award in her namesake is given annually to one male and one female scholar-athlete of exceptional accomplishment in both fields.

Joan Crawford and Davis had feuded for years. During the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set due to Crawford's affiliation with Pepsi (she was the widow of Pepsi's CEO). Joan got her revenge by putting weights in her pockets when Davis had to drag her across the floor during certain scenes.

Desperately wanted to win a third Best Actress Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) as three wins in the leading category was unprecedented. (Walter Brennan had won three Oscars, but all of his were in the supporting category.) It was the general feeling among Academy voters that while Davis was superb, the film was little better than a pot-boiling exploitation film, the kind of movie that doesn't deserve the recognition that an Oscar would give it.

Each of her four husbands were Gentiles, while her friend Joan Blondell's husband Michael Todd was Jewish. Blondell called Davis' brace of husbands the "Four Skins.".

According to her August 1982 PLAYBOY Magazine interview, in her youth, Bette posed nude for an artist, who carved a statue of her that was placed in a public spot in Boston, Mass. After the interview appeared, Bostonians searched for the statue in vain.

She was of Welsh and Scottish descent. She came to Cardiff in 1975 for a theatre tour and went to the Welsh Valleys in search of relatives - and found them. She had been learning Welsh in order to come to Wales; however, she only used the words "Nos Da" (meaning "good night") while in the country and had forgotten all the other phrases she had learned.

She claimed to have given the Academy Award the nickname "Oscar" after her first husband, Harmon Nelson.

Murdoch University (Western Australia) Communications Senior Lecturer Tara Brabazon, in her article "The Spectre of the Spinster: Bette Davis and the Epistemology of the Shelf," quotes the court testimony of first husband, Harmon Nelson, to show what a debacle her private life was. During divorce proceedings, Nelson was successful in sustaining his charge of mental cruelty by testifying that Davis had told him that her career was more important than her marriage. Brabazon writes that Bette Davis, claiming she was beaten by all four of her husbands, believed that she should have remained single.

She was voted the 25th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.

In 1952, she accepted the Oscar for "Best Actress in a Supporting Role" on behalf of Kim Hunter, who wasn't present at the awards ceremony.

Is one of the many movie stars mentioned in Madonna's song "Vogue"

Is portrayed by Elissa Leeds-Fickman in My Wicked, Wicked Ways... The Legend of Errol Flynn (1985) (TV).

She said that among the jokes told about her, her favorite came from an impressionist who, dressed up like her, commanded the audience "Someone give me a cigarette". When the request was granted the performer threw it on the floor and shouted "LIT!"

For many years she was a popular target for impressionists but she was perplexed by the often used phrase "Pee-tah! Pee-tah! Pee-tah!". She said she had no idea who Pee-tah was and had never even met anyone by that name.

While filming Death on the Nile (1978), aboard ship, no one was allowed his or her own dressing room, so she shared a dressing room with Angela Lansbury & Maggie Smith.

Her performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950) is ranked #5 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).

While numerous stories claim the Academy Award was named after Bette Davis first husband Harmon Nelson(whose middle name was Oscar), magazine and newspaper articles predating her arrival in Hollywood by 5-7 years already referred to the award as "The Oscar."

Her performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950) is ranked #11 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Movie Characters of All Time.

Is portrayed by Nancy Linehan Charles in Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996) (TV)

Declined a role in 4 for Texas (1963), to do Dead Ringer (1964).

Described the last three decades of her life as a "my macabre period". She hated being alone at night and found growing older "terrifying".

Had a long running feud with Miriam Hopkins.

When she died, her false eyelashes were auctioned off, fetching a price of $600. Previously, she had said that her biggest secret was brown mascara.

In an interview with Dick Cavett in 1971, she said her salary at the time she shot Jezebel (1938) was $650 a week.

She was of English, French, and Welsh descent.

Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 232-235. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.

In Italian films, she was dubbed in most cases by Lidia Simoneschi or Andreina Pagnani. Occasionally, she was also dubbed by Tina Lattanzi, Giovanna Scotto, Rina Morelli or Wanda Tettoni.

Personal quotes

"I wouldn't piss on her if she was on fire." (in reference to 'Joan Crawford' )

[In 1982] "Acting should be bigger than life. Scripts should be bigger than life. It should ALL be bigger than life."

"Getting old is not for sissies."

"I see - she's the original good time that was had by all."

"Until you're known in my profession as a monster, you're not a star."

"At 50, I thought proudly, 'Here we are, half century!' Being 60 was fairly frightening. You want to know how I spent my 70th birthday? I put on a completely black face, a fuzzy black afro wig, wore black clothes, and hung a black wreath on my door."

"I went back to work because someone had to pay for the groceries."

"I'm the nicest goddamn dame that ever lived."

[On rival Joan Crawford]: "She has slept with every male star at MGM except Lassie."

[On her character in All About Eve (1950)]: "Margo Channing was not a bitch. She was an actress who was getting older and was not too happy about it. And why should she? Anyone who says that life begins at 40 is full of it. As people get older their bodies begin to decay. They get sick. They forget things. What's good about that?"

"Gay Liberation? I ain't against it, it's just that there's nothing in it for me."

"Success only breeds a new goal."

"What a fool I was to come to Hollywood where they only understand platinum blondes and where legs are more important than talent."

"I have never known the great actor who... didn't plan eventually to direct or produce. If he has no such dream, he is usually bitter, ungratified and eventually alcoholic."

"There was more good acting at Hollywood parties than ever appeared on the screen."

"I would advise any woman against having an affair with a married man believing he will ever leave his wife, no matter how often he says his wife does not understand him. Love is not as necessary to a man's happiness as it is to a woman's. If her marriage is satisfactory, a woman will seldom stray. A man can be totally contented and still be out howling at the moon."

"The male ego, with few exceptions, is elephantine to start with."

"To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given a chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy."

"I'd marry again if I found a man who had fifteen million dollars, would sign over half to me, and guarantee that he'd be dead within a year."

"An affair now and then is good for a marriage. It adds spice, stops it from getting boring. I ought to know."

"Of course I replaced my father. I became my own father and everyone else's." [referring to her parents' divorce when she was 7]

"I will never be below the title."

"If you want a thing well done, get a couple of old broads to do it."

"Today everyone is a star - they're all billed as 'starring' or 'also starring'. In my day, we earned that recognition."

[in reference to Katharine Hepburn's tie for the 1968 Oscar with Barbra Streisand]: "I wanted to be the first to win three Oscars, but Miss Hepburn has done it. Actually it hasn't been done. Miss Hepburn only won half an Oscar. If they'd given me half an Oscar I would have thrown it back in their faces. You see, I'm an Aries. I never lose."

[referring to her fourth husband, Gary Merrill]: "Gary was a macho man, but none of my husbands was ever man enough to become Mr. Bette Davis."

At one time, the actress, who won Oscars for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) had quite a reputation for being difficult - "At one time?!" she erupts. "I've been known as difficult for 50 years, practically! What do you mean 'at one time'?! Nooo, I've been like this for 50 years. And it's always always to make it the best film I can make it!"

"Why am I so good at playing bitches? I think it's because I'm not a bitch. Maybe that's why [Joan Crawford] always plays ladies."

[when told not to speak ill of the dead] 'Just because someone is dead does not mean they have changed!'

[on sex] "God's biggest joke on human beings."

"You should never say bad things about the dead, you should only say good . . . Joan Crawford is dead. Good!" [on the death of her long-time nemesis]

"I had to be the monster for both of us." (commenting about her mother, an aspiring actress)

"If Hollywood didn't work out, I was prepared to be the best secretary in the world."

"I have been uncompromising, peppery, infractable, monomaniacal, tactless, volatile and offtimes disagreeable. I suppose I'm larger than life."

"[Joan Crawford] and I have never been warm friends. We are not simpatico. I admire her, and yet I feel uncomfortable with her. To me, she is the personification of the Movie Star. I have always felt her greatest performance is Crawford being Crawford."

[After having blown the same line several times in Hollywood Canteen (1944), in which she plays herself]: "I don't know what's wrong with me, but I think I just can't play myself. I don't know how! But, if you give me a drink - give me a cigarette - give me a gun - I'll play any old bag you want me to. I just can't play myself!"

"Beyond the Forest (1949) was a terrible movie! It had the longest death scene ever seen on the screen."

"I was a person who couldn't make divorce work. For me, there's nothing lonelier than a turned-down toilet seat."

"I want to die with my high heels on, still in action." [Before taking her final flight in 1989]

"I always had the will to win. I felt it baking cookies. They had to be the best cookies anyone baked."

"When I die, they'll probably auction off my false eyelashes."

"I wouldn't piss on her if she was on fire." [referring to Joan Crawford]

Wicked Stepmother (1989) $250,000
Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) $200,000
Where Love Has Gone (1964) $125,000
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) $60,000 + 5% of the net profits.
All About Eve (1950) $130,000

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