Bette Davis

From Academic Kids

This article is about Bette Davis the actress; there is also singer named Betty Davis.
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Ruth Elizabeth Davis (April 5, 1908October 6, 1989), better known as Bette Davis, was an Academy Award winning American actress.

Davis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her parents divorced when she was seven years old, and she and her sister were raised by their mother, who aspired to be an actress. Davis was denied admission to Eva LeGallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory because she was considered insincere. So, she enrolled in John Murray Anderson's dramatic school (who sent her classmate Lucille Ball home because she was "too shy"), and became a star.

Her first professional stage performance was The Earth Between, Off-Broadway in 1923. Her first Broadway performance was in 1929, in Broken Dishes and later in Solid South. The next year, she was hired by Universal Studios, but they felt she was not star material, and in 1932, they let her sign with Warner Brothers. Her first starring role was in The Man Who Played God, and she became a star in Of Human Bondage. The Motion Picture Academy failed to nominate Davis for this tour de force, and such was the outrage that she received many write-in votes from disgruntled Academy members.

A much-publicised legal battle with Warners to stop them from putting her in inferior movies led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of her films (although she lost the case). She went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for Dangerous (1936) and Jezebel (1938), and was able to name her own roles, with the exception of Gone With the Wind in 1939. Davis was elected the ninth president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, whose award she claimed to have named the "Oscar", but only served from October to December 1941, when she resigned. Her career began to stagnate through the 1940s, but her performance in All About Eve (1950), for which she received another Oscar nomination, put her back on top.

When her career began to fade again, in 1961, she placed a notorious ad for "job wanted" in the trade papers. Her role in 1962's over-the-top What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which she played a parody of herself opposite her long-time rival Joan Crawford, earned her another Oscar nomination. The film, which was the only time that Davis and Crawford ever worked together onscreen in either of their careers, was a smash hit and a top-grosser that year.

Sensing renewed box-office potential in his former contract player, Jack Warner signed Davis for another venture into the macabre in 1964's Dead Ringer , opposite gigalo Peter Lawford and detective Karl Malden. In this updated homage to A Stolen Life (1946), Davis and her Now, Voyager (1942) co-star, Paul Henreid, were reunited not as on-screen lovers, but rather with Henreid directing Davis in the campy dual role as a murdering twin and her sibling victim.

In 1977, Davis became the first woman to receive the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 1979 she won a Best Actress Emmy. She wrote a biography, The Lonely Life, in the 1960s, and Mother Goddam in 1975.

Davis's only natural-born daughter was by her third husband, William Grant Sherry, and is named B.D. Hyman (born Barbara Davis Sherry, and named after Davis's sister). In 1985, Hyman wrote a tell-all book entitled My Mother's Keeper, in which she savaged her famous mother and Gary Merrill, her adoptive father. Davis admitted that her career always came first, and, although she married four times and had several affairs, including ones with George Brent and William Wyler, it should be pointed out that many who knew both her and her daughter claimed that this book was largely fiction and that Davis, although in some ways difficult, was really a loving mother and grandmother. Davis adopted two other children with Merrill, Margot, who was confined to special education schools for most of her life due to a brain injury, and Michael, with whom both Davis and Merrill maintained close relationships throughout their lives. Michael never confirmed nor denied the claims that his "sister," Hyman, made in the bestselling biography.

Davis wrote another book, This 'N' That, in the late 1980s, and Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, which appeared the year after her death, updating what had happened since her first biography had been published.

On July 19, 2001, Steven Spielberg purchased Davis' Oscar statuette for Jezebel at a Christie's auction and returned it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. This was to protect an Oscar from commercial exploitation.

Bette Davis died, aged 81, on October 6, 1989 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, following a long battle with breast cancer, and after having suffered at least one serious stroke. She is interred in Forest Lawn - Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles. On her tombstone is written, "She did it the hard way."

She walked out of her last film, "Wicked Stepmother," which was released posthumously in 1989 with her still included. She is also credited with many famous quotes about acting often about Hollywood and rivals like Crawford and Hepburn.

After the song "Bette Davis Eyes" became a hit single, Davis wrote letters to songwriters Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, and singer Kim Carnes to ask them how they knew so much about her. One of the reasons Davis loved the song is that her granddaughter thought her grandmother was "cool" because she had a hit song written about her.

Academy Awards and Nominations


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