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Academy Award-winning actress
Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on April 5, 1908. Her parents divorced when she was 10, and she and her sister were subsequently raised by their mother. Despite the family being somewhat financially strapped, both girls were sent to Cushing Academy, a private boarding school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. After graduating, Bette applied for admittance to Eva Le Gallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory, but her application was refused because she was seen as insincere and frivulous. She then entered John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School, where she quickly became a star pupil. She made her Broadway Debut in Broken Dishes in 1929, and moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in movies in 1930.
Hired by Universal Pictures soon after her arrival in Hollywood, Davis made her film debut in Way Back Home in 1931. In 1932, she was signed to a seven-year contract by Warner Brothers, where she made the film that made her a star, The Man Who Played God (1932). After a series of less than stellar roles, she was loaned to RKO Pictures for Of Human Bondage (1934), which "relit her star." Although she won the Academy Award for Best Actress for Dangerous (1935), Davis did not think Warner Brothers was using her talent well enough and, in 1936, she and Warner Brothers ended up in a court battle over her contract. Davis ultimately lost the battle, but her roles improved dramatically. She won her second Best Actress Oscar in 1939, for Jezebel (1938).
Davis's career was on a downturn by the time her contract at Warner Brothers ran out in 1949, but it was temporarily revived with her performance in All About Eve (1950), for which she was nominated for an Academy Award. Her star began falling again soon after, however, and by 1961 she had been reduced to placing a "Job Wanted" ad in trade papers. She enjoyed another major comeback with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). The American Film Institute honored Davis with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1977, and she won Best Actress Emmy for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979).
Davis continued working through the 1980's, despite surviving both a mastectomy and a stroke in 1983, but succumbed to breast cancer while in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Hauts-de-Seine, France, on October 6, 1989; she was interred at Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California.
Harmon Nelson -- August 18, 1932 - December 6, 1938
My Mother's Keeper, a rather scathing biography of Bette Davis, was published by daughter Barbara Merrill in 1985.
Although respected as an actress, Bette Davis had a reputation throughout Hollywood for being very hard to work with.
Davis was nominated for an Academy Award five years in a row (1939, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943), a record for most consecutive nominations she shares with Greer Garson.
During World War II, Davis helped organize and run the Hollywood Canteen for soldiers passing through Los Angeles. In 1980, the Department of Defense presented her with its Distinguished Civilian Service Medal for that work.
Way Back Home (1931)
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This page was last updated on 01/02/2019.