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Born: 5th April 1908

Died: 6th October 1989 (Aged 81)

Bette Davis was an American actress with a career spanning more than 50 years and 100 acting credits. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greater successes were in romantic dramas. A recipient of two Academy Awards, she was the first thespian to accrue ten nominations.

After appearing on Broadway in New York, the 22-year-old Davis moved to Hollywood in 1930. After some unsuccessful films, she had her critical breakthrough playing a vulgar waitress in Of Human Bondage (1934) although, contentiously, she was not among the three nominees for the Academy Award for Best Actress that year. The next year, her performance as a down-and-out actress in Dangerous (1935) did land Davis her first Best Actress nomination, and she won the award. Davis was known for her forceful and intense style of acting.

In 1937, she tried to free herself from her contract with Warner Brothers Studio; although she lost the legal case, it marked the start of more than a decade as one of the most celebrated leading ladies of U.S. cinema. The same year, she starred in Marked Woman, a film regarded as one of the most important in her early career. Davis's portrayal of a strong-willed 1850s southern belle in Jezebel (1938) won her a second Academy Award for Best Actress, and was the first of five consecutive years in which she received a Best Actress nomination; the others were for Dark Victory (1939), The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941) and Now, Voyager (1942).

Davis gained a reputation as a perfectionist in her craft. She could be combative and confrontational with studio executives and film directors, as well as with her co-stars, expecting the same high standard of performance and commitment from them as she expected from herself. Her forthright manner, idiosyncratic speech, and ubiquitous cigarette contributed to a public persona that has been often imitated.

She played a Broadway star in All About Eve (1950), which earned her another Oscar nomination and won her the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress. Her last Oscar nomination was for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), which also starred her famous rival Joan Crawford. In the latter stage of her career, her most successful films were Death on the Nile (1978) and The Whales of August (1987). Her career went through several periods of eclipse, but despite a long period of ill health she continued acting in film and on television until shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1989.


1963 - Best Leading Actress: WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

1953 - Best Leading Actress: THE STAR

1951 - Best Leading Actress: ALL ABOUT EVE

1945 - Best Leading Actress: MR. SKEFFINGTON

1943 - Best Leading Actress: NOW, VOYAGER

1942 - Best Leading Actress: THE LITTLE FOXES

1941 - Best Leading Actress: THE LETTER

1940 - Best Leading Actress: DARK VICTORY

1939 - WINNER: Best Leading Actress: JEZEBEL

1936 - WINNER: Best Leading Actress: DANGEROUS

1935 - Best Leading Actress: OF HUMAN BONDAGE


1964 - Best Leading Actress: WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?


1963 - Best Leading Actress: WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

1962 - Best Leading Actress: POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES

1951 - Best Leading Actress: ALL ABOUT EVE

How do you rate Bette Davis' films?




FILM: All About Eve (1950)

Sunday 19th September, Talking Pictures TV, 10:00pm

One of Davis most iconic performances in this scathing comedy drama set in the world of the theatre.


FILM: The Little Foxes (1941)

Davis gets another of her many Oscar nominations for this murder tinged romantic drama.


FILM: Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

Chewing up the scenery for a family Disney film in the later part of her career.

Feud: Bette and Joan (Age 15)

Susan Sarandon stars as Bette Davis, alongside Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford in this wonderful retelling of the feud between two Hollywood ageing divas.

What's your favourite Bette Davis performance?


Make sure you are booked in for this week's DRAMA CLASSES

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