April 5, 1908
Lowell, Massachusetts, United States
October 6, 1989
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A strong-willed, independent woman with heavy-cast eyes, clipped New England diction, and distinctive mannerisms, Bette Davis left an indelible mark on cinema history as one of Hollywood's most important and decorated actresses. Over the course of her storied career, Davis made some 100 films, for which she received 10 Academy Award nominations, and twice won the Best Actress trophy. Davis' breakthrough role was that of Mildred in "Of Human Bondage" (1934), which turned her into a star and earned the actress her first Oscar nomination. She won the Academy Award the following year for "Dangerous" (1935) and later earned her second statue for one of her most famous performances in "Jezebel" (1938). By this time, Davis was a big star and went on to a series of box office hits like "Dark Victory" (1939) and "Now, Voyager" (1942). After the personal tragedy of losing her husband, Arthur Farnsworth, Davis went through a period of several quieter years, only to resurrect herself with her classic performance in "All About Eve" (1950). She also triumphed with her Oscar-nominated turn in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962), after which Davis settled into a succession of film and television roles that culminated with her last acclaimed performance in "The Whales of August" (1987). Passing just two years later, Davis was remembered as one of Hollywood's greatest actresses, a legacy forged by an iron will to go her own way.Born on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, MA, Davis was raised by her father, Harlow, a patent attorney, and her mother, Ruth; her parents later separated in 1915. Going to live with her mother, Davis was later encouraged to try her hand at acting after the family moved to New York City. After attending the Cushing Academy, a private boarding school in Massachusetts, she trained at the Mariarden School of Dancing and John Murray Anderson's Drama School in New York. Rejected for Eva Le Gallienne's acting classes, Davis instead joined a stock company in Rochester, NY that was run by George Cukor. Initially unimpressed with the actress, Cukor gave her a chance nonetheless, though he wound up dismissing Davis after only a few months. Meanwhile, she made her New York acting debut in 1928 at the Provincetown Playhouse in Virgil Geddes's "The Earth Between," which received excellent reviews and led to parts in other successes, including her first Broadway hit, "Broken Dishes" (1929), at the age of 21. Davis went on to star in "Solid South," where a talent scout for Universal Studios saw her performance and invited her to Hollywood for a screen test.In 1930, Universal Pictures signed Davis to a contract and she made her film debut in "Bad Sister" (1931), which also featured Humphrey Bogart. Appearances in five more lackluster films discouraged the young actress until actor George Arliss, who went on to remain her mentor, persuaded Warner Bros. to hire Davis to play opposite him in "The Man Who Played God" (1932). The prestigious drama proved to be her breakthrough film and led to Warner Bros. signing the actress to a long-term contract, thus beginning her stormy relationship with a studio more accustomed to promoting its tough male stars. Over the next three years, Davis made 14 films for Warner Bros., some of them forgettable. But her career took a dramatic turn when she was lent to RKO to play the slatternly Mildred opposite Leslie Howard in "Of Human Bondage" (1934), an unsympathetic role that several other actresses had turned down. The role gave Davis an opportunity to cut loose, with her riveting performance garnering her first substantial critical acclaim. With Warner Bros. now taking notice of her, Davis began to get better parts, including "Dangerous" (1935), for which she won her first Oscar.The following year, Davis reunited with Howard and Bogart for "The Petrified Forest" (1936), a crime drama in which she played a small town waitress with dreams of living abroad, only to find her hopes dashed by a desperate gangster.