Bette Davis
Overview
Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) was an American actress of film, television and theater. Noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.

After appearing in Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 plays, Davis moved to Hollywood
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Hollywood is a famous district in Los Angeles, California, United States situated west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Due to its fame and cultural identity as the historical center of movie studios and movie stars, the word Hollywood is often used as a metonym of American cinema...

 in 1930, but her early films for Universal Studios
Universal Studios
Universal Pictures , a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is one of the six major movie studios....

 were unsuccessful.
Quotations

'In the beginning was the Word,' and you must not be tempted with a script just because you have a great part. You want a great role to play, but the whole - the whole - must be good. It'll never succeed if it's just the role you like.

Louise Sweeney (December 28, 1987) "Bette Davis: On the heels of a new honor and a new film, a screen legend looks back over her 60-year career", Christian Science Monitor|Christian Science Monitor, p. 19.

May each of my grandsons know, at an early age, what his life's ambition is -- and may he be successful in his pursuit of that goal.

Cathy Collison (November 16, 1983) "Savitch Remembered Crim In Will", Detroit Free Press|Detroit Free Press, p. 14D.

Encyclopedia
Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) was an American actress of film, television and theater. Noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.

After appearing in Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 plays, Davis moved to Hollywood
Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
Hollywood is a famous district in Los Angeles, California, United States situated west-northwest of downtown Los Angeles. Due to its fame and cultural identity as the historical center of movie studios and movie stars, the word Hollywood is often used as a metonym of American cinema...

 in 1930, but her early films for Universal Studios
Universal Studios
Universal Pictures , a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is one of the six major movie studios....

 were unsuccessful. She joined Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

 in 1932 and established her career with several critically acclaimed performances. In 1937, she attempted to free herself from her contract and although she lost a well-publicized legal case, it marked the beginning of the most successful period of her career. Until the late 1940s, she was one of American cinema's most celebrated leading ladies, known for her forceful and intense style. Davis gained a reputation as a perfectionist who could be highly combative, and confrontations with studio executives, film directors and costars were often reported. Her forthright manner, clipped vocal style and ubiquitous cigarette contributed to a public persona which has often been imitated and satirized.

Davis was the co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen
Hollywood Canteen
The Hollywood Canteen operated at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California between October 3, 1942 and November 22, 1945 as a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen, usually on their way overseas...

, and was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures...

. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress
Academy Award for Best Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

 twice, was the first person to accrue 10 Academy Award nominations for acting, and was the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award
AFI Life Achievement Award
The AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the Board of Directors of the American Film Institute on February 26, 1973 to honor a single individual for his or her lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and television....

 from the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

. Her career went through several periods of eclipse, and she admitted that her success had often been at the expense of her personal relationships. Married four times, she was once widowed and thrice divorced, and raised her children as a single parent. Her final years were marred by a long period of ill health, but she continued acting until shortly before her death from breast cancer
Breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers originating from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas; those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas...

, with more than 100 films, television and theater roles to her credit.
In 1999, Davis was placed second, after Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned 62 years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies...

, on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of all time
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars
Part of the AFI 100 Years... series, AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars is a list of the top 50 greatest screen legends of American cinema, 25 male and 25 female...

.

Background and early acting career (1908–1929)

Ruth Elizabeth Davis, known from early childhood as "Betty", was born in Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell, Massachusetts
Lowell is a city in Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA. According to the 2010 census, the city's population was 106,519. It is the fourth largest city in the state. Lowell and Cambridge are the county seats of Middlesex County...

, the daughter of Ruth "Ruthie" Augusta (née
Married and maiden names
A married name is the family name adopted by a person upon marriage. When a person assumes the family name of her spouse, the new name replaces the maiden name....

 Favor) and Harlow Morrell Davis, a patent attorney; her sister Barbara "Bobby" was born October 25, 1909. The family was Protestant, of English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

, French
French people
The French are a nation that share a common French culture and speak the French language as a mother tongue. Historically, the French population are descended from peoples of Celtic, Latin and Germanic origin, and are today a mixture of several ethnic groups...

, and Welsh
Welsh people
The Welsh people are an ethnic group and nation associated with Wales and the Welsh language.John Davies argues that the origin of the "Welsh nation" can be traced to the late 4th and early 5th centuries, following the Roman departure from Britain, although Brythonic Celtic languages seem to have...

 ancestry. In 1915, Davis's parents separated and Betty and Bobby attended a Spartan boarding school called Crestalban in Lanesborough
Lanesborough, Massachusetts
Lanesborough is a town in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, United States. It is part of the Pittsfield, Massachusetts Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 2,990 at the 2000 census.-History:...

, which is located in the Berkshires. In 1921, Ruth Davis moved to New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 with her daughters, where she worked as a portrait photographer. Betty was inspired to become an actress after seeing Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino
Rudolph Valentino was an Italian actor, and early pop icon. A sex symbol of the 1920s, Valentino was known as the "Latin Lover". He starred in several well-known silent films including The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The Sheik, Blood and Sand, The Eagle and Son of the Sheik...

 in The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1921) and Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford
Mary Pickford was a Canadian-born motion picture actress, co-founder of the film studio United Artists and one of the original 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences...

 in Little Lord Fauntleroy
Little Lord Fauntleroy
Little Lord Fauntleroy is the first children's novel written by English playwright and author Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was originally published as a serial in the St. Nicholas Magazine between November 1885 and October 1886, then as a book by Scribner's in 1886...

(1921), and changed the spelling of her name to "Bette" after Honoré de Balzac
Honoré de Balzac
Honoré de Balzac was a French novelist and playwright. His magnum opus was a sequence of short stories and novels collectively entitled La Comédie humaine, which presents a panorama of French life in the years after the 1815 fall of Napoleon....

's La Cousine Bette
La Cousine Bette
La Cousine Bette |Bette]]) is an 1846 novel by French author Honoré de Balzac. Set in mid-19th century Paris, it tells the story of an unmarried middle-aged woman who plots the destruction of her extended family. Bette works with Valérie Marneffe, an unhappily married young lady, to seduce and...

. She received encouragement from her mother, who had aspired to become an actress.

She attended Cushing Academy
Cushing Academy
Cushing Academy is a coeducational college preparatory boarding school for grades 9 through 12 plus an optional postgraduate year located in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1865 in fulfilment of a bequest by Thomas Parkman Cushing and opened in 1875, and is sometimes cited as the...

, a boarding school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts
Ashburnham, Massachusetts
As of the census of 2000, there were 5,546 people, 1,929 households, and 1,541 families residing in the town. The population density was 143.4 people per square mile . There were 2,204 housing units at an average density of 57.0 per square mile...

, where she met her future husband, Harmon O. Nelson, known as "Ham". In 1926, she saw a production of Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen
Henrik Ibsen was a major 19th-century Norwegian playwright, theatre director, and poet. He is often referred to as "the father of prose drama" and is one of the founders of Modernism in the theatre...

's The Wild Duck
The Wild Duck
The Wild Duck is an 1884 play by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen.-Plot:The first act opens with a dinner party hosted by Håkon Werle, a wealthy merchant and industrialist. The gathering is attended by his son, Gregers Werle, who has just returned to his father's home following a self-imposed...

with Blanche Yurka
Blanche Yurka
Blanche Yurka was an American theatre and film actress.Born in St Paul, Minnesota, Yurka was an opera star before she became an actress. She made her Broadway debut in 1910 and established herself as a character actor, also appearing in several films...

 and Peg Entwistle
Peg Entwistle
Peg Entwistle was an English stage and screen actress who gained notoriety after her suicide at the age of 24 by leaping off of the Hollywood Sign.-Early life:...

. Davis later recalled that it inspired her full commitment to her chosen career, and said, "Before that performance I wanted to be an actress. When it ended, I had to be an actress ... exactly like Peg Entwistle." She auditioned for admission to Eva LeGallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory, but was rejected by LeGallienne who described her attitude as "insincere" and "frivolous". She was accepted by the John Murray Anderson
John Murray Anderson
John Murray Anderson was a theatre director and producer, songwriter, actor, screenwriter, and lighting designer. He worked almost every genre of show business, including vaudeville, Broadway, and film....

 School of Theatre, and studied dance with Martha Graham
Martha Graham
Martha Graham was an American modern dancer and choreographer whose influence on dance has been compared with the influence Picasso had on modern visual arts, Stravinsky had on music, or Frank Lloyd Wright had on architecture.She danced and choreographed for over seventy years...

.

She auditioned for George Cukor
George Cukor
George Dewey Cukor was an American film director. He mainly concentrated on comedies and literary adaptations. His career flourished at RKO and later MGM, where he directed What Price Hollywood? , A Bill of Divorcement , Dinner at Eight , Little Women , David Copperfield , Romeo and Juliet and...

's stock theater company, and although he was not very impressed, he gave Davis her first paid acting assignment anyway—a one-week stint playing the part of a chorus girl in the play Broadway. She was later chosen to play Hedwig, the character she had seen Entwistle play, in The Wild Duck. After performing in Philadelphia, Washington and Boston, she made her Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 debut in 1929 in Broken Dishes, and followed it with Solid South. A Universal Studios talent scout saw her perform and invited her to Hollywood for a screen test
Screen test
A screen test is a method of determining the suitability of an actor or actress for performing on film and/or in a particular role. The performer is generally given a scene, or selected lines and actions, and instructed to perform in front of a camera to see if they are suitable...

.

Transition from stage to film (1930–1936)

Accompanied by her mother, Davis traveled by train to Hollywood, arriving on December 13, 1930. She later recounted her surprise that nobody from the studio was there to meet her; a studio employee had waited for her, but left because he saw nobody who "looked like an actress". She failed her first screen test but was used in several screen tests for other actors. In a 1971 interview with Dick Cavett
Dick Cavett
Richard Alva "Dick" Cavett is a former American television talk show host known for his conversational style and in-depth discussion of issues...

, she related the experience with the observation, "I was the most Yankee-est, most modest virgin who ever walked the earth. They laid me on a couch, and I tested fifteen men ... They all had to lie on top of me and give me a passionate kiss. Oh, I thought I would die. Just thought I would die." A second test was arranged for Davis, for the film A House Divided (1931). Hastily dressed in an ill-fitting costume with a low neckline, she was rebuffed by the director
Film director
A film director is a person who directs the actors and film crew in filmmaking. They control a film's artistic and dramatic nathan roach, while guiding the technical crew and actors.-Responsibilities:...

 William Wyler
William Wyler
William Wyler was a leading American motion picture director, producer, and screenwriter.Notable works included Ben-Hur , The Best Years of Our Lives , and Mrs. Miniver , all of which won Wyler Academy Awards for Best Director, and also won Best Picture...

, who loudly commented to the assembled crew, "What do you think of these dames who show their chests and think they can get jobs?" Carl Laemmle
Carl Laemmle
Carl Laemmle , born in Laupheim, Württemberg, Germany, was a pioneer in American film making and a founder of one of the original major Hollywood movie studios - Universal...

, the head of Universal Studios, considered terminating Davis's employment, but cinematographer
Cinematographer
A cinematographer is one photographing with a motion picture camera . The title is generally equivalent to director of photography , used to designate a chief over the camera and lighting crews working on a film, responsible for achieving artistic and technical decisions related to the image...

 Karl Freund
Karl Freund
Karl W. Freund, A.S.C. was a cinematographer and film director most noted for photographing Metropolis , Dracula , and television's I Love Lucy .-Early life:...

 told him she had "lovely eyes" and would be suitable for The Bad Sister
The Bad Sister
The Bad Sister is a 1931 American drama film directed by Hobart Henley. The screenplay by Edwin H. Knopf, Tom Reed, and Raymond L. Schrock is based on the 1913 novel The Flirt by Booth Tarkington, which previously was filmed in 1916 and 1922...

(1931), in which she subsequently made her film debut. Her nervousness was compounded when she overheard the Chief of Production, Carl Laemmle, Jr., comment to another executive that she had "about as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville
Slim Summerville
Slim Summerville was an American film actor, best known as a comedy performer.-Life and career:Born George Joseph Summerville in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Summerville began his career as a "Keystone Kop" in 1912...

", one of the film's co-stars. The film was not a success, and her next role in Seed (1931) was too brief to attract attention.
Universal Studios renewed her contract for three months, and she appeared in a small role in Waterloo Bridge
Waterloo Bridge (1931 film)
Waterloo Bridge is a 1931 American drama film directed by James Whale. The screenplay by Benn Levy and Tom Reed is based on the 1930 play of the same title by Robert E. Sherwood....

(1931) before being lent to Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. is an American film production and distribution company. Columbia Pictures now forms part of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group, owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment, a subsidiary of the Japanese conglomerate Sony. It is one of the leading film companies...

 for The Menace
The Menace (film)
The Menace is a 1932 American drama film directed by Roy William Neill. The screenplay by Roy Chanslor, Dorothy Howell, and Charles Logue is based on the 1927 novel The Feathered Serpent by Edgar Wallace.-Plot:...

and to Capital Films for Hell's House
Hell's House
Hell's House is a 1932 American drama film directed by Howard Higgin. The screenplay by Paul Gangelin and B. Harrison Orkow, set during the waning days of the Prohibition era, is based on a story by Higgin.-Plot:...

(all 1932). After nine months, and six unsuccessful films, Laemmle elected not to renew her contract. George Arliss
George Arliss
George Arliss was an English actor, author and filmmaker who found success in the United States. He was the first British actor to win an Academy Award.-Life and career:...

 chose Davis for the lead female role in The Man Who Played God
The Man Who Played God
The Man Who Played God is a 1932 American drama film directed by John G. Adolfi. The screenplay by Julien Josephson and Maude T. Howell is based on the 1914 play The Silent Voice by Jules Eckert Goodman, who adapted it from a story by Gouverneur Morris....

(1932), and for the rest of her life, Davis credited him with helping her achieve her "break" in Hollywood. The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post
The Saturday Evening Post is a bimonthly American magazine. It was published weekly under this title from 1897 until 1969, and quarterly and then bimonthly from 1971.-History:...

wrote, "she is not only beautiful, but she bubbles with charm", and compared her to Constance Bennett
Constance Bennett
-Early life:She was born in New York City, the daughter of actor Richard Bennett and actress Adrienne Morrison, whose father was the stage actor Lewis Morrison , a wealthy performer of English and Spanish ancestry...

 and Olive Borden
Olive Borden
Olive Borden was an American actress in silent and early talkies. Nicknamed "The Joy Girl", Borden was known for her jet-black hair and overall beauty.-Early life:Olive Borden was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1906...

. Warner Bros. signed her to a five-year contract.

In 1932, she married Harmon "Ham" Nelson, who was scrutinized by the press; his $100 a week earnings compared unfavorably with Davis's reported $1,000 a week income. Davis addressed the issue in an interview, pointing out that many Hollywood wives earned more than their husbands, but the situation proved difficult for Nelson, who refused to allow Davis to purchase a house until he could afford to pay for it himself. Davis had several abortions during the marriage.

After more than 20 film roles, the role of the vicious and slatternly Mildred Rogers in the RKO Radio production of Of Human Bondage (1934), a film adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham
W. Somerset Maugham
William Somerset Maugham , CH was an English playwright, novelist and short story writer. He was among the most popular writers of his era and, reputedly, the highest paid author during the 1930s.-Childhood and education:...

's novel, earned Davis her first major critical acclaim. Many actresses feared playing unsympathetic characters and several had refused the role, but Davis viewed it as an opportunity to show the range of her acting skills. Her costar, Leslie Howard
Leslie Howard (actor)
Leslie Howard was an English stage and film actor, director, and producer. Among his best-known roles was Ashley Wilkes in Gone with the Wind and roles in Berkeley Square , Of Human Bondage , The Scarlet Pimpernel , The Petrified Forest , Pygmalion , Intermezzo , Pimpernel Smith...

, was initially dismissive of her, but as filming progressed his attitude changed and he subsequently spoke highly of her abilities. The director, John Cromwell
John Cromwell (director)
Elwood Dager Cromwell , known as John Cromwell, was an American film actor, director and producer.-Biography:...

, allowed her relative freedom, and commented, "I let Bette have her head. I trusted her instincts." She insisted that she be portrayed realistically in her death scene, and said, "the last stages of consumption, poverty and neglect are not pretty and I intended to be convincing-looking".

The film was a success, and Davis's confronting characterization won praise from critics, with Life
Life (magazine)
Life generally refers to three American magazines:*A humor and general interest magazine published from 1883 to 1936. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name....

magazine writing that she gave "probably the best performance ever recorded on the screen by a U.S. actress". Davis anticipated that her reception would encourage Warner Bros. to cast her in more important roles, and was disappointed when Jack Warner
Jack Warner
Jack Leonard "J. L." Warner , born Jacob Warner in London, Ontario, was a Canadian American film executive who was the president and driving force behind the Warner Bros. Studios in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California...

 refused to lend her to Columbia Studios to appear in It Happened One Night
It Happened One Night
It Happened One Night is a 1934 American romantic comedy film with elements of screwball comedy directed by Frank Capra, in which a pampered socialite tries to get out from under her father's thumb, and falls in love with a roguish reporter . The plot was based on the story Night Bus by Samuel...

, and instead cast her in the melodrama
Melodrama
The term melodrama refers to a dramatic work that exaggerates plot and characters in order to appeal to the emotions. It may also refer to the genre which includes such works, or to language, behavior, or events which resemble them...

 Housewife
Housewife (film)
Housewife is a 1934 American drama film directed by Alfred E. Green. The screenplay by Manuel Seff and Lillie Hayward is based on a story by Hayward and Robert Lord.-Plot:...

. When Davis was not nominated for an Academy Award for Of Human Bondage, The Hollywood Citizen News questioned the omission and Norma Shearer
Norma Shearer
Edith Norma Shearer was a Canadian-American actress. Shearer was one of the most popular actresses in North America from the mid-1920s through the 1930s...

, herself a nominee, joined a campaign to have Davis nominated. This prompted an announcement from the Academy president, Howard Estabrook
Howard Estabrook
Howard Estabrook was an American actor, film director and producer, and screenwriter.-Biography:Born Howard Bolles in Detroit, Michigan, Estabrook began his career in 1904 as a stage actor in New York. He made his film debut in 1914 during the silent era, and would go on to appear in several...

, who said that under the circumstances "any voter ... may write on the ballot his or her personal choice for the winners", thus allowing, for the only time in the Academy's history, the consideration of a candidate not officially nominated for an award. Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert was a French-born American-based actress of stage and film.Born in Paris, France and raised in New York City, Colbert began her career in Broadway productions during the 1920s, progressing to film with the advent of talking pictures...

 won the award for It Happened One Night but the uproar led to a change in Academy voting procedures the following year, whereby nominations were determined by votes from all eligible members of a particular branch, rather than by a smaller committee, with results independently tabulated by the accounting firm Price Waterhouse.
Davis appeared in Dangerous
Dangerous (film)
Dangerous is a 1935 American drama film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Bette Davis in her first Oscar-winning role. The screenplay by Laird Doyle is based on his story Hard Luck Dame.-Plot synopsis:...

(1935) as a troubled actress and received very good reviews. E. Arnot Robertson wrote in Picture Post, "I think Bette Davis would probably have been burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago. She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet." The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

hailed her as "becoming one of the most interesting of our screen actresses". She won the Academy Award for Best Actress
Academy Award for Best Actress
Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

 for the role, but commented it was belated recognition for Of Human Bondage, calling the award a "consolation prize". For the rest of her life, Davis maintained that she gave the statue its familiar name of "Oscar" because its posterior resembled that of her husband, whose middle name was Oscar, although her claim has been disputed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, among others.

In her next film, The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest
The Petrified Forest is a 1936 American film, starring Leslie Howard, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart. A precursor of film noir, it was adapted from Robert E. Sherwood's 1936 stage play of the same name...

(1936), Davis co-starred with Leslie Howard and Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey Bogart
Humphrey DeForest Bogart was an American actor. He is widely regarded as a cultural icon.The American Film Institute ranked Bogart as the greatest male star in the history of American cinema....

, but Bogart, in his first important role, received most of the critics' praise. Davis appeared in several films over the next two years but most were poorly received.

Legal case

Convinced that her career was being damaged by a succession of mediocre films, Davis accepted an offer in 1936 to appear in two films in England. Knowing that she was breaching her contract with Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., also known as Warner Bros. Pictures or simply Warner Bros. , is an American producer of film and television entertainment.One of the major film studios, it is a subsidiary of Time Warner, with its headquarters in Burbank,...

, she fled to Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

 to avoid legal papers being served upon her. Eventually, Davis brought her case to court in England, hoping to get out of her contract with Warner Bros. She later recalled the opening statement of the barrister, Sir Patrick Hastings
Patrick Hastings
Sir Patrick Gardiner Hastings KC was a British barrister and politician noted for his long and highly successful career as a barrister and his short stint as Attorney General. He was educated at Charterhouse School until 1896, when his family moved to continental Europe...

, who represented Warner Bros. Hastings urged the court to "come to the conclusion that this is rather a naughty young lady and that what she wants is more money". He mocked Davis's description of her contract as "slavery" by stating, incorrectly, that she was being paid $1,350 per week. He remarked, "if anybody wants to put me into perpetual servitude on the basis of that remuneration, I shall prepare to consider it." The British press offered little support to Davis, and portrayed her as overpaid and ungrateful.

Davis explained her viewpoint to a journalist, saying "I knew that, if I continued to appear in any more mediocre pictures, I would have no career left worth fighting for." Davis's counsel presented her complaints—that she could be suspended without pay for refusing a part, with the period of suspension added to her contract, that she could be called upon to play any part within her abilities regardless of her personal beliefs, that she could be required to support a political party against her beliefs, and that her image and likeness could be displayed in any manner deemed applicable by the studio. Jack Warner testified, and was asked, "Whatever part you choose to call upon her to play, if she thinks she can play it, whether it is distasteful and cheap, she has to play it?" Warner replied, "Yes, she must play it."

The case, decided by Branson J. in the English High Court, was reported as Warner Bros. Studios Incorporated v. Nelson in [1937] 1 KB 209. Davis lost the case and returned to Hollywood, in debt and without income, to resume her career. Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland is a British American film and stage actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 and 1949. She is the elder sister of actress Joan Fontaine. The sisters are among the last surviving leading ladies from Hollywood of the 1930s.-Early life:Olivia de Havilland...

 mounted a similar case in 1943 and won.

Success with Warner Bros. (1937–1941)

Davis began work on Marked Woman
Marked Woman
Marked Woman is a crime melodrama film released by Warner Bros. in 1937. It was directed by Lloyd Bacon, and stars Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart, with featured performances by Lola Lane, Isabel Jewell, Rosalind Marquis, Mayo Methot, Jane Bryan, Eduardo Ciannelli and Allen Jenkins...

(1937), as a prostitute in a contemporary gangster drama inspired by the case of Lucky Luciano
Lucky Luciano
Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was an Italian mobster born in Sicily. Luciano is considered the father of modern organized crime in the United States for splitting New York City into five different Mafia crime families and the establishment of the first commission...

. The film and Davis's performance received excellent reviews, and her stature as a leading actress was enhanced. Her next picture was Jezebel (1938), and during production Davis entered a relationship with director William Wyler
William Wyler
William Wyler was a leading American motion picture director, producer, and screenwriter.Notable works included Ben-Hur , The Best Years of Our Lives , and Mrs. Miniver , all of which won Wyler Academy Awards for Best Director, and also won Best Picture...

. She later described him as the "love of my life", and said that making the film with him was "the time in my life of my most perfect happiness". The film was a success, and Davis's performance as a spoiled Southern belle
Southern belle
A southern belle is an archetype for a young woman of the American Old South's upper class....

 earned her a second Academy Award, which led to speculation in the press that she would be chosen to play a similar character, Scarlett O'Hara
Scarlett O'Hara
Scarlett O' Hara is the protagonist in Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind and in the later film of the same name...

, in Gone with the Wind
Gone with the Wind (film)
Gone with the Wind is a 1939 American historical epic film adapted from Margaret Mitchell's Pulitzer-winning 1936 novel of the same name. It was produced by David O. Selznick and directed by Victor Fleming from a screenplay by Sidney Howard...

. Davis expressed her desire to play Scarlett, and while David O. Selznick
David O. Selznick
David O. Selznick was an American film producer. He is best known for having produced Gone with the Wind and Rebecca , both of which earned him an Oscar for Best Picture.-Early years:...

 was conducting a search for the actress to play the role, a radio poll named her as the audience favorite. Warner offered her services to Selznick as part of a deal that also included Errol Flynn
Errol Flynn
Errol Leslie Flynn was an Australian-born actor. He was known for his romantic swashbuckler roles in Hollywood films, being a legend and his flamboyant lifestyle.-Early life:...

 and Olivia de Havilland, but Selznick did not consider Davis as suitable, and rejected the offer.

Jezebel marked the beginning of the most successful phase of Davis's career, and over the next few years she was listed in the annual "Quigley Poll of the Top Ten Money Making Stars", which was compiled from the votes of movie exhibitors throughout the U.S. for the stars that had generated the most revenue in their theaters over the previous year. In contrast to Davis's success, her husband, Ham Nelson, had failed to establish a career for himself, and their relationship faltered. In 1938, Nelson obtained evidence that Davis was engaged in a sexual relationship with Howard Hughes
Howard Hughes
Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, engineer, film producer, director, and philanthropist. He was one of the wealthiest people in the world...

 and subsequently filed for divorce citing Davis's "cruel and inhuman manner".

She was emotional during the making of her next film, Dark Victory
Dark Victory
Dark Victory is a 1939 American drama film directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, and Ronald Reagan...

(1939), and considered abandoning it until the producer Hal B. Wallis
Hal B. Wallis
Hal B. Wallis was an American film producer.-Career:Harold Brent Wallis was born in Chicago in 1898. His family moved in 1922 to Los Angeles, California, where he found work as part of the publicity department at Warner Bros...

 convinced her to channel her despair into her acting. The film became one of the highest grossing films of the year, and the role of Judith Traherne brought her an Academy Award nomination. In later years, Davis cited this performance as her personal favorite. She appeared in three other box office hits in 1939, The Old Maid with Miriam Hopkins
Miriam Hopkins
Ellen Miriam Hopkins was an American actress known for her versatility in a wide variety of roles.Hopkins was born in Savannah, Georgia, and raised in Bainbridge, a town in the state's southwest near the Alabama border...

, Juarez
Juarez (1939 film)
Juarez is a 1939 American historical drama film directed by William Dieterle. The screenplay by Aeneas MacKenzie, John Huston, and Wolfgang Reinhardt is based on the novel The Phantom Crown by Bertita Harding and the play Juarez and Maximilian by Franz Werfel.-Plot:The film focuses on the conflict...

with Paul Muni
Paul Muni
Paul Muni was an Austrian-Hungarian-born American stage and film actor...

 and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex is a 1939 historical romantic drama film. It is based on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth I, portrayed by Bette Davis, and Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, played by Errol Flynn...

with Errol Flynn. The latter was her first color film and her only color film made during the height of her career. To play the elderly Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

, Davis shaved her hairline and eyebrows. During filming she was visited on the set by the actor Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton
Charles Laughton was an English-American stage and film actor, screenwriter, producer and director.-Early life and career:...

. She commented that she had a "nerve" playing a woman in her sixties, to which Laughton replied, "Never not dare to hang yourself. That's the only way you grow in your profession. You must continually attempt things that you think are beyond you, or you get into a complete rut." Recalling the episode many years later, Davis remarked that Laughton's advice had influenced her throughout her career.

By this time, Davis was Warner Bros.' most profitable star, and she was given the most important of their female leading roles. Her image was considered with more care; although she continued to play character roles, she was often filmed in close-ups that emphasized her distinctive eyes. All This and Heaven Too
All This and Heaven Too
All This, and Heaven Too is a 1940 American drama film made by Warner Bros.-First National Pictures, produced and directed by Anatole Litvak with Hal B. Wallis as executive producer. The screenplay was adapted by Casey Robinson from the novel by Rachel Field...

(1940) was the most financially successful film of Davis's career to that point, while The Letter
The Letter (1940 film)
The Letter is a 1940 American film noir directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Howard Koch is based on the 1927 play of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, originally filmed in 1929.-Plot:...

(1940) was considered "one of the best pictures of the year" by The Hollywood Reporter
The Hollywood Reporter
Formerly a daily trade magazine, The Hollywood Reporter re-launched in late 2010 as a unique hybrid publication serving the entertainment industry and a consumer audience...

, and Davis won admiration for her portrayal of an adulterous killer, a role originated by famed actress Katharine Cornell
Katharine Cornell
Katharine Cornell was an American stage actress, writer, theater owner and producer. She was born to American parents and raised in Buffalo, New York.Cornell is known as the greatest American stage actress of the 20th century...

. During this time, she was in a relationship with her former costar George Brent
George Brent
George Brent was an Irish film and television actor in American cinema.-Early life:He was born George Brendan Nolan in Raharabeg, County Roscommon on the opposite bank of the River Shannon from the town of Shannonbridge, County Offaly, Ireland, the son of a British Army officer.During the Irish...

, who proposed marriage. Davis refused, as she had met Arthur Farnsworth, a New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 innkeeper. Davis and Farnsworth were married at Home Ranch, in Lake Montezuma, Arizona
Lake Montezuma, Arizona
Lake Montezuma is a census-designated place in Yavapai County, Arizona, United States. The population was 3,344 at the 2000 census. The Lake Montezuma CDP includes the communities of Rimrock and McGuireville...

, in December 1940.

In January 1941, Davis became the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures...

 but antagonized the committee members with her brash manner and radical proposals. Faced with the disapproval and resistance of the committee, Davis resigned, and was succeeded by Jean Hersholt
Jean Hersholt
Jean Pierre Hersholt was a Danish-born actor who lived in the United States, where he was a leading film and radio talent, best known for his 17 years starring on radio in Dr. Christian and for playing Shirley Temple's grandfather in Heidi...

, who implemented the changes she had suggested. Davis starred in three movies in 1941, the first being The Great Lie, opposite George Brent. It was a refreshingly different role for Davis, as she played a kind, sympathetic character. Brent tickled Davis during many of the film's scenes, which allowed the audience, used to Davis' strong-willed character, a rare glimpse of her succumbing to giggles and squirms. William Wyler directed Davis for the third time in Lillian Hellman
Lillian Hellman
Lillian Florence "Lily" Hellman was an American playwright, linked throughout her life with many left-wing causes...

's The Little Foxes
The Little Foxes (film)
The Little Foxes is a 1941 American drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Lillian Hellman is based on her 1939 play of the same name...

(RKO, 1941), but they clashed over the character of Regina Giddens. Taking a role originally played on stage by Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Bankhead
Tallulah Brockman Bankhead was an award-winning American actress of the stage and screen, talk-show host, and bonne vivante...

, Davis felt Bankhead's original interpretation was appropriate and followed Hellman's intent, but Wyler wanted her to soften the character. Davis refused to compromise. She received another Academy Award nomination for her performance, and never worked with Wyler again.

War effort and personal tragedy (1942–1944)

Following the attack on Pearl Harbor
Attack on Pearl Harbor
The attack on Pearl Harbor was a surprise military strike conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on the morning of December 7, 1941...

, Davis spent the early months of 1942 selling war bonds. After Jack Warner criticized her tendency to cajole crowds into buying, she reminded him that her audiences responded most strongly to her "bitch" performances. She sold two million dollars worth of bonds in two days, as well as a picture of herself in Jezebel for $250,000. She also performed for black regiments as the only white member of an acting troupe formed by Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel
Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American actress to win an Academy Award. She won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her role of Mammy in Gone with the Wind ....

, that also included Lena Horne
Lena Horne
Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was an American singer, actress, civil rights activist and dancer.Horne joined the chorus of the Cotton Club at the age of sixteen and became a nightclub performer before moving to Hollywood, where she had small parts in numerous movies, and more substantial parts in the...

 and Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters
Ethel Waters was an American blues, jazz and gospel vocalist and actress. She frequently performed jazz, big band, and pop music, on the Broadway stage and in concerts, although she began her career in the 1920s singing blues.Her best-known recordings includes, "Dinah", "Birmingham Bertha",...

.
At John Garfield
John Garfield
John Garfield was an American actor adept at playing brooding, rebellious, working-class character roles. He grew up in poverty in Depression-era New York City and in the early 1930s became an important member of the Group Theater. In 1937 he moved to Hollywood, eventually becoming one of Warner...

's suggestion of opening a servicemen's club in Hollywood, Davis–with the aid of Warner, Cary Grant
Cary Grant
Archibald Alexander Leach , better known by his stage name Cary Grant, was an English actor who later took U.S. citizenship...

 and Jule Styne
Jule Styne
Jule Styne was a British-born American songwriter especially famous for a series of Broadway musicals, which included several very well known and frequently revived shows.-Early life:...

–transformed an old nightclub into the Hollywood Canteen
Hollywood Canteen
The Hollywood Canteen operated at 1451 Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood, California between October 3, 1942 and November 22, 1945 as a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen, usually on their way overseas...

, which opened on October 3, 1942. Hollywood's most important stars volunteered to entertain servicemen. Davis ensured that every night there would be a few important "names" for the visiting soldiers to meet. She appeared as herself in the film Hollywood Canteen
Hollywood Canteen (1944 film)
Hollywood Canteen is a 1944 Warner Bros. film starring Joan Leslie, Robert Hutton, and Dane Clark. The film was written and directed by Delmer Daves, and is notable for featuring many stars in cameo roles...

(1944) which used the canteen as the setting for a fictional story. Davis later commented, "There are few accomplishments in my life that I am sincerely proud of. The Hollywood Canteen is one of them." In 1980, she was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal
Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award
The Department of Defense Distinguished Civilian Service Award is the highest civilian award given by the United States Department of Defense. This award and accompanying Distinguished Civilian Service Medal is the Department's highest award given to career DoD civilian employees whose careers...

, the United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Defense
The United States Department of Defense is the U.S...

's highest civilian award, for her work with the Hollywood Canteen.

Davis had initially shown little interest in the film Now, Voyager
Now, Voyager
Now, Voyager is a 1942 American drama film starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains, and directed by Irving Rapper. The screenplay by Casey Robinson is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty....

(1942) until Hal Wallis advised her that female audiences needed romantic dramas to distract them from the reality of their lives. It became one of the best known of her "women's pictures." In one of the film's most imitated scenes Paul Henreid lights two cigarettes as they are held in his lips before passing one to Davis. Film reviewers complimented Davis on her performance, the National Board of Review commenting that she gave the film "a dignity not fully warranted by the script".

During the early 1940s, several of Davis's film choices were influenced by the war, such as Watch on the Rhine
Watch on the Rhine
Watch on the Rhine is a 1943 American drama film directed by Herman Shumlin. The screenplay by Dashiell Hammett is based on the 1941 play of the same title by Lillian Hellman.-Plot:...

(1943) and Thank Your Lucky Stars
Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943 film)
Thank Your Lucky Stars is a film made by Warner Brothers as a World War II fundraiser. It was directed by David Butler and starred Eddie Cantor, Dennis Morgan, Joan Leslie, Edward Everett Horton and S. Z...

(1943), a lighthearted all-star musical cavalcade
Cavalcade
Cavalcade may refer to:*Cavalcade, a horseback procession, parade, or mass trail ride*A huge parade*A huge procession*Suzuki GV1400 Cavalcade, a Suzuki luxury touring motorcycle available from 1985 to 1988 in North America...

, with each of the featured stars donating their fee to the Hollywood Canteen. Davis performed a novelty song, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old", which became a hit record after the film's release.

Old Acquaintance
Old Acquaintance
Old Acquaintance is a 1943 film drama made by Warner Bros. It was directed by Vincent Sherman and produced by Henry Blanke with Jack L. Warner as executive producer from a screenplay by John Van Druten, Lenore Coffee and Edmund Goulding based on Van Druten's play.The film starred Bette Davis and...

(1943) reunited her with Miriam Hopkins in a story of two old friends who deal with the tensions created when one of them becomes a successful novelist. Davis felt that Hopkins tried to upstage her throughout the film. The director Vincent Sherman
Vincent Sherman
Vincent Sherman was an American director, and actor, who worked in Hollywood. His movies include Mr. Skeffington , Nora Prentiss , and The Young Philadelphians ....

 recalled the intense competitiveness and animosity between the two actresses, and Davis often joked that she held back nothing in a scene in which she was required to shake Hopkins in a fit of anger.

In August 1943, Davis's husband, Arthur Farnsworth, collapsed while walking along a Hollywood street, and died two days later. An autopsy
Autopsy
An autopsy—also known as a post-mortem examination, necropsy , autopsia cadaverum, or obduction—is a highly specialized surgical procedure that consists of a thorough examination of a corpse to determine the cause and manner of death and to evaluate any disease or injury that may be present...

 revealed that his fall had been caused by a skull fracture which had occurred about two weeks earlier. Davis testified before an inquest
Inquest
Inquests in England and Wales are held into sudden and unexplained deaths and also into the circumstances of discovery of a certain class of valuable artefacts known as "treasure trove"...

 that she knew of no event that might have caused the injury. A finding of accidental death was reached. Highly distraught, Davis attempted to withdraw from her next film Mr. Skeffington
Mr. Skeffington
Mr. Skeffington is a 1944 American drama film directed by Vincent Sherman, based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Arnim.The film stars Bette Davis as a beautiful woman whose many suitors, and self-love, distract her from returning the affections of her husband, Job Skeffington...

(1944), but Jack Warner, who had halted production following Farnsworth's death, convinced her to continue.

Although she had gained a reputation for being forthright and demanding, her behavior during filming of Mr. Skeffington was erratic and out of character. She alienated director Vincent Sherman by refusing to film certain scenes and insisting that some sets be rebuilt. She improvised dialogue, causing confusion among other actors, and infuriated the writer Julius Epstein
Julius J. Epstein
Julius J. Epstein was an American screenwriter, who had a long career, best remembered for the adaptation - in partnership with his twin brother, Philip, and others - of the unproduced play Everybody Comes to Rick's that became the screenplay for the film Casablanca , for which its team of writers...

, who was also called upon to rewrite scenes at her whim. Davis later explained her actions with the observation, "when I was most unhappy I lashed out rather than whined". Some reviewers criticized Davis for the excess of her performance; James Agee
James Agee
James Rufus Agee was an American author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S...

 wrote that she "demonstrates the horrors of egocentricity on a marathonic scale", but despite the mixed reviews, she received another Academy Award nomination.

Professional setbacks (1945–1949)

Davis married an artist, William Grant Sherry
William Grant Sherry
William Grant Sherry was a painter and artist.Born in Amagansett, New York, on Long Island, Sherry studied at the Académie Julian in Paris and at Heatherley's School of Art in London....

, who also, when necessary, worked as a masseur, in 1945. She had been drawn to him because he claimed that he had never heard of her and was therefore not intimidated by her.

Davis refused the title role in Mildred Pierce
Mildred Pierce (film)
Mildred Pierce is a 1945 American drama film starring Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, and Eve Arden in a film noir about a long-suffering mother and her ungrateful daughter. The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall, William Faulkner, and Catherine Turney was based upon the 1941...

(1945), a role for which Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford , born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was an American actress in film, television and theatre....

 ultimately won an Academy Award, and instead made The Corn Is Green
The Corn Is Green (1945 film)
The Corn Is Green is a 1945 drama film starring Bette Davis as a schoolteacher determined to bring education to a Welsh coal mining town, despite great opposition...

(1945) based on a play by Emlyn Williams
Emlyn Williams
George Emlyn Williams, CBE , known as Emlyn Williams, was a Welsh dramatist and actor.-Biography:He was born into a Welsh-speaking, working class family in Mostyn, Flintshire....

. Davis played Miss Moffat, an English teacher who saves a young Welsh
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

 miner from a life in the coal pits, by offering him education. The part had originally been played in the theatre by Ethel Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore
Ethel Barrymore was an American actress and a member of the Barrymore family of actors.-Early life:Ethel Barrymore was born Ethel Mae Blythe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the second child of the actors Maurice Barrymore and Georgiana Drew...

 but Warner Bros. felt that the film version should depict the character as a younger woman. Davis disagreed and insisted on playing the part as written and wore a gray wig and padding under her clothes to create a dowdy appearance. The film was well received by critics and made a profit of $2.2 million. The critic E. Arnot Robinson observed that "only Bette Davis... could have combated so successfully the obvious intention of the adaptors of the play to make frustrated sex the mainspring of the chief character's interest in the young miner." He concluded that "the subtle interpretation she insisted on giving" kept the focus on the teacher's "sheer joy in imparting knowledge".
Her next film, A Stolen Life (1946), was the first and only film that Davis made with her own production company, BD Productions. Davis played dual roles, as twins. The film received poor reviews, and was described by Bosley Crowther
Bosley Crowther
Bosley Crowther was a journalist and author who was film critic for The New York Times for 27 years. His reviews and articles helped shape the careers of actors, directors and screenwriters, though his reviews, at times, were unnecessarily mean...

 as "a distressingly empty piece", but was one of her biggest box-office successes with a profit of $2.5 million. In 1947, the U.S. Treasury named Davis as the highest paid woman in the country, with her share of the film's profit accounting for most of her earnings. Her next film was Deception (1946), the first of her films to lose money.

Possessed
Possessed (1947 film)
Possessed is a 1947 Warner Bros. film starring Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, and Raymond Massey in a tale about an unstable woman's obsession with her ex-lover. The screenplay by Ranald MacDougall and Silvia Richards was based upon a story by Rita Weiman. The film was directed by Curtis Bernhardt and...

(1947) had been tailor-made for Davis and was to have been her next project after Deception. However, she was pregnant and went on maternity leave. Joan Crawford played her role in Possessed and was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress. In 1947, at the age of 39, Davis gave birth to a daughter, Barbara Davis Sherry
B. D. Hyman
B. D. Hyman , aka B.D. Merrill, is an American author and pastor.Hyman was born in Santa Ana, California, the daughter of the actress Bette Davis and artist William Sherry. She was adopted by Davis's husband, Gary Merrill, in 1950...

 (known as B.D.) and later wrote in her memoir that she became absorbed in motherhood and considered ending her career. Her relationship with Sherry began to deteriorate and she continued making films, but her popularity with audiences was steadily declining.

Among the film roles offered to Davis following her return to film making was Rose Sayer in The African Queen (1951). When informed that the film was to be made in Africa
Africa
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

, Davis refused the part, telling Jack Warner, "If you can't shoot the picture in a boat on the back lot, then I'm not interested." Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned 62 years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies...

 played the role. Davis was also offered a role in a film version of the Virginia Kellogg
Virginia Kellogg
Virginia Kellogg was a film writer whose scripts for White Heat and Caged were nominated for Oscars.At one time, she was married to director Frank Lloyd.-External links:...

 prison drama Women Without Men. Originally intended to pair Davis with Joan Crawford, Davis made it clear that she would not appear in any "dyke movie", and the lead roles were played by Agnes Moorehead
Agnes Moorehead
Agnes Robertson Moorehead was an American actress. Although she began with the Mercury Theatre, appeared in more than seventy films beginning with Citizen Kane and on dozens of television shows during a career that spanned more than thirty years, Moorehead is most widely known to modern audiences...

 and Eleanor Parker
Eleanor Parker
Eleanor Jean Parker is an American screen actress. Her versatility led to her being dubbed Woman of a Thousand Faces, the title of her biography by Doug McClelland.- Early life :...

 when it was filmed as Caged (1950). She lobbied Jack Warner to make two films, Ethan Frome
Ethan Frome
Ethan Frome is a novel published in 1911 by the Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Edith Wharton. It is set in the fictitious town of Starkfield, Massachusetts, New England, United States...

and a biography of Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Todd Lincoln
Mary Ann Lincoln was the wife of the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and was First Lady of the United States from 1861 to 1865.-Life before the White House:...

, however Warner vetoed each proposal.

In 1948, Davis was cast in Winter Meeting
Winter Meeting
Winter Meeting is a 1948 American drama film directed by Bretaigne Windust. The screenplay by Catherine Turney is based on the novel of the same title by Grace Zaring Stone, writing under the pseudonym Ethel Vance.-Synopsis:...

and, although she was initially enthusiastic, she soon learned that Warner had arranged for "softer" lighting to be used to disguise her age. She recalled that she had seen the same lighting technique "on the sets of Ruth Chatterton
Ruth Chatterton
Ruth Chatterton was an American actress, novelist, and early aviatrix.- Early life :Chatterton was born in New York City, on Christmas Eve 1892, to Walter Smith and Lillian Reed Chatterton...

 and Kay Francis
Kay Francis
Kay Francis was an American stage and film actress. After a brief period on Broadway in the late 1920s, she moved to film and achieved her greatest success between 1930 and 1936, when she was the number one female star at the Warner Brothers studio, and the highest paid American film actress...

, and I knew what they meant". She began to regret accepting the role and, to add to her disappointment, she was not confident in the abilities of her leading man, Jim Davis
Jim Davis (actor)
Jim Davis was an American actor, best known for his role as Jock Ewing in the CBS prime-time soap Dallas, a role which he held up until his death in April 1981.-Biography:...

. She disagreed with amendments made to the script because of censorship restrictions and found that many of the aspects of the role that had initially appealed to her were no longer to be included. The film was later described by Bosley Crowther
Bosley Crowther
Bosley Crowther was a journalist and author who was film critic for The New York Times for 27 years. His reviews and articles helped shape the careers of actors, directors and screenwriters, though his reviews, at times, were unnecessarily mean...

 as "interminable" and he noted that "of all the miserable dilemmas in which Miss Davis has been involved ... this one is probably the worst". It failed at the box office and the studio lost nearly one million dollars.

Davis clashed with her co-star Robert Montgomery
Robert Montgomery (actor)
Robert Montgomery was an American actor and director.- Early life :Montgomery was born Henry Montgomery, Jr. in Beacon, New York, then known as "Fishkill Landing", the son of Mary Weed and Henry Montgomery, Sr. His early childhood was one of privilege, since his father was president of the New...

 while making June Bride
June Bride
June Bride is a 1948 American comedy film directed by Bretaigne Windust. Ranald MacDougall's screenplay, based on the unproduced play Feature for June by Eileen Tighe and Graeme Lorimer, was nominated for the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Written American Comedy. The film starred Bette...

(1948), later describing him as "a male Miriam Hopkins... an excellent actor, but addicted to scene-stealing". The film marked her first comedy in several years, and earned her some positive reviews, but it was not particularly popular with audiences and returned only a small profit. Despite the lackluster box office receipts from her more recent films, in 1949, she negotiated a four-film contract with Warner Bros. which paid $10,285 per week and made her the highest-paid woman in the United States.

Jack Warner refused to allow her script approval and cast her in Beyond the Forest
Beyond the Forest
Beyond the Forest is a 1949 American film, representative of the film noir genre. It was nominated for an Academy Award for best score.-Plot:...

(1949). Davis reportedly loathed the script and begged Warner to recast the role, but he refused. After the film was completed, Warner released Davis from her contract, at her request. The reviews that followed were scathing; Dorothy Manners writing for the Los Angeles Examiner described the film as "an unfortunate finale to her brilliant career". Hedda Hopper
Hedda Hopper
Hedda Hopper was an American actress and gossip columnist, whose long-running feud with friend turned arch-rival Louella Parsons became at least as notorious as many of Hopper's columns.-Early life:...

 wrote, "If Bette had deliberately set out to wreck her career, she could not have picked a more appropriate vehicle." The film contained the line, "What a dump!", which became closely associated with Davis after it was referenced in Edward Albee
Edward Albee
Edward Franklin Albee III is an American playwright who is best known for The Zoo Story , The Sandbox , Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? , and a rewrite of the screenplay for the unsuccessful musical version of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's . His works are considered well-crafted, often...

's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a play by Edward Albee that opened on Broadway at the Billy Rose Theater on October 13, 1962. The original cast featured Uta Hagen as Martha, Arthur Hill as George, Melinda Dillon as Honey and George Grizzard as Nick. It was directed by Alan Schneider...

, and impersonators began to use it in their acts. In later years, Davis often used it as her opening line at speaking engagements.

Starting a freelance career (1949–1960)

By 1949, Davis and Sherry were estranged and Hollywood columnists were writing that Davis's career was at an end. She filmed The Story of a Divorce (released by RKO Radio Pictures in 1951 as Payment on Demand
Payment on Demand
Payment on Demand is a 1951 drama film directed by Curtis Bernhardt. The screenplay by Bernhardt and Bruce Manning chronicles a marriage from its idealistic early days to its dissolution.-Plot synopsis:...

) but had received no other offers. Shortly before filming was completed, the producer Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl F. Zanuck
Darryl Francis Zanuck was an American producer, writer, actor, director and studio executive who played a major part in the Hollywood studio system as one of its longest survivors...

 offered her the role of the aging theatrical actress Margo Channing in All About Eve
All About Eve
All About Eve is a 1950 American drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the 1946 short story "The Wisdom of Eve", by Mary Orr.The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a highly regarded but aging Broadway star...

(1950). Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert was a French-born American-based actress of stage and film.Born in Paris, France and raised in New York City, Colbert began her career in Broadway productions during the 1920s, progressing to film with the advent of talking pictures...

, for whom the part had been written, had severely injured her back, and she was unable to continue. Davis read the script, described it as the best she had ever read, and accepted the role. Within days she joined the cast in San Francisco to begin filming. During production, she established what would become a lifelong friendship with her costar, Anne Baxter
Anne Baxter
Anne Baxter was an American actress known for her performances in films such as The Magnificent Ambersons , The Razor's Edge , All About Eve and The Ten Commandments .-Early life:...

, and a romantic relationship with her leading man, Gary Merrill
Gary Merrill
Gary Fred Merrill was an American film and television character actor whose credits included more than fifty feature films, a half-dozen mostly short-lived TV series, and dozens of television guest appearances....

, which led to marriage. The film's director Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph Leo Mankiewicz was an American film director, screenwriter, and producer. Mankiewicz had a long Hollywood career and is best known as the writer-director of All About Eve , which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six. He was brother to screenwriter and drama critic Herman J...

 later remarked, "Bette was letter perfect. She was syllable-perfect. The director's dream: the prepared actress."

Critics responded positively to Davis's performance and several of her lines became well-known, particularly, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night." She was again nominated for an Academy Award and critics such as Gene Ringgold described her Margo as her "all-time best performance". Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael
Pauline Kael was an American film critic who wrote for The New Yorker magazine from 1968 to 1991. Earlier in her career, her work appeared in City Lights, McCall's and The New Republic....

 wrote that much of Mankiewicz's vision of "the theater" was "nonsense" but commended Davis, writing "[the film is] saved by one performance that is the real thing: Bette Davis is at her most instinctive and assured. Her actress–vain, scared, a woman who goes too far in her reactions and emotions–makes the whole thing come alive." Davis won a "Best Actress
Best Actress Award (Cannes Film Festival)
The Best Actress Award is an award presented at the Cannes Film Festival. It is chosen by the jury from the 'official section' of films at the festival. It was first awarded in 1946.-Award Winners:-External links:* * ....

" award from the Cannes Film Festival
Cannes Film Festival
The Cannes International Film Festival , is an annual film festival held in Cannes, France, which previews new films of all genres including documentaries from around the world. Founded in 1946, it is among the world's most prestigious and publicized film festivals...

, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award. She also received the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Awards are given annually to honor fine achievements in filmmaking by an organization of film reviewers from San Francisco-based publications....

 as "Best Actress", having been named by them as the "Worst Actress" of 1949 for Beyond the Forest. During this time she was invited to leave her handprints in the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre
Grauman's Chinese Theatre
Grauman's Chinese Theatre is a movie theater at 6925 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. It is on the historic Hollywood Walk of Fame.The Chinese Theatre was commissioned following the success of the nearby Grauman's Egyptian Theatre which opened in 1922...

.

On July 3, 1950 Davis's divorce from William Sherry was finalized, and on July 28 she married Gary Merrill. With Sherry's consent, Merrill adopted B.D., Davis's daughter with Sherry, and in 1950, Davis and Merrill adopted a baby girl they named Margot. The family traveled to England, where Davis and Merrill starred in a murder-mystery film, Another Man's Poison
Another Man's Poison
Another Man's Poison is a 1951 British drama film directed by Irving Rapper. The screenplay by Val Guest is based on the play Intent to Murder by Leslie Sands.-Plot:...

(1951). When it received lukewarm reviews and failed at the box office, Hollywood columnists wrote that Davis's comeback had petered out, and an Academy Award nomination for The Star (1952) did not halt her decline.

Davis and Merrill adopted a baby boy, Michael, in 1952, and Davis appeared in a Broadway
Broadway theatre
Broadway theatre, commonly called simply Broadway, refers to theatrical performances presented in one of the 40 professional theatres with 500 or more seats located in the Theatre District centered along Broadway, and in Lincoln Center, in Manhattan in New York City...

 revue
Revue
A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches. The revue has its roots in 19th century American popular entertainment and melodrama but grew into a substantial cultural presence of its own during its golden years from 1916 to 1932...

, Two's Company directed by Jules Dassin
Jules Dassin
Julius "Jules" Dassin , was an American film director, with Jewish-Russian origins. He was a subject of the Hollywood blacklist in the McCarthy era, and subsequently moved to France where he revived his career.-Early life:...

. She was uncomfortable working outside of her area of expertise; she had never been a musical performer and her limited theater experience had been more than 20 years earlier. She was also severely ill and was operated on for osteomyelitis
Osteomyelitis
Osteomyelitis simply means an infection of the bone or bone marrow...

 of the jaw. Margot was diagnosed as severely brain damaged due to an injury sustained during or shortly after her birth, and was eventually placed in an institution. Davis and Merrill began arguing frequently, with B.D. later recalling episodes of alcohol abuse
Alcohol abuse
Alcohol abuse, as described in the DSM-IV, is a psychiatric diagnosis describing the recurring use of alcoholic beverages despite negative consequences. Alcohol abuse eventually progresses to alcoholism, a condition in which an individual becomes dependent on alcoholic beverages in order to avoid...

 and domestic violence
Domestic violence
Domestic violence, also known as domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence, and intimate partner violence , is broadly defined as a pattern of abusive behaviors by one or both partners in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family, or cohabitation...

.

Few of Davis's films of the 1950s were successful and many of her performances were condemned by critics. The Hollywood Reporter wrote of mannerisms "that you'd expect to find in a nightclub impersonation of [Davis]", while the London critic, Richard Winninger, wrote, "Miss Davis, with more say than most stars as to what films she makes, seems to have lapsed into egoism. The criterion for her choice of film would appear to be that nothing must compete with the full display of each facet of the Davis art. Only bad films are good enough for her." Her films of this period included The Virgin Queen (1955), Storm Center (1956), and The Catered Affair (1956). As her career declined, her marriage continued to deteriorate until she filed for divorce in 1960. The following year, her mother died. During the same time, she tried television, appearing in three episodes of the popular NBC western Wagon Train
Wagon Train
Wagon Train is an American Western series that ran on NBC from 1957–62 and then on ABC from 1962–65...

as three different characters in 1959 and 1961.

Renewed success (1961–1970)

In 1961, Davis opened in the Broadway production The Night of the Iguana
The Night of the Iguana
The Night of the Iguana is a stageplay written by American author Tennessee Williams, based on his 1948 short story. The play premiered on Broadway in 1961. Two film adaptations have been made, including the Academy Award-winning 1964 film of the same name....

to mostly mediocre reviews, and left the production after four months due to "chronic illness". She then joined Glenn Ford
Glenn Ford
Glenn Ford was a Canadian-born American actor from Hollywood's Golden Era with a career that spanned seven decades...

 and Ann-Margret
Ann-Margret
Ann-Margret Olsson is a Swedish-American actress, singer and dancer whose professional name is Ann-Margret. She became famous for her starring roles in Bye Bye Birdie, Viva Las Vegas, The Cincinnati Kid, Carnal Knowledge, and Tommy...

 for the Frank Capra
Frank Capra
Frank Russell Capra was a Sicilian-born American film director. He emigrated to the U.S. when he was six, and eventually became a creative force behind major award-winning films during the 1930s and 1940s...

 film A Pocketful of Miracles (1961) (a remake of Capra's 1933 film, Lady for a Day
Lady for a Day
Lady for a Day is a 1933 American comedy-drama film directed by Frank Capra. The screenplay by Robert Riskin is based on the short story Madame La Gimp by Damon Runyon...

), based on a story by Damon Runyon
Damon Runyon
Alfred Damon Runyon was an American newspaperman and writer.He was best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. To New Yorkers of his generation, a "Damon Runyon character" evoked a distinctive social type from the...

. She accepted her next role, in the Grand Guignol
Grand Guignol
Le Théâtre du Grand-Guignol — known as the Grand Guignol — was a theatre in the Pigalle area of Paris . From its opening in 1897 until its closing in 1962 it specialized in naturalistic horror shows...

 horror film
Horror film
Horror films seek to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience's most primal fears. They often feature scenes that startle the viewer through the means of macabre and the supernatural, thus frequently overlapping with the fantasy and science fiction genres...

 What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (film)
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the novel of the same name by Henry Farrell...

(1962) after reading the script and believing it could appeal to the same audience that had recently made Alfred Hitchcock
Alfred Hitchcock
Sir Alfred Joseph Hitchcock, KBE was a British film director and producer. He pioneered many techniques in the suspense and psychological thriller genres. After a successful career in British cinema in both silent films and early talkies, Hitchcock moved to Hollywood...

's Psycho
Psycho (1960 film)
Psycho is a 1960 American suspense/psychological horror film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins. The film is based on the screenplay by Joseph Stefano, who adapted it from the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch...

(1960) a success. She negotiated a deal that would pay her 10 percent of the worldwide gross profits, in addition to her salary. The film became one of the year's biggest successes.

Davis and Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford , born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was an American actress in film, television and theatre....

 played two aging sisters, former actresses forced by circumstance to share a decaying Hollywood mansion. The director, Robert Aldrich
Robert Aldrich
Robert Aldrich was an American film director, writer and producer, notable for such films as Kiss Me Deadly , The Big Knife , What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? , Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte , The Flight of the Phoenix , The Dirty Dozen , and The Longest Yard .-Biography:Robert...

, explained that Davis and Crawford were each aware of how important the film was to their respective careers and commented, "It's proper to say that they really detested each other, but they behaved absolutely perfectly." After filming was completed, their public comments against each other allowed the tension to develop into a lifelong feud. When Davis was nominated for an Academy Award, Crawford contacted the other Best Actress nominees (who were unable to attend the ceremonies) and offered to accept the award on their behalf should they win. Davis also received her only BAFTA Award
British Academy of Film and Television Arts
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts is a charity in the United Kingdom that hosts annual awards shows for excellence in film, television, television craft, video games and forms of animation.-Introduction:...

 nomination for this performance. Daughter B.D. played a small role in the film and when she and Davis visited the Cannes Film Festival to promote it, she met Jeremy Hyman, an executive for Seven Arts Productions
Seven Arts Productions
Seven Arts Productions was founded in 1957 by Ray Stark and Eliot Hyman. The company was a frequent producer of movies for other studios, including The Misfits for United Artists, Gigot for Twentieth Century-Fox, Lolita for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Is Paris Burning? for Paramount Pictures.Over...

. After a short courtship, she married Hyman at the age of 16, with Davis's permission.

In September 1962, Davis placed an advertisement in Variety
Variety (magazine)
Variety is an American weekly entertainment-trade magazine founded in New York City, New York, in 1905 by Sime Silverman. With the rise of the importance of the motion-picture industry, Daily Variety, a daily edition based in Los Angeles, California, was founded by Silverman in 1933. In 1998, the...

under the heading of "Situations wanted—women artists", which read, "Mother of three—10, 11 & 15—divorcee. American. Thirty years experience as an actress in Motion Pictures. Mobile still and more affable than rumor would have it. Wants steady employment in Hollywood. (Has had Broadway)." Davis said that she intended it as a joke, and she sustained her comeback over the course of several years. Dead Ringer
Dead Ringer (1964 film)
Dead Ringer, also known as Who is Buried in my Grave? is a 1964 thriller film made by Warner Bros. It was directed by Paul Henreid and produced by William H. Wright from a screenplay by Oscar Millard and Albert Beich from the story La Otra by Rian James...

(1964) was a crime drama in which she played twin sisters and Where Love Has Gone
Where Love Has Gone (film)
Where Love Has Gone is a 1964 drama film made by Embassy Pictures , Joseph E. Levine Productions and Paramount Pictures. It was directed by Edward Dmytryk and produced by Joseph E. Levine from a screenplay by John Michael Hayes based on the novel of the same name by Harold Robbins...

(1964) was a romantic drama based on a Harold Robbins
Harold Robbins
Harold Robbins was one of the best-selling American authors of all time. During his career, he wrote over 25 best-sellers, selling over 750 million copies in 32 languages....

 novel. Davis played the mother of Susan Hayward
Susan Hayward
Susan Hayward was an American actress.After working as a fashion model in New York, Hayward travelled to Hollywood in 1937 when open auditions were held for the leading role in Gone with the Wind . Although she was not selected, she secured a film contract, and played several small supporting...

 but filming was hampered by heated arguments between Davis and Hayward. Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) was Robert Aldrich's follow-up to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, in which he planned to reunite Davis and Crawford, but when Crawford withdrew allegedly due to illness soon after filming began, she was replaced by Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland is a British American film and stage actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 and 1949. She is the elder sister of actress Joan Fontaine. The sisters are among the last surviving leading ladies from Hollywood of the 1930s.-Early life:Olivia de Havilland...

. The film was a considerable success and brought renewed attention to its veteran cast, which also included Joseph Cotten
Joseph Cotten
Joseph Cheshire Cotten was an American actor of stage and film. Cotten achieved prominence on Broadway, starring in the original productions of The Philadelphia Story and Sabrina Fair...

, Mary Astor
Mary Astor
Mary Astor was an American actress. Most remembered for her role as Brigid O'Shaughnessy in The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, Astor began her long motion picture career as a teenager in the silent movies of the early 1920s.She eventually made a successful transition to talkies, but almost...

 and Agnes Moorehead.

In 1964 Davis was cast as the lead in an Aaron Spelling
Aaron Spelling
Aaron Spelling was an American film and television producer. As of 2009, Spelling's eponymous production company Spelling Television holds the record as the most prolific television writer, with 218 producer and executive producer credits...

 sitcom, The Decorator. A pilot episode was filmed, but was not shown, and the project was terminated. By the end of the decade, Davis had appeared in the British films The Nanny (1965), The Anniversary
The Anniversary (film)
The Anniversary is a 1968 British black comedy film directed by Roy Ward Baker. The screenplay by Jimmy Sangster is based on the 1966 play of the same title by Bill MacIlwraith.-Plot:...

(1968), and Connecting Rooms
Connecting Rooms
Connecting Rooms is a 1970 British drama film written and directed by Franklin Gollings. The screenplay is based on the play The Cellist by Marion Hart....

(1970), but her career again stalled.

Late career (1971–1983)

In the early 1970s, Davis was invited to appear in New York, in a stage presentation, Great Ladies of the American Cinema. Over five successive nights, a different female star discussed her career and answered questions from the audience; Myrna Loy
Myrna Loy
Myrna Loy was an American actress. Trained as a dancer, she devoted herself fully to an acting career following a few minor roles in silent films. Originally typecast in exotic roles, often as a vamp or a woman of Asian descent, her career prospects improved following her portrayal of Nora Charles...

, Rosalind Russell
Rosalind Russell
Rosalind Russell was an American actress of stage and screen, perhaps best known for her role as a fast-talking newspaper reporter in the Howard Hawks screwball comedy His Girl Friday, as well as the role of Mame Dennis in the film Auntie Mame...

, Lana Turner
Lana Turner
Lana Turner was an American actress.Discovered and signed to a film contract by MGM at the age of sixteen, Turner first attracted attention in They Won't Forget . She played featured roles, often as the ingenue, in such films as Love Finds Andy Hardy...

, Sylvia Sidney
Sylvia Sidney
Sylvia Sidney was an American actress who rose to prominence in the 1930s appearing in numerous crime dramas.-Early life:...

, and Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford
Joan Crawford , born Lucille Fay LeSueur, was an American actress in film, television and theatre....

 were the other participants. Davis was well received and was invited to tour Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 with the similarly themed, Bette Davis in Person and on Film, and its success allowed her to take the production to the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

.

In 1972, she played the lead role in two television films that were each intended as pilots
Television pilot
A "television pilot" is a standalone episode of a television series that is used to sell the show to a television network. At the time of its inception, the pilot is meant to be the "testing ground" to see if a series will be possibly desired and successful and therefore a test episode of an...

 for upcoming series for NBC
NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

, Madame Sin
Madame Sin
Madame Sin is a 1972 British thriller film directed by David Greene and starring Bette Davis, Robert Wagner, Denholm Elliot and Gordon Jackson. The screenplay was written by Greene and Barry Oringer.-Plot summary:...

with Robert Wagner
Robert Wagner
Robert John Wagner is an American actor of stage, screen, and television.A veteran of many films in the 1950s and 1960s, Wagner gained prominence in three American television series that spanned three decades: It Takes a Thief , Switch , and Hart to Hart...

, and The Judge and Jake Wyler
The Judge and Jake Wyler
The Judge and Jake Wyler is an American television movie directed by David Lowell Rich. The teleplay was written by Richard Levinson, William Link, and David Shaw. It was produced by Universal Television and broadcast by NBC on December 2, 1972....

,
with Joan Van Ark
Joan Van Ark
Joan Van Ark is an American actress, most notable for her role as Valene Ewing, which she originated on the CBS series Dallas and continued for thirteen seasons on its spin-off, Knots Landing...

, but in each case, NBC decided against producing a series. She appeared in the stage production, Miss Moffat, a musical adaptation of her film The Corn is Green, but after the show was panned by the Philadelphia critics during its pre-Broadway run, she cited a back injury and abandoned the show, which closed immediately. She played supporting roles in Burnt Offerings
Burnt Offerings (film)
Burnt Offerings is a 1976 horror film based on the 1973 novel of the same name by Robert Marasco. It is about a family who moves into a haunted house that rejuvenates itself with each injury and death that occurs inside of it...

(1976) and The Disappearance of Aimee
The Disappearance of Aimee
The Disappearance of Aimee is a 1976 telemovie drama. It was directed by Anthony Harvey for Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions.It stars Faye Dunaway as the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, with Bette Davis and James Woods...

(1976), but clashed with Karen Black
Karen Black
Karen Black is an American actress, screenwriter, singer, and songwriter. She is noted for appearing in such films as Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, Rhinoceros, The Day of the Locust, Nashville, Airport 1975, and Alfred Hitchcock's final film, Family Plot...

 and Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway is an American actress.Dunaway won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Network after receiving previous nominations for the critically acclaimed films Bonnie and Clyde and Chinatown...

, the stars of the two respective productions, because she felt that neither extended her an appropriate degree of respect, and that their behavior on the film sets was unprofessional.

In 1977, Davis became the first woman to receive the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

's Lifetime Achievement Award
AFI Life Achievement Award
The AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the Board of Directors of the American Film Institute on February 26, 1973 to honor a single individual for his or her lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and television....

. The televised event included comments from several of Davis's colleagues including William Wyler who joked that given the chance Davis would still like to refilm a scene from The Letter to which Davis nodded. Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda is an American actress, writer, political activist, former fashion model, and fitness guru. She rose to fame in the 1960s with films such as Barbarella and Cat Ballou. She has won two Academy Awards and received several other movie awards and nominations during more than 50 years as an...

, Henry Fonda
Henry Fonda
Henry Jaynes Fonda was an American film and stage actor.Fonda made his mark early as a Broadway actor. He also appeared in 1938 in plays performed in White Plains, New York, with Joan Tompkins...

, Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood
Natalie Wood, born Natalia Nikolaevna Zacharenko was an American film and television actress. After first working in films as a child, Wood became a successful Hollywood star as a young adult, receiving three Academy Award nominations before she was 25 years old.Wood began acting in movies at the...

 and Olivia de Havilland
Olivia de Havilland
Olivia Mary de Havilland is a British American film and stage actress. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1946 and 1949. She is the elder sister of actress Joan Fontaine. The sisters are among the last surviving leading ladies from Hollywood of the 1930s.-Early life:Olivia de Havilland...

 were among the actors who paid tribute, with de Havilland commenting that Davis "got the roles I always wanted". Following the telecast she found herself in demand again, often having to choose between several offers. She accepted roles in the television miniseries The Dark Secret of Harvest Home
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home is a 1978 television miniseries thriller, produced by Universal TV. The screenplay was based on the 1973 novel Harvest Home by Tom Tryon.-Cast and crew:...

(1978) and the theatrical film Death on the Nile
Death on the Nile (1978 film)
Death on the Nile is a 1978 film based on the Agatha Christie mystery novel Death on the Nile, directed by John Guillermin. The film features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot played by Peter Ustinov plus an all-star cast. It takes place in Egypt, mostly on the Nile River...

(1978), an Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie DBE was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections , and her successful West End plays.According to...

 murder mystery. The bulk of her remaining work was for television. She won an Emmy Award
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

 for Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter
Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter
Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter is a 1979 television film drama directed by Milton Katselas.It stars Bette Davis and Gena Rowlands as a mother and daughter, long estranged who attempt to repair their relationship when the daughter is diagnosed with cancer...

(1979) with Gena Rowlands
Gena Rowlands
Gena Rowlands is an American actress of film, stage and television. The four-time Emmy and two-time Golden Globe winner is best known for her collaborations with her actor-director husband John Cassavetes in ten films, in two of which, Gloria and A Woman Under the Influence, she gave Academy...

, and was nominated for her performances in White Mama
White Mama
White Mama is a 1980 television film drama directed by Jackie Cooper and adapted from the novel of the same name by Robert C. S. Downs.It stars Bette Davis in the title role, with Ernest Harden Jr., Eileen Heckart, Virginia Capers, Anne Ramsey, Lurene Tuttle and Vincent Schiavelli.Davis portrays...

(1980) and Little Gloria... Happy at Last
Little Gloria... Happy at Last
Little Gloria... Happy at Last is a 1982 television miniseries directed by Waris Hussein.It stars Martin Balsam, Bette Davis, Michael Gross, Lucy Gutteridge, John Hillerman, Barnard Hughes, Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Plummer and Maureen Stapleton...

(1982). She also played supporting roles in two Disney
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures is an American film studio owned by The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Pictures and Television, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios and the main production company for live-action feature films within the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, based at the Walt Disney...

 films, Return from Witch Mountain
Return from Witch Mountain
Return from Witch Mountain is the 1978 sequel to Walt Disney Productions' 1975 film, Escape to Witch Mountain. It was written by Malcolm Marmorstein and is based on the novel by Alexander Key. Ike Eisenmann, Kim Richards, and Denver Pyle reprise their roles as Tony, Tia, and Uncle Bené—humanoid...

(1978) and The Watcher in the Woods
The Watcher in the Woods
The Watcher in the Woods is a 1980 American-British mystery and horror film from Buena Vista Distribution Company. Based on the 1976 novel by Florence Engel Randall, it is a live action movie that, though predominantly a family oriented work, also contains elements of the mystery, thriller, horror,...

(1980).

Davis's name became well-known to a younger audience when Kim Carnes
Kim Carnes
Kim Carnes is an American singer-songwriter. She is a two-time Grammy Award winner noted for her distinctive raspy vocal style. Some people have called her "The Female Rod Stewart" due to her raspy voice....

's song "Bette Davis Eyes
Bette Davis Eyes
"Bette Davis Eyes" is a song written in 1974 by Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon and made popular by American singer-songwriter Kim Carnes.-History:...

" became a worldwide hit and the best-selling record of 1981 in the U.S., where it stayed at number one on the music charts for more than two months. Davis's grandson was impressed that she was the subject of a hit song and Davis considered it a compliment, writing to both Carnes and the songwriters, and accepting the gift of gold and platinum records
Music recording sales certification
Music recording sales certification is a system of certifying that a music recording has shipped or sold a certain number of copies, where the threshold quantity varies by type and by nation or territory .Almost all countries follow variations of the RIAA certification categories,...

 from Carnes, and hanging them on her wall. She continued acting for television, appearing in Family Reunion (1981) opposite her grandson J. Ashley Hyman, A Piano for Mrs. Cimino
A Piano for Mrs. Cimino
A Piano for Mrs. Cimino is a 1982 American television movie produced and directed by George Schaefer. The teleplay by John Gay is based on the novel of the same name by Robert Oliphant. It was broadcast on February 3 by CBS.-Plot:...

(1982) and Right of Way
Right of Way
Right of Way is a 1983 television film drama starring Bette Davis and James Stewart, and directed by George Schaefer.The TV movie stars film veterans Davis and Stewart as an elderly long-married couple who must decide how to deal with the situation of one of them being diagnosed with a terminal...

(1983) with James Stewart
James Stewart (actor)
James Maitland Stewart was an American film and stage actor, known for his distinctive voice and his everyman persona. Over the course of his career, he starred in many films widely considered classics and was nominated for five Academy Awards, winning one in competition and receiving one Lifetime...

. In 1983, she was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award.

Illness, conflict and death (1983–1989)

In 1983, after filming the pilot episode for the television series Hotel
Hotel (TV series)
Hotel is an American prime time drama series which aired on ABC from September 21, 1983 to May 5, 1988 in the timeslot following Dynasty....

,
Davis was diagnosed with breast cancer
Breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer originating from breast tissue, most commonly from the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that supply the ducts with milk. Cancers originating from ducts are known as ductal carcinomas; those originating from lobules are known as lobular carcinomas...

 and underwent a mastectomy
Mastectomy
Mastectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both breasts, partially or completely. Mastectomy is usually done to treat breast cancer; in some cases, women and some men believed to be at high risk of breast cancer have the operation prophylactically, that is, to prevent cancer...

. Within two weeks of her surgery she suffered four stroke
Stroke
A stroke, previously known medically as a cerebrovascular accident , is the rapidly developing loss of brain function due to disturbance in the blood supply to the brain. This can be due to ischemia caused by blockage , or a hemorrhage...

s which caused paralysis
Paralysis
Paralysis is loss of muscle function for one or more muscles. Paralysis can be accompanied by a loss of feeling in the affected area if there is sensory damage as well as motor. A study conducted by the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation, suggests that about 1 in 50 people have been diagnosed...

 in the left side of her face and in her left arm, and left her with slurred speech. She commenced a lengthy period of physical therapy and, aided by her personal assistant, Kathryn Sermak, gained partial recovery from the paralysis.

During this time, her relationship with her daughter, B. D. Hyman
B. D. Hyman
B. D. Hyman , aka B.D. Merrill, is an American author and pastor.Hyman was born in Santa Ana, California, the daughter of the actress Bette Davis and artist William Sherry. She was adopted by Davis's husband, Gary Merrill, in 1950...

, deteriorated when Hyman became a born-again Christian and attempted to persuade Davis to follow suit. With her health stable, she traveled to England to film the Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie
Dame Agatha Christie DBE was a British crime writer of novels, short stories, and plays. She also wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best remembered for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections , and her successful West End plays.According to...

 mystery Murder with Mirrors
Murder with Mirrors
Murder with Mirrors is a 1985 TV movie based on the Dame Agatha Christie mystery novel, They Do It with Mirrors, using the novel's US title. The film is set in a youth detention centre run by a charitable American educationalist in England....

(1985). Upon her return, she learned that Hyman had published a memoir, My Mother's Keeper
My Mother's Keeper
My Mother's Keeper is a 1985 book by B. D. Hyman, daughter of legendary film star Bette Davis, which recounts her view of their mother/daughter relationship.-Overview:...

,
in which she chronicled a difficult mother-daughter relationship and depicted scenes of Davis's overbearing and drunken behavior.

Several of Davis's friends commented that Hyman's depictions of events were not accurate; one said, "so much of the book is out of context". Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace (journalist)
Myron Leon "Mike" Wallace is an American journalist, former game show host, actor and media personality. During his 60+ year career, he has interviewed a wide range of prominent newsmakers....

 rebroadcast a 60 Minutes
60 Minutes
60 Minutes is an American television news magazine, which has run on CBS since 1968. The program was created by producer Don Hewitt who set it apart by using a unique style of reporter-centered investigation....

interview he had filmed with Hyman a few years earlier in which she commended Davis on her skills as a mother, and said that she had adopted many of Davis's principles in raising her own children. Critics of Hyman noted that Davis had financially supported the Hyman family for several years and had recently saved them from losing their house. Despite the acrimony of their divorce years earlier, Gary Merrill also defended Davis. Interviewed by CNN
CNN
Cable News Network is a U.S. cable news channel founded in 1980 by Ted Turner. Upon its launch, CNN was the first channel to provide 24-hour television news coverage, and the first all-news television channel in the United States...

, Merrill said that Hyman was motivated by "cruelty and greed". Davis's adopted son, Michael Merrill, ended contact with Hyman and refused to speak to her again, as did Davis, who also disinherited her.

In her second memoir, This 'N That
This 'N That
This 'N That is a memoir written by the actress Bette Davis and Michael Herskovitz, first published in 1987.As Davis had already written a successful autobiography, The Lonely Life, published in 1962, she had discussed in some detail the most important years of her acting career...

(1987), Davis wrote, "I am still recovering from the fact that a child of mine would write about me behind my back, to say nothing about the kind of book it is. I will never recover as completely from B.D.'s book as I have from the stroke. Both were shattering experiences." Her memoir concluded with a letter to her daughter, in which she addressed her several times as "Hyman", and described her actions as "a glaring lack of loyalty and thanks for the very privileged life I feel you have been given". She concluded with a reference to the title of Hyman's book, "If it refers to money, if my memory serves me right, I've been your keeper all these many years. I am continuing to do so, as my name has made your book about me a success."

Davis appeared in the television film As Summers Die
As Summers Die
As Summers Die is a 1986 drama film directed by Jean-Claude Tramont. It was filmed in Georgia as a made for HBO original movie and later released on VHS....

(1986) and Lindsay Anderson
Lindsay Anderson
Lindsay Gordon Anderson was an Indian-born, British feature film, theatre and documentary director, film critic, and leading light of the Free Cinema movement and the British New Wave...

's film The Whales of August
The Whales of August
The Whales of August is a 1987 film starring Bette Davis and Lillian Gish as elderly sisters. Also in the cast were Ann Sothern as one of their friends, and Vincent Price as a peripheral member of the former Russian aristocracy. The film was shot on location on Maine's Cliff Island. The house...

(1987), in which she played the blind sister of Lillian Gish
Lillian Gish
Lillian Diana Gish was an American stage, screen and television actress whose film acting career spanned 75 years, from 1912 to 1987....

. The film earned good reviews, with one critic writing, "Bette crawls across the screen like a testy old hornet on a windowpane, snarling, staggering, twitching—a symphony of misfired synapses." Her last performance was the title role in Larry Cohen
Larry Cohen
Lawrence G. "Larry" Cohen is an American film producer, director, and screenwriter. He is best known as a B-Movie auteur of horror and science fiction films - often containing a police procedural element - during 1970s and 1980s...

's Wicked Stepmother
Wicked Stepmother
Wicked Stepmother is a 1989 American comedy film written, produced, and directed by Larry Cohen. It is best known for being the last film of Bette Davis, who withdrew from the project after filming began, citing major problems with the script and the way she was being photographed...

(1989). By this time her health was failing, and after disagreements with Cohen she walked off the set. The script was rewritten to place more emphasis on Barbara Carrera
Barbara Carrera
Barbara Carrera is a Nicaraguan-born American film and television actress as well as a former model. She is best known for her roles as Bond girl Fatima Blush in Never Say Never Again and as Angelica Nero on the soap opera Dallas.-Early life:Barbara Kingsbury was born in San Carlos, Río San Juan,...

's character, and the reworked version was released after Davis's death.

After abandoning Wicked Stepmother and with no further film offers (though she was keen to play the centenarian in Craig Calman's "The Turn Of The Century" and worked with him on adapting the stage play to a feature length screenplay), Davis appeared on several talk shows and was interviewed by Johnny Carson
Johnny Carson
John William "Johnny" Carson was an American television host and comedian, known as host of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson for 30 years . Carson received six Emmy Awards including the Governor Award and a 1985 Peabody Award; he was inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame in 1987...

, Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers is an American comedian, television personality and actress. She is known for her brash manner; her loud, raspy voice with a heavy New York accent; and her numerous cosmetic surgeries...

, Larry King
Larry King
Lawrence Harvey "Larry" King is an American television and radio host whose work has been recognized with awards including two Peabodys and ten Cable ACE Awards....

 and David Letterman
David Letterman
David Michael Letterman is an American television host and comedian. He hosts the late night television talk show, Late Show with David Letterman, broadcast on CBS. Letterman has been a fixture on late night television since the 1982 debut of Late Night with David Letterman on NBC...

, discussing her career but refusing to discuss her daughter. Her appearances were popular; Lindsay Anderson observed that the public enjoyed seeing her behaving "so bitchy". He commented, "I always disliked that because she was encouraged to behave badly. And I'd always hear her described by that awful word, feisty."

During 1988 and 1989, Davis was feted for her career achievements, receiving the Kennedy Center Honor
Kennedy Center Honors
The Kennedy Center Honors is an annual honor given to those in the performing arts for their lifetime of contributions to American culture. The Honors have been presented annually since 1978 in Washington, D.C., during gala weekend-long events which culminate in a performance for—and...

, the Legion of Honor from France, the Campione d'Italia
Campione d'Italia
Campione d'Italia is an Italian comune of the Province of Como in the Lombardy region, occupying an enclave within the Swiss canton of Ticino, separated from the rest of Italy by Lake Lugano and mountains...

 from Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and the Film Society of Lincoln Center Lifetime Achievement Award
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts is a complex of buildings in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of New York City's Upper West Side. Reynold Levy has been its president since 2002.-History and facilities:...

. She collapsed during the American Cinema Awards in 1989 and later discovered that her cancer had returned. She recovered sufficiently to travel to Spain where she was honored at the Donostia-San Sebastián International Film Festival, but during her visit her health rapidly deteriorated. Too weak to make the long journey back to the U.S., she traveled to France where she died on October 6, 1989, at 11:20 pm, at the American Hospital
American Hospital of Paris
The American Hospital of Paris, founded in 1906, located in Neuilly-sur-Seine, is a private, not-for-profit institution that is considered agréé/non-conventionné under the French system of healthcare. It has 187 surgical, medical, and obstetric beds....

 in Neuilly-sur-Seine
Neuilly-sur-Seine
Neuilly-sur-Seine is a commune in the western suburbs of Paris, France. It is located from the center of Paris.Although Neuilly is technically a suburb of Paris, it is immediately adjacent to the city and directly extends it. The area is composed of mostly wealthy, select residential...

. She was 81 years old.

She was interred in Forest Lawn—Hollywood Hills Cemetery
Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery is part of the Forest Lawn chain of Southern California cemeteries. It is at 6300 Forest Lawn Drive in the Hollywood Hills neighborhood in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles, California, on the lower north slope at the far east end of the Santa Monica...

 in Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles , with a population at the 2010 United States Census of 3,792,621, is the most populous city in California, USA and the second most populous in the United States, after New York City. It has an area of , and is located in Southern California...

, alongside her mother, Ruthie, and sister, Bobby, with her name in larger type size. On her tombstone is written: "She did it the hard way", an epitaph
Epitaph
An epitaph is a short text honoring a deceased person, strictly speaking that is inscribed on their tombstone or plaque, but also used figuratively. Some are specified by the dead person beforehand, others chosen by those responsible for the burial...

 that she mentioned in her memoir Mother Goddam as having been suggested to her by Joseph L. Mankiewicz shortly after they had filmed All About Eve.

Reception and legacy

In 1964, Jack Warner spoke of the "magic quality that transformed this sometimes bland and not beautiful little girl into a great artist", and in a 1988 interview, Davis remarked that, unlike many of her contemporaries, she had forged a career without the benefit of beauty. She admitted she was terrified during the making of her earliest films and that she became tough by necessity. "Until you're known in my profession as a monster, you are not a star", she said, "[but] I've never fought for anything in a treacherous way. I've never fought for anything but the good of the film." During the making of All About Eve, (1950) Joseph L. Mankiewicz told her of the perception in Hollywood that she was difficult, and she explained that when the audience saw her on screen, they did not consider that her appearance was the result of numerous people working behind the scenes. If she was presented as "a horse's ass ... forty feet wide, and thirty feet high", that is all the audience "would see or care about".
While lauded for her achievements, Davis and her films were sometimes derided; Pauline Kael described Now, Voyager (1942) as a "shlock classic", and by the mid-1940s her sometimes mannered and histrionic performances had become the subject of caricature. Edwin Schallert for the Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

praised Davis's performance in Mr. Skeffington (1944), while observing, "the mimics will have more fun than a box of monkeys imitating Miss Davis", and Dorothy Manners at the Los Angeles Examiner said of her performance in the poorly received Beyond the Forest, (1949) "no night club caricaturist has ever turned in such a cruel imitation of the Davis mannerisms as Bette turns on herself in this one". Time
Time (magazine)
Time is an American news magazine. A European edition is published from London. Time Europe covers the Middle East, Africa and, since 2003, Latin America. An Asian edition is based in Hong Kong...

magazine noted that Davis was compulsively watchable even while criticizing her acting technique, summarizing her performance in Dead Ringer (1964) with the observation, "her acting, as always, isn't really acting: it's shameless showing off. But just try to look away!"

She attracted a following in the gay subculture and was frequently imitated by female impersonators such as Tracey Lee
Tracey Lee (female impersonator)
Tracey Lee was an internationally acclaimed Australian cabaret artiste and female impersonator who was active from the 1950s to the 1980s.-Early life:...

 and Charles Pierce. Attempting to explain her popularity with gay audiences, the journalist Jim Emerson wrote, "Was she just a camp figurehead because her brittle, melodramatic style of acting hadn't aged well? Or was it that she was 'Larger Than Life,' a tough broad who had survived? Probably some of both."

Her film choices were often unconventional; she sought roles as manipulators and killers in an era when actresses usually preferred to play sympathetic characters, and she excelled in them. She favored authenticity over glamour and was willing to change her own appearance if it suited the character. Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert
Claudette Colbert was a French-born American-based actress of stage and film.Born in Paris, France and raised in New York City, Colbert began her career in Broadway productions during the 1920s, progressing to film with the advent of talking pictures...

 commented that Davis was the first actress to play roles older than herself, and therefore did not have to make the difficult transition to character parts as she aged.

As she entered old age, Davis was acknowledged for her achievements. John Springer, who had arranged her speaking tours of the early 1970s, wrote that despite the accomplishments of many of her contemporaries, Davis was "the star of the thirties and into the forties", achieving notability for the variety of her characterizations and her ability to assert herself, even when her material was mediocre. Individual performances continued to receive praise; in 1987, Bill Collins
Bill Collins (television presenter)
William Roderick Collins OAM is an Australian film critic and television presenter.Bill Collins was born in Sutherland, Sydney and was educated at Canterbury Boys' High School and the University of Sydney...

 analyzed The Letter (1940), and described her performance as "a brilliant, subtle achievement", and wrote, "Bette Davis makes Leslie Crosbie one of the most extraordinary females in movies." In a 2000 review for All About Eve, (1950) Roger Ebert noted, "Davis was a character, an icon with a grand style, so even her excesses are realistic."

A few months before her death in 1989, Davis was one of several actors featured on the cover of Life magazine. In a film retrospective that celebrated the films and stars of 1939, Life concluded that Davis was the most significant actress of her era, and highlighted Dark Victory (1939) as one of the most-important films of the year. Her death made front-page news throughout the world as the "close of yet another chapter of the Golden Age of Hollywood". Angela Lansbury
Angela Lansbury
Angela Brigid Lansbury CBE is an English actress and singer in theatre, television and motion pictures, whose career has spanned eight decades and earned her more performance Tony Awards than any other individual , with five wins...

 summed up the feeling of those of the Hollywood community who attended her memorial service, commenting after a sample from Davis's films were screened, that they had witnessed "an extraordinary legacy of acting in the twentieth century by a real master of the craft", that should provide "encouragement and illustration to future generations of aspiring actors".

In 1977, Davis became the first woman to be honored with the AFI Life Achievement Award
AFI Life Achievement Award
The AFI Life Achievement Award was established by the Board of Directors of the American Film Institute on February 26, 1973 to honor a single individual for his or her lifetime contribution to enriching American culture through motion pictures and television....

. In 1999, the American Film Institute
American Film Institute
The American Film Institute is an independent non-profit organization created by the National Endowment for the Arts, which was established in 1967 when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act...

 published its list of the "AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Stars
Part of the AFI 100 Years... series, AFI's 100 Years...100 Stars is a list of the top 50 greatest screen legends of American cinema, 25 male and 25 female...

", which was the result of a film-industry poll to determine the "50 Greatest American Screen Legends" in order to raise public awareness and appreciation of classic film. Of the 25 actresses listed, Davis was ranked at number two, behind Katharine Hepburn.

The United States Postal Service
United States Postal Service
The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the United States government responsible for providing postal service in the United States...

 honored Davis with a commemorative
Commemorative stamp
A commemorative stamp is a postage stamp, often issued on a significant date such as an anniversary, to honor or commemorate a place, event or person. The subject of the commemorative stamp is usually spelled out in print, unlike definitive stamps which normally depict the subject along with the...

 postage stamp in 2008, marking the 100th anniversary of her birth. The stamp features an image of her in the role of Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950). The First Day of Issue celebration took place September 18, 2008, at Boston University, which houses an extensive Bette Davis archive. Featured speakers included her son Michael Merrill and Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall
Lauren Bacall is an American film and stage actress and model, known for her distinctive husky voice and sultry looks.She first emerged as leading lady in the Humphrey Bogart film To Have And Have Not and continued on in the film noir genre, with appearances in The Big Sleep and Dark Passage ,...

.

In 1997, the executors of her estate, Michael Merrill, her son, and Kathryn Sermak, her former assistant, established "The Bette Davis Foundation" which awards college scholarships to promising actors and actresses.

Academy Awards milestones

In 1962 Bette Davis became the first person to secure ten Academy Award nominations for acting. Since then only four people have equalled or surpassed this figure, Meryl Streep
Meryl Streep
Mary Louise "Meryl" Streep is an American actress who has worked in theatre, television and film.Streep made her professional stage debut in 1971's The Playboy of Seville, before her screen debut in the television movie The Deadliest Season in 1977. In that same year, she made her film debut with...

 (with sixteen nominations and two wins), Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Hepburn
Katharine Houghton Hepburn was an American actress of film, stage, and television. In a career that spanned 62 years as a leading lady, she was best known for playing strong-willed, sophisticated women in both dramas and comedies...

 (twelve nominations and four wins), Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson
John Joseph "Jack" Nicholson is an American actor, film director, producer and writer. He is renowned for his often dark portrayals of neurotic characters. Nicholson has been nominated for an Academy Award twelve times, and has won the Academy Award for Best Actor twice: for One Flew Over the...

 (twelve nominations and three wins) and Laurence Olivier
Laurence Olivier
Laurence Kerr Olivier, Baron Olivier, OM was an English actor, director, and producer. He was one of the most famous and revered actors of the 20th century. He married three times, to fellow actors Jill Esmond, Vivien Leigh, and Joan Plowright...

 (ten nominations and one win).

Steven Spielberg
Steven Spielberg
Steven Allan Spielberg KBE is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, video game designer, and studio entrepreneur. In a career of more than four decades, Spielberg's films have covered many themes and genres. Spielberg's early science-fiction and adventure films were seen as an...

 purchased Davis's Oscars for Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938) when they were offered for auction for $207,500 and $578,000, respectively, and returned them to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures...

.
  • 1934: Davis's performance in Of Human Bondage (1934) was widely acclaimed and when she was not nominated for an Academy Award, several influential people mounted a campaign to have her name included. The Academy relaxed its rules for that year only to allow for the consideration of any performer nominated in a write-in vote; therefore, any performance of the year was technically eligible for consideration. Given the well-publicized hoopla, some sources still consider this as a nomination for Davis; however, the Academy does not officially record this as a nomination.
  • 1935: Won for Dangerous
    Dangerous (film)
    Dangerous is a 1935 American drama film directed by Alfred E. Green and starring Bette Davis in her first Oscar-winning role. The screenplay by Laird Doyle is based on his story Hard Luck Dame.-Plot synopsis:...

  • 1938: Won for Jezebel
  • 1939: Nominated for Dark Victory
    Dark Victory
    Dark Victory is a 1939 American drama film directed by Edmund Goulding and starring Bette Davis, George Brent, Humphrey Bogart, and Ronald Reagan...

  • 1940: Nominated for The Letter
    The Letter (1940 film)
    The Letter is a 1940 American film noir directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Howard Koch is based on the 1927 play of the same name by W. Somerset Maugham, originally filmed in 1929.-Plot:...

  • 1941: Nominated for The Little Foxes
    The Little Foxes (film)
    The Little Foxes is a 1941 American drama film directed by William Wyler. The screenplay by Lillian Hellman is based on her 1939 play of the same name...

  • 1942: Nominated for Now, Voyager
    Now, Voyager
    Now, Voyager is a 1942 American drama film starring Bette Davis, Paul Henreid, and Claude Rains, and directed by Irving Rapper. The screenplay by Casey Robinson is based on the 1941 novel of the same name by Olive Higgins Prouty....

  • 1944: Nominated for Mr. Skeffington
    Mr. Skeffington
    Mr. Skeffington is a 1944 American drama film directed by Vincent Sherman, based on the novel of the same name by Elizabeth von Arnim.The film stars Bette Davis as a beautiful woman whose many suitors, and self-love, distract her from returning the affections of her husband, Job Skeffington...

  • 1950: Nominated for All About Eve
    All About Eve
    All About Eve is a 1950 American drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the 1946 short story "The Wisdom of Eve", by Mary Orr.The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a highly regarded but aging Broadway star...

  • 1952: Nominated for The Star
  • 1962: Nominated for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
    What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (film)
    What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is a 1962 American psychological thriller film produced and directed by Robert Aldrich, starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The screenplay by Lukas Heller is based on the novel of the same name by Henry Farrell...


External links

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