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Bette Davis

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989), was an American actress with a career spanning more than 50 years and 100 acting credits. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres. A recipient of two Academy Awards, she was the first thespian to accrue ten nominations. Davis was the co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen, a club venue for food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen during World War II, and was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. In 1999, Davis placed second behind Katharine Hepburn on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of the classical Hollywood cinema era.


Jezebel (1938)

The Letter (1941)

The Little Foxes (1942)

Watch on the Rhine (1943)


Lucille Ball and Bette were classmates at John Murray Anderson's School for the Dramatic Arts in Manhattan.

In 1980, she was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Department's highest civilian award, for founding and running the Hollywood Canteen, a place where World War II soldiers could be entertained by Hollywood's biggest stars. She also toured with actresses Hattie McDaniel, Lena Horne, and Ethel Waters to perform for all-black army divisions.

When Bette received her 10th Academy Award nomination for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, she became the most Oscar-nominated actor of the time. Meryl Streep now holds the record with 21 nominations. Ironically, Davis sent a letter to Meryl Streep early in her career, telling her she felt that Streep was her successor as The First Lady of the American Screen.

Bette was also the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

When making Jezebel, Bette met and fell in love with director, William Wyler. She later described him as "the love of her life" and said that making the film with him was "the time in my life of my most perfect happiness." The film earned her a second Academy Award for Best Actress.

In January 1951, Bette and her 4th husband, Gary Merrill, adopted a 5-day-old baby girl they named Margot Mosher Merrill - named after Margo Channing, Bette's character in All About Eve. Gary was also Bette's co-star in the film.

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

When she died, Bette's false eyelashes were auctioned off, fetching a price of $600. Previously, she had said that her biggest secret was brown mascara.

She also stated that George Brent was her favorite male co-star. They starred in 11 movies together.

Her tombstone bears the phrase: "She did it the hard way."

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