The Remarkable Bette Davis
Why this woman matters today
Why this woman matters today
"Hollywood always wanted me to be pretty, but I fought for realism." - Bette Davis
As a child I became mesmerized by this extremely dominant woman. Her presence is uniquely separated from the Marilyn Monroe's, Audrey Hepburn's, and Grace Kelly's. As women in the 1930s 40s and 50s were expected to play roles of the helpless fragile woman, Bette Davis strived to show that women were much more than a pretty face and an hour-glass shape.
She was the heroine among heroes, liberating women to express their strength and power through playing roles that challenged the consistent label women carried. Not only was she powerful and influential through her big screen roles but also in her off-screen life. None can compare to her dominance and over half a century of being in the entertainment industry she accomplished a lot and her relevance exudes today as her message relates to all generations and nationalities.
Bette Davis was born on April 5th 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts as Ruth Davis. Before she turned the age of ten her father abandoned the family. Bette and her sister were sent to boarding school. Bette graduated from Cushing Academy and then she enrolled in John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School. She made her début on Broadway in a play called Broken dishes in 1929. By 1930 she had already moved to Hollywood for a screen test at Universal where she received roles in six small movies. Shortly after, Warner Brothers approached her and she received a seven-year contract where she stared in pictures which include "The Man Who Played God" (1932) and "Of Human Bondage" (1934). Her starring role in "Dangerous" (1935) led to her nomination for a Best Actress Oscar. She became the first Warner Brothers actress to win that award.
Even through all of her success she was not happy. She was so unhappy that she went to England to make pictures at which time Warner Brothers sued her so she was forced to honor her contract. Once Bette Davis returned from England she was offered a new contract and better roles. In 1939, Bette won her second Oscar for "Jezebel" (1938). In addition to that amazing award she received Oscar nominations consecutively for the following five years.
She was said to be very difficult to work with, she gained respect as being the highest paid woman in America by 1942. Bette was not only a strong advocate for female empowerment but she also contributed to the war effort during World War II by helping to organize the Hollywood Canteen for soldiers passing through Los Angeles. This Canteen was on 1451 Cahuenga Blvd in Hollywood, CA between October 3, 1942 and November 22, 1945 and was a club offering food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen on their way overseas. The majority of visitors were U.S servicemen, but the canteen was open to servicemen of allied countries and women in all branches of service. In order to get in the servicemen had to show their uniform and everything at the Canteen was free. In 1980, she was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Department's highest civilian award, for running the Hollywood Canteen.
Bette made an impressive comeback with her role in "All About Eve" (1950), as Margo Channing and she received her eighth Academy Award nomination. In 1962 she stared in, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" She also received an academy nominations for that role. Following that she stared in Dead Ringer, where she played two roles... twin sisters! — one murders the other and tries to take the others identity. Later that year, she starred in the scary drama Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte,
Davis's personal life was as dramatic along with her career life. She has been married a whopping four times. She had a daughter, Barbara with her third husband, William Grant Sherry and then she later adopted two children, Margot and Michael with her fourth husband, Gary Merrill.
Davis wrote two autobiographies, The Lonely Life (1962) and This 'N That (1987), to counter her daughter's (Barbara Davis [B.D.] Hyman) 1985 tell-all book My Mother's Keeper, portraying Bette Davis as an abusive alcoholic.
Bette Davis Movie career totaled more than 100 films. She changed the concept of being an actress. She was not afraid to play the role of a unsitely character, whether it was related to physical appearance or the characters demeanor. She figured this type of role was a greater challenge for her. As the first woman honored with the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award, she again set the bar for women's ability to accomplish any and all things. She was the first woman president of the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences.
At the age of 75, Bette had a mastectomy from breast cancer. Nine days later, she suffered a stroke. Bette passed away October 6, 1989 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France.
In her memory, Michael Merrill, Bette's son, and Kathryn Sermak, Bette's personal assistant created The Bette Davis Foundation, which provides financial help to promising young actors and actresses. Meryl Streep received the first Bette Davis Lifetime Achievement Award at Boston University in 1998.
Bette Davis's relevance has not wavered. She is still an important figure to study and to emulate. Her passion for female empowerment is affectedly expressed through her extraordinary voice. Read and watch her interviews. If you do not already have a love for the art of classic hollywood cinema, her films are sure to build this appreciation.
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