Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis note (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, though her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.
After appearing in Broadway plays, Davis moved to Hollywood in 1930, but her early films for Universal Studios were unsuccessful. She joined Warner Bros. 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. (She wound up staying at Warners until 1949.)
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 her 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 and was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. During her career, she received 10 nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress and won twice, and she was the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. 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, with more than 100 film, television and theater roles to her credit. She also lucked out with the above Kim Carnes song catapulting her back into the pop culture spotlight. In 1999, Davis was placed second, behind Katharine Hepburn, on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of all time.note
Davis is portrayed by Susan Sarandon in the 2017 FX series Feud: Bette and Joan, which depicts her rocky relationship with the aforementioned Joan Crawford during the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962.
Bette Davis films with pages on TV Tropes include:
- Waterloo Bridge (1931)
- The Dark Horse (1932)
- So Big! (1932)
- Three on a Match (1932)
- Fog Over Frisco (1934)
- Of Human Bondage (1934)
- Dangerous (1935) — Academy Award for Best Actress
- The Petrified Forest (1936)
- Satan Met a Lady (1936)
- It's Love I'm After (1937)
- Kid Galahad (1937)
- Jezebel (1938) — Academy Award for Best Actress
- Dark Victory (1939) — nominated for Best Actress
- The Old Maid (1939)
- All This, and Heaven Too (1940)
- The Letter (1940) — nominated for Best Actress
- The Little Foxes (1941) — nominated for Best Actress
- In This Our Life (1942)
- The Man Who Came to Dinner (1942)
- Now, Voyager (1942) — nominated for Best Actress
- Watch on the Rhine (1943)
- Old Acquaintance (1943)
- Mr. Skeffington (1944) — nominated for Best Actress
- A Stolen Life (1946)
- Beyond the Forest (1949)
- All About Eve (1950) — nominated for Best Actress
- Pocketful of Miracles (1961)
- What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) — nominated for Best Actress
- Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
- Dead Ringer (1964)
- Burnt Offerings (1976)
- Death on the Nile (1978)
- Return from Witch Mountain (1978)
- The Watcher in the Woods (1981)
- The Whales of August (1987)
Tropes relating to Bette Davis' work include:
- As Herself: In Hollywood Canteen. She reportedly kept flubbing her lines on set and joked that playing herself was hard.
- Award Snub: In 1934, her universally lauded performance in Of Human Bondage was actively prevented from being nominated for an Oscar by Jack Warner, as she'd done the film while on loan to another studio. The outrage was so great that the Academy changed its rules for that year to allow Davis to be nominated in a write-in vote. It was so obviously a deliberate snub that she got the award the following year for Dangerous as basically an open apology. This is the reason that the Academy Awards now have Price-Waterhouse overseeing the voting process.
- Beauty Inversion: Pulled this off quite a few times in her illustrious career:
- The first notable one was Of Human Bondage. Her character Mildred ends up on the streets and eventually dies of tuberculosis. Bette designed the make-up Mildred would wear for her death scene, wanting her to accurately look like someone who had died of an illness and not "a deb who had missed her afternoon nap."
- She wanted to do this for Now, Voyager, padding her costumes out to make Charlotte look even heavier in her 'before' appearance. The studio rejected this look for being "too grotesque" and she's Hollywood Homely in the finished film.
- Marked Woman after her character has been attacked by the Mafia. The original bandaging was rather small, so she went to a doctor and had the face bandaged more realistically.
- In What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? she decided that Jane Hudson would never wash her face and only put a new layer of make-up on every day. She patterned the look off of numerous homeless ladies seen on Hollywood Boulevard. When Bette's daughter saw her in the make-up for the first time, she remarked "mother, this time you've gone too far." Elsewhere averted with her co-star Joan Crawford, who struggled to look unattractive. She wanted to have full hair and make-up, despite playing a wheelchair-bound woman who hadn't left her room in years. This did, however, give the impression that Blanche had aged better than Jane, giving her sister another reason to resent her.
- "What a dump!" (in Beyond the Forest)
- "Ah'd love t' kiss ya, but ah jes washed ma hayuh," (in The Cabin in the Cotton)
- "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" (in All About Eve)
- "But ya aaah, Blanche, you aaah in that chair!" (in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?)
- Deadpan Snarker: One of the upsides of her willingness to play unsympathetic women is that they usually have the best lines.
- Hollywood Beauty Standards: She discusses this extensively in interviews. Davis is widely considered to be less attractive than her fellow actress.
- Pretty in Mink: Wore several stylish furs in much of her movies, including a dress with fur trimmed pockets in All About Eve.
- Smoking Is Cool: Most of her movie roles featured her character smoking. The reason why she picked up smoking was because she thought it would make her look more sophisticated as an actress.
- What Beautiful Eyes!: Bette was known for her large, clear blue eyes◊ with their distinctive round, heavy lids, making it understandable that the song named after them was very popular.