Davis, Bette

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Davis, Bette

Bette Davis (bĕt´ē), 1908–89, American film actress, b. Lowell, Mass., as Ruth Elizabeth Davis. One of the most durable stars of the American screen, she made her debut in 1931. With a strikingly artificial yet emotionally compelling acting style and distinctive features that gave her an unconventional beauty, Davis was difficult to promote as a romantic figure. Her successful early roles included Of Human Bondage (1934) and Dangerous (1935, Academy Award). Frustrated at the lack of better roles, she broke her contract with Warner Brothers and lost a subsequent court case in which the standard seven-year contract binding a performer to one studio was upheld. But Davis found her niche as the troubled woman in search of romance in such films as Jezebel (1938), for which she won another Academy Award, and The Little Foxes (1941). Among her other outstanding films are Dark Victory (1939), Now, Voyager (1942), and the superb All about Eve (1950). When her popularity began to decline in the 1950s, she responded by accepting offbeat, even bizarre, roles in The Catered Affair (1955), Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1961), and other 1960s films. With fellow screen legend Lillian Gish, she gave a graceful valedictory performance in The Whales of August (1987).

See her autobiography (1962); biographies by J. Vermilye (1972), C. Higham (1981), B. Leaming (1992), J. Spada (1993), C. Chandler (2006), and E. Sikov (2007).

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