Occupation: Actress, author, producer
Schooling: Attended Cushing Academy, Ashburnham, Massachusetts; Mariarden School of Dancing; studied acting at Robert Milton-John Murray Anderson School of the Theatre, New York.
Famous Tagline/Quote: "Old age is no place for sissies."
Parents: Harlow Morrell Davis and Ruthie Favor Davis
Siblings: Barbara Davis
Children: B.D. (Barbara Davis Sherry) Hyman, Michael Merrill, Margot Merrill Spouse(s): Married Harmon Oscar Nelson (a bandleader), August 18, 1932 (divorced); married Arthur Farnsworth (a businessman), December, 1940 (died, August, 1943); married William Grant Sherry (an artist), November 30, 1945 (divorced); married Gary Merrill (an actor), August, 1950 (divorced);
Broadway Debut: "Broken Dishes" (1929)
Film Debut: "Bad Sister" (1931)
Did You Know?
• On her tombstone is written "She did it the hard way."
• Lucille Ball was her classmate at John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School.
• Joan Crawford and Davis had feuded for years and during the making of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Bette had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set due to Joan Crawford's affiliation with Pepsi. (Joan was the widow of Pepsi's CEO.) Joan got her revenge by putting weights in her pockets when Davis had to drag Crawford across the floor during certain scenes.
• Nominated for an amazing 10 Best Actress Oscars She won the Best Actress Oscar twice, for "Dangerous" in 1935 and "Jezebel" in 1938.
• In 1977, Bette was the first woman to receive the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award.
• In 1980, she was awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Medal, the Defense Department's highest civilian award, for founding and running the Hollywood Canteen during World War II.
• Her real Christian name was Ruth. The Bette came from Balzac's novel "Cousin Bette."
While she was the star pupil at John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School in New York, another of her classmates was sent home because she was "too shy". It was predicted that this girl would never make it as an actress. The girl was Lucille Ball.
Ranked #15 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
In 1952 she was asked to perform in a musical, "Two's Company". After several grueling months at rehearsals, her health deteriorated due to osteomyelitis of the jaw and she had to leave the show only several weeks after it opened. She was to repeat this process in 1974 when she rehearsed for the musical version of The Corn Is Green (1945), called "Miss Moffat", but bowed out early in the run of the show for dubious medical reasons.
On her tombstone is written "She did it the hard way".
She suffered a stroke and had a mastectomy in 1983.
Attended Northfield Mt. Hermon high school.
Interred at Forest Lawn (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California, USA, just outside and to the left of the main entrance to the Court of Remembrance.
Mother of Barbara Merrill (aka B.D. Hyman) and grandmother of J. Ashley Hyman.
Director Steven Spielberg won the Christie's auction of her 1938 Best Actress Oscar for Jezebel (1938) for $578,000. He then gave it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. [19 July 2001]
When Bette learned that her new brother-in-law was a recovering alcoholic, she sent the couple a dozen cases of liquor for a wedding present.
She was elected as first female president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in October 1941. She resigned less then two months later, publicly declaring herself too busy to fulfill her duties as president while angrily protesting in private that the Academy had wanted her to serve as a mere figurehead.
She considered her debut screen test for Universal Pictures to be so bad that she ran screaming from the projection room.
Her third husband Arthur Farnsworth died after a fall on Hollywood Boulevard in which he took a blow to the head. He had shortly before banged his head on a train between LA and New England, followed by another fall down the stairway at their New Hampshire home.
It is said that one of her real true loves was director William Wyler but he was married and refused to leave his wife.
In Marked Woman (1937), Davis is forced to testify in court after being worked over by some Mafia hoods. Disgusted with the tiny bandage supplied by the makeup department, she left the set, had her own doctor bandage her face more realistically, and refused to shoot the scene any other way.
When she first came to Hollywood as a contract player, Universal Pictures wanted to change her name to Bettina Dawes. She informed the studio that she refused to go through life with a name that sounded like "Between the Drawers".
Nominated for an Academy Award 5 years in a row, in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943. She shares the record for most consecutive nominations with Greer Garson.
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 granddaughter heard it and thought it "cool" that her grandmother had a hit song written about her.
Measurements: 34C-21-34 (as a "too busty" starlet), 36C-25-35 (in 1940), (Source: Celebrity Sleuth magazine)
While touring the talk show circuit to promote What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), she told one interviewer that when she and Joan Crawford were first suggested for the leads, Warner studio head Jack L. Warner replied: "I wouldn't give a plugged nickel for either of those two old broads." Recalling the story, Davis laughed at her own expense. The following day, she reportedly received a telegram from Crawford: "In future, please do not refer to me as an old broad!".
Was one of two actresses (with Faye Dunaway) to have two villainous roles ranked in the American Film Institute's 100 Years of The Greatest Heroes and Villains, as Regina Giddens in The Little Foxes (1941) at #43 and as Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) at #44.
Was named #2 on The Greatest Screen Legends actress list by the American Film Institute.
She was voted the 10th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly.
After her first picture, Davis was sitting outside the office of Universal Pictures executive Carl Laemmle Jr. when she overhead him say about her, "She's got as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville. Who wants to get her at the end of the picture?".
Attended Cushing Academy; a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. An award in her namesake is given annually to one male and one female scholar-athlete of exceptional accomplishment in both fields.
Joan Crawford and Davis had feuded for years. During the making of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette had a Coca-Cola machine installed on the set due to Crawford's affiliation with Pepsi (she was the widow of Pepsi's CEO). Joan got her revenge by putting weights in her pockets when Davis had to drag her across the floor during certain scenes.
Desperately wanted to win a third Best Actress Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), as three wins in the leading category was unprecedented (>Walter Brennan had won three Oscars, but all of his were in the supporting category). It was the general feeling among Academy voters that while Davis was superb, the movie itself was little better than a potboiler exploitation film, the kind that doesn't deserve the recognition that an Oscar would give it.
Each of her four husbands were Gentiles, while her friend Joan Blondell's husband Michael Todd was Jewish. Blondell called Davis' brace of husbands the "Four Skins.".
According to her August 1982 Playboy Magazine interview, in her youth she posed nude for an artist, who carved a statue of her that was placed in a public spot in Boston, MA. After the interview appeared, Bostonians searched for the statue in vain.
She was of Welsh and Scottish descent. She came to Cardiff in 1975 for a theatre tour and went to the Welsh Valleys in search of relatives - and found them. She had been learning Welsh in order to come to Wales; however, she only used the words "Nos Da" (meaning "good night") while in the country and had forgotten all the other phrases she had learned.
She claimed to have given the Academy Award the nickname "Oscar" after her first husband, Harmon Nelson, whose middle name was Oscar, although she later withdrew that claim. Most sources say it was named by Academy librarian and eventual executive director Margaret Herrick, who thought the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar.
Murdoch University (Western Australia) Communications Senior Lecturer Tara Brabazon, in her article "The Spectre of the Spinster: Bette Davis and the Epistemology of the Shelf," quotes the court testimony of Davis' first husband Harmon Nelson to show what a debacle her private life was. During divorce proceedings, Nelson was successful in sustaining his charge of mental cruelty by testifying that Davis had told him that her career was more important than her marriage. Brabazon writes that Davis, claiming she was beaten by all four of her husbands, believed that she should have remained single.
She was voted the 25th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
In 1952, she accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role on behalf of Kim Hunter, who wasn't present at the awards ceremony.
Is one of the many movie stars mentioned in Madonna's song "Vogue"
Is portrayed by Elissa Leeds in My Wicked, Wicked Ways... The Legend of Errol Flynn (1985) (TV).
She said that among the jokes told about her, her favorite came from impressionist Charles Pierce who, dressed as her, demanded of the audience, "Someone give me a cigarette". When the request was granted the performer threw it on the floor and shouted "LIT!".
For many years she was a popular target for impressionists but she was perplexed by the often used phrase "Pee-tah! Pee-tah! Pee-tah!". She said she had no idea who Pee-tah was and had never even met anyone by that name.
While filming Death on the Nile (1978), aboard ship, no one was allowed his or her own dressing room, so she shared a dressing room with Angela Lansbury & Maggie Smith.
Her performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950) is ranked #5 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
Is portrayed by Nancy Linehan Charles in Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996) (TV).
Declined a role in 4 for Texas (1963) (which turned out to be a big hit) to do Dead Ringer (1964) (which turned out to be a big flop).
Described the last three decades of her life as a "my macabre period". She hated being alone at night and found growing older "terrifying".
Had a long-running feud with Miriam Hopkins due to her affair with Hopkins' husband, director Anatole Litvak, as well as Davis' getting many roles that Hopkins wanted.
When she died, her false eyelashes were auctioned off, fetching a price of $600. Previously, she had said that her biggest secret was brown mascara.
In an interview with Dick Cavett in 1971, she said her salary at the time she shot Jezebel (1938) was $650 a week.
She was of English, French, and Welsh descent.
Biography in: "The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives". Volume Two, 1986-1990, pages 232-235. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1999.
In Italian films, she was dubbed in most cases by Lidia Simoneschi or Andreina Pagnani. Occasionally, she was also dubbed by Tina Lattanzi, Giovanna Scotto, Rina Morelli or Wanda Tettoni.
Was first offered the role of Luke's mother in Cool Hand Luke (1967), but refused the bit part. Jo Van Fleet accepted the role.
Salary for 1941, $252,333.
Salary for 1948, $365,000.
During her great film career, she reportedly did not get along with her co-stars Miriam Hopkins, Susan Hayward, Celeste Holm and most infamously Joan Crawford.
When she died in 1989, she reportedly left an estate valued between $600,000 and $1 million, consisting mainly of a condominium apartment she owned in West Hollywood. 50% of her estate went to her son, Michael Merrill, and the remaining 50% went to her secretary and companion, Kathryn Sermack. Her daughter, Barbara Merrill aka B.D. Hyman, was left nothing due to her lurid book about life with her mother. During her long life, she spent the majority of her wealth supporting her mother, three children, and four husbands.
Played dual roles of twin sisters in two movies: A Stolen Life(1946) and Dead Ringer(1964).
She was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of her outstanding contribution to film culture.
Pictured on a 42¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series, issued 18 September 2008.
In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Elizabeth Taylor does an exaggerated impression of Bette Davis saying a line from Beyond the Forest< (1949): "What a dump!" In an interview with Barbara Walters, Davis said that in "Beyond the Forest", she really did not deliver the line in such an exaggerated manner. She said it in a more subtle, low-key manner, but it has passed into legend that she said it the way Elizabeth Taylor delivered it in "Virginia Woolf". During the interview, the clip of Bette delivering the line in "Beyond the Forest" was shown to prove that she was correct. However, since people expected Bette Davis to deliver the line the way Taylor had in "Virginia Woolf", she always opened her in-person, one woman show by saying the line in a campy, exaggerated manner: "What... a... dump!!!". It always brought down the house. "I imitated the imitators", Davis said.
Her father was Harlow Morrell Davis, a lawyer. Her mother was Ruth Favor. She had a sister, Barbara Davis.