Bette Davis (1908 - 1989)

Bette Davis
1908 - 1989
updated June 08, 2020
Bette Davis was born on April 5, 1908 in Lowell, Massachusetts. She died on October 7, 1989 in Paris, Île-de-France France at age 81. We know that Bette Davis had been residing in New York, New York County, New York 10017.

From the Archives: Bette Davis Dies in Paris at 81
Lavish tributes flowed Saturday in a worldwide eulogy for Bette Davis, the tempestuous actress whose fiery talent and celebrated toughness made her one of Hollywood's most acclaimed and enduring stars.Davis, whose career spanned a half-century of American film, died Friday night of cancer in a suburban Paris hospital. She was 81. The two-time Academy Award winner, who began her career on the stage and later made the transition from movies to television, was in Europe to receive an award when she was admitted to a private hospital on the outskirts of the French capital. The news of Davis' death touched off an avalanche of praise from fellow actors and movie fans who called her a legendary figure in the entertainment industry.
"What a loss," echoed actress Olivia de Havilland, who worked with Davis in four films, including the 1964 "Hush . . . Hush Sweet Charlotte."
"She was a remarkable person to work with, highly professional, innovative, brilliant and quick," said de Havilland, who lives in Paris. "She was very well-disciplined. I thought she had some marvelous personal qualities, and I was very fond of her."
During her career, the staccato-voiced Davis made 86 movies, won two Academy Awards as best actress and was nominated for eight more. Her last movie was the 1987 "Whales of August," a film she made despite being in failing health after suffering two strokes and a bout with breast cancer.
Before returning home, however, Davis fell ill and was taken to the American Hospital in the Paris suburb of Neuilly. Her death was reported Saturday in a terse statement.
"During a trip to Western Europe, the health of Miss Davis deteriorated," said hospital spokesman Philippe Duprat. "She was admitted at the hospital on Oct. 3. She died last night as a consequence of her illness."
Her attorney, Harold Schiff, said in Paris that his client had died of cancer. And in France, where her work is adored, Davis' death was front-page news.
In its Saturday afternoon editions, the newspaper Le Monde reported breathlessly that the "impossible has happened" and that "the screen bitch with the too-big eyes, the ambitious devourer of Hollywood, the she-wolf" was dead.
"One doesn't cry for Bette Davis," the newspaper continued reverently, "one salutes her."
Greatest Salute
In 1977, Davis received what may have been her greatest salute. Still spunky and working at 69, she became the first woman to receive the Life Achievement Award of the American Film Institute.
"I suppose . . . they decided, 'Let's give it to a dame,' " she said with waspish delight upon receiving the honor.
Some dame.
Davis played them all, from the bitchy Southern belle in "Jezebel," which won her a second Oscar in 1939, to the dying heroine of "Dark Victory" a year later, to the frumpy Bronx housewife in "The Catered Affair" in 1956.
But for many, she would forever be Margo Channing, the past-her-prime actress of the 1950 film, "All About Eve," her 61st movie, with that line that glistens in the memory: "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night. "Whatever the role, Davis was herself always in control, refining emotion with intelligence. But the persona was better than the sum of her parts. More than beauty, she had style, wit and a fierce, unrelenting independence.
Those penetrating blue eyes, the page-boy hairdo with the sharp slash of bangs, the ability to use a cigarette like a weapon or a scepter, and the flinty voice—these became her trademarks.
The breeding invariably showed, whether on screen in throwing aside a mink coat, or off, when she fought tigress-like with studio heads and directors, for good roles. In an era when studio executives behaved like Big Daddies, she achieved her own liberation..
"If you don't dare to be hated," she told Playboy magazine in a lengthy interview in 1982, "you're never going to get there. Never!"
In her heyday—from the mid-1930s to the close of World War II—Davis was the highest paid woman in America. She was called "the first lady of the screen" and the "fourth Warner brother" and she was a regular on Oscar night. She was nominated as best actress in 1939 ("Dark Victory"), 1940 ("The Letter"), 1941 ("The Little Foxes"), 1942 ("Now, Voyager"), 1944 ("Mr. Skeffington"), as well as in 1950 ("All About Eve"), 1952 ("The Star"), and 1962 ("Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?").
Had Some Regrets
Despite numerous triumphs, she had some regrets—the missed Oscars and roles. She had wanted her first Oscar for the part of Mildred, the cruel waitress in Somerset Maugham's "Of Human Bondage" (1934) but instead won it as a consolation the following year for "Dangerous" in which she played a not-so-nice actress.
She wanted one for playing Judith Traherne, the dying heroine in "Dark Victory" who falls in love with her doctor, but 1939 was the year of "Gone With the Wind," and she had won her second Oscar only the year before. Her lifelong regret was that she could have been Scarlett O'Hara but refused the role in a dispute with her boss, Jack L. Warner.
Davis would have killed, she said, to have gotten the lead in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" or to have been Anna in "The King and I."
When she returned to Broadway after 22 years in 1952, it was for "Two's Company," and then, more notably, "The Night of the Iguana" in 1961.
In the 1970s, she turned to television and garnered showcase roles, more than holding her own with a newer generation of actresses. She won an Emmy in 1979 for "Strangers," playing the mother of an estranged daughter (Gena Rowlands) who has come home to die.
Bette Davis was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis on April 5, 1908, in Lowell, Mass. She was named for her mother, whom Bette in later years called Ruthie. Her daughter would later say that Ruthie was her dominating influence, at least through a first marriage.
Her father, Harlow Morrell Davis, had been a patent attorney. The parents were divorced when Bette was 7. She had a younger sister, Barbara.
Despite the rigidity of a strict New England upbringing, hers was a relatively happy and comfortable childhood, and she wrote of "those biting cold white days when Bobby and I would slide down the hill behind our house on our backsides without our sleds . . . the kitchen shiny and busy and expectant with custards and fruit pies."
Wonderful Cook
In later years her kitchen became her solace, her refuge, and she was remembered by her friends as a wonderful cook.
She and her sister were sent off to boarding school while her mother worked as a photographer. At 16, Bette entered the prestigious Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass., where, after participating in school theatricals, she decided to become an actress.
After graduation in 1926, she was taken by her mother to New York where she met Eva LaGalliene, then a reigning stage presence. LaGalliene was unimpressed. She told the aspiring actress that her attitude toward the theater was "not sincere. You are a frivolous little girl."
Trying to negate that judgment, Davis enrolled at a dramatic academy in New York and also worked briefly in Rochester in a play called "Broadway." The director was George Cukor, soon to become another Hollywood legend. He fired her.

Bette Davis Biography

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Bette Davis
Most commonly known name
First name
Middle name
Maiden name
Last name(s)
Ruth Elizabeth Davis, Bette Davis
Nickname(s) or aliases
New York, New York County, New York 10017
Last known residence
Bette Davis was born on in Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts United States
Bette Davis died on in Paris, Paris County, Île-de-France France
Bette Davis was born on in Lowell, Middlesex County, Massachusetts United States
Bette Davis died on in Paris, Paris County, Île-de-France France
Cause of death
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With "Bondage" and "Dangerous," her first Oscar, she moved into the front rank of Hollywood actresses, but she was never of them. At first, directors wanted to make her over, even to change her name. Bettina Dawes was suggested; Davis resisted. "I refuse to be called 'Between the Drawers' all my life," she said.
At 5 feet, 3 inches and 112 pounds, she was certainly not a long-stemmed blonde bombshell beauty, although in the beginning they lightened her hair. Davis had a more subtle sexuality. Of the Crawfords and the Shearers and the Dietrichs, she wrote: "Part of me envied them. They were so beautiful. I knew it was possible, with my ambitions for acting rather than for glamour, that I might never equal their popularity. But I was I."
She also noted that over the years she drew more people into movie houses "than all the sexpots put together."
Davis was married four times—to Hamilton O. Nelson, Jr., a prep school sweetheart, in 1932; to Arthur Farnsworth, who ran a New England inn, in 1938; to William Grant Sherry, a former prize fighter-turned-Laguna Beach artist in 1945, and to actor Gary Merrill in 1950.
She had three children from those marriages, including a daughter, Barbara Davis or B.D., who was born in 1947.
Davis' other two children were adopted. Daughter Margot was discovered to be severely brain damaged and had to be sent to an Upstate New York institution for the mentally retarded. Later, there was a prolonged custody battle with Merrill over their adopted son, Michael.
'Mother Goddam'
Through it all was her craft. Work was her "steadiest friend." In interviews, in her frank 1962 autobiography "The Lonely Life" and in the biography she co-authored in 1974 called "Mother Goddam" (a sobriquet for one of her characters that she took as her own), that was her theme.
"My passions were all gathered together like fingers that made a fist," she wrote in 1962. "Drive is considered aggression today; I knew it then as purpose."
For more than a decade, from the time she received her first Oscar, she fought, even scratched for good parts. Consider that "Of Human Bondage" was her 22nd role, "Dangerous" her 28th and "Jezebel" her 36th.
After "Dangerous," when she was again being offered what she felt were minor-league roles, she accepted an offer from an English film director and Warner's smacked her with an injunction. She had "no right to strike" a studio, or to be a free agent, as baseball players were to become many years later.
There followed a long legal battle that Davis lost—"It was Bette against Goliath," she opined dramatically. But in a real sense, she won the war because Warner's brought her back to better roles. In 1939, all four of her movies were critical and box office successes.
Breaks With Warners
In 1948, she broke with Warners for good. During the next decade, she appeared in 10 films but her career appeared to be faltering. Davis, however, revived it with a couple of popular horror films including 1962's "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" where she played a demented one-time child star.
Altogether Davis made nine movies in the 1960s and five in the 1970s, as well as starting a new career in television. One of her last TV movies was "Right of Way" made for Home Box Office, in which she co-starred with James Stewart—the first time these movie greats had played together.
"She seemed to me to be an ideal motion picture actress," Stewart recalled Saturday, calling Davis "this wonderful, wonderful talent."
Yet, there was always a touch of the irreverent, the unexpected, about Bette Davis.
She became the first woman president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1942 and thereafter insisted that she had played a prime role in the naming of the little statuette given out each year for film achievements.
She shunned Hollywood parties. She twitted her own movies calling the horror film "Baby Jane" "pretty funny."
"I suppose the dead birds with mayonnaise were kind of unattractive. And the dead rat."
She also chided the male ego which she felt "with few exceptions . . . was elephantine to start with. Add to it a movie contract and it soars through space into eternal orbit around itself."
But mostly she had the capacity to laugh at herself. One night at a one-woman appearance in London someone in the audience rudely called out: "Is that your real hair, Miss Davis?"
Without missing a beat, Davis, who was wearing a wig that day, called back: "Yes it is. And these are my real eyes, my real teeth and my real tits."
But the icy irreverence could also thaw.
An animal lover, she was founder and president of the Tailwaggers Club, which looked after stray dogs.
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Personal Life & Organizations

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Hollywood Canteen
In 1942, she helped organize the Hollywood Canteen, which became a refuge for servicemen stationed in Southern California.

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Bette Davis Family Tree

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Daniel Pinna
5.06k+ favorites
I barely recognize her in her profile photo! Of course, being an 80s child, I was first introduced to Bette as an older woman in her role in Disney's "The Watcher in the Woods". That's just about the only 'dark' Disney movie ever made :)
Oct 17, 2019 · Reply
Kathy Pinna
24.4k+ favorites
Hey - as a child of the 50s (!), I'm shocked by her beauty!! I always remember her as "old". Not at all glamorous! LOL
Oct 18, 2019 · Reply
Amanda S. Stevenson
10.4k+ favorites
Olivia deHavilland loved her and was very loyal to her and you can check this fact. Bette Davis went to Paris to die because that is where Olivia lived. Smoking wrecked her beauty. Olivia did not smoke.
Oct 18, 2019 · Reply

Bette Davis Obituary

This obit of Bette Davis is maintained by Bette's followers. Contribute to her obituary and include details such as cemetery, burial, newspaper obituary and grave or marker inscription if available.

Bette Davis
American actress
DescriptionRuth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis was an American actress of film, television, and theater. With a career spanning 60 years, she is regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history. Wikipedia
Born: April 5, 1908, Lowell, MA
Died: October 6, 1989, American Hospital of Paris, Neuilly-sur-Seine, France
Children: B. D. Hyman, Margot Merrill, Michael Merrill
Did you know: Bette Davis has the fourth-most Academy Award nominations (10) in four acting categories of all time. [external link]
Old age is no place for sissies.
I'd luv to kiss ya, but I just washed my hair.

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1908 - 1989 World Events

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In 1908, in the year that Bette Davis was born, a mysterious Siberian explosion leveled over 770 square miles of forest. There were no human casualties. Explanations of the explosion have included a comet, meteorite, natural atomic explosion, or a crashed UFO. Although it is called an impact event - the largest one in recorded earth history - there is no crater and it is widely thought that the explosion was caused by a meteor exploding 3 to 6 miles above the earth.

In 1910, when she was only 2 years old, Angel Island, which is in San Francisco Bay, became the immigration center for Asians entering U.S. It was often referred to as "The Ellis Island of the West". Due to restrictive laws against Chinese immigration, many immigrants spent years on the island.

In 1921, Bette was only 13 years old when on November 11th, the first burial was held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. The body of an unknown soldier - selected by Army Sgt. Edward F. Younger who was highly decorated for valor and received the Distinguished Service Cross in "The Great War" - was brought back from France (World War 1) and placed in the newly completed tomb. President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies.

In 1953, at the age of 45 years old, Bette was alive when on July 27th, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. The Armistice was to last until "a final peaceful settlement is achieved". No peaceful settlement has ever been agreed upon.

In 1989, in the year of Bette Davis's passing, on March 24th, the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker, struck a reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound and oil began spilling out of the hold. The oil would eventually contaminate more than a thousand miles of coastline. It is estimated that over 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled into the Sound - killing 100,000 to 250,000 seabirds, over 2,800 sea otters, about 12 river otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, and 22 orcas - as well as an unknown number of salmon and herring.

Other Biographies

Other Bette Davises

Apr 19, 1946 - Aug 24, 2010
Jan 18, 1925 - Unknown
Jun 10, 1923 - Oct 23, 2002
Feb 5, 1943 - Nov 9, 1992
c. 1953 - Unknown
c. 1935 - Unknown
c. 1952 - Unknown

Other Davises

Jul 26, 1908 - Sep 2, 1987
Sep 1, 1894 - October 1975
Mar 23, 1914 - August 1972
Jan 11, 1914 - July 1980
Mar 24, 1916 - Aug 9, 1970
Feb 9, 1896 - Nov 2, 1995
Jul 3, 1917 - Dec 24, 1999
Nov 25, 1920 - Jan 15, 2003
Jul 11, 1914 - August 1971
Nov 11, 1913 - May 30, 1998
Mar 5, 1912 - Oct 7, 2006
Jun 22, 1908 - Apr 30, 1988
Oct 3, 1907 - Oct 31, 1993
Sep 14, 1908 - March 1948
Jun 21, 1917 - April 1995
Oct 24, 1897 - December 1984
Aug 27, 1958 - Feb 15, 2000
Jul 21, 1961 - January 1975
Dec 26, 1965 - Jan 2, 2008
Jun 10, 1925 - March 1979

Other Bios

Sep 4, 1903 - November 1964
Nov 29, 1900 - December 1983
Sep 3, 1900 - May 1969
Aug 12, 1910 - September 1986
Feb 23, 1913 - Feb 25, 2004
Jul 30, 1914 - Mar 3, 1990
May 22, 1911 - September 1975
Mar 13, 1908 - Apr 16, 1996
May 1, 1899 - August 1980
Dec 6, 1898 - February 1969
Jan 22, 1889 - August 1970
Jun 3, 1897 - April 1964
Jun 19, 1903 - February 1976
Oct 29, 1903 - March 1960
Sep 7, 1917 - Dec 23, 1990
Oct 15, 1894 - May 1963
Mar 29, 1902 - May 1982
Dec 1, 1903 - June 1978
Nov 19, 1907 - Jul 21, 1990
Jul 14, 1900 - February 1978
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