This outspokenly indomitable, unconventionally pretty New Englander reached Broadway and Hollywood through seeming force of will, and her craftwork and determination ensured a performing legacy that has endured for generations after her heyday. Born in Lowell, Massachusetts to a patent lawyer father and portrait photographer mother who divorced when she was ten, Ruth Elizabeth Davis' early aspirations leaned toward a career in dance, but shifted her focus to acting in the latter years of her boarding school education. Upon graduation, she unsuccessfully sought admittance to Eva Le Gallienne's Manhattan Civic Repertory, but was taken on by John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School to hone her skills. She would make her first off-Broadway appearance in 1923, and she would spend five years toiling in stock until her Broadway bow in "Broken Dishes." Her follow-up the following season in "Solid South" resulted in the offer of a screen test from Universal, and she headed west.
Her nine-month stint at Universal resulted in a handful of largely forgettable opportunities and studio head Carl Laemmle's famous observation that she had "as much sex appeal as Slim Summerville," and that might have been it unless a sufficiently impressed George Arliss hadn't insisted upon her as the female lead for his Warner vehicle "The Man Who Played God." Her efforts were enough for WB to tender a seven-year deal, and the studio pressed her into regular service, with early notables including "Three on a Match," "Ex-Lady," "20,000 Years in Sing Sing," "Bureau of Missing Persons" and "Fog Over Frisco." She lobbied hard for a loan-out to RKO for a project she desired, playing the shabby, shrewish Cockney waitress opposite Leslie Howard in "Of Human Bondage." The praise that followed was universal, culminating in an unprecedented write-in campaign after she was overlooked for an Oscar nomination. The following year did bring her first such nod--and win-- for "Dangerous."
Afterwards, Davis began to chafe at the caliber of the scripts Warner continued to offer, to the extent that she fled to England, to attempt to continue her film career there, and bring the studio to court in order to get out of her contract. The British bench was less than sympathetic, and Bette had little choice than to return to Hollywood. Warner, for its part, at least tacitly ensured that the prime projects came her way, and the remainder of her run with the studio marked her career peak, with another Academy Award win ("Jezebel") and five more nominations ("Dark Victory," "The Letter," "The Little Foxes" for Goldwyn, "Now, Voyager," "Mr. Skeffington"). Other highlights of the era included "The Old Maid," "All This, and Heaven, Too," "The Great Lie," "The Man who Came to Dinner," "Watch on the Rhine," "The Corn is Green" and "A Stolen Life."
As the '40s and her pact with Warner wound down, the returns on her projects started to diminish; she started the '50s strong with another defining performance as the aging actress in the acerbic "All About Eve." Her work was hailed, and she received another Oscar nomination; the resultant career traction was fleeting, though, and she was off-screen for a few years after her next Academy-acknowledged performance in "The Star." By the back half of the decade, she was segueing into character leads ("The Catered Affair," "Storm Center," "Pocketful of Miracles") and support, as well as appearances in various omnibus drama TV series. The early '60s brought her revitalizing, over-the-top turn as the demented ex-child star in "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" Her work opposite longtime rival Joan Crawford resulted in her final career Oscar nomination, and launched a subgenre of shockers headlined by long-in-the-tooth divas, to which she'd further contribute with "Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte," "The Nanny" and "Dead Ringers."
Through the '70s, Bette was primarily busying herself with made-for-TV features ("Madame Sin," "The Judge and Jake Wyler," "Scream, Pretty Peggy") with the occasional big-screen supporting turn thrown in ("Burnt Offerings," "Return from Witch Mountain," "Death on the Nile," "Watcher in the Woods"). She continued to plug away with telefilms into the '80s, racking up an Emmy win ("Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter") and two further nominations ("White Mama," "Little Gloria...Happy at Last") She had an acclaimed, elegiac big-screen appearance with fellow veterans Lillian Gish, Vincent Price, Ann Sothern and Harry Carey Jr. in "The Whales of August"; her last appearance came in "Wicked Stepmother," of which she'd walked off the set. Despite her schedule, Davis endured multiple struggles with her health over her last years, and she was in Europe for a film festival tribute when she succumbed to breast cancer at 81.
Click on any title for more information.
Click on any title for more information.
Pricing valid as of Friday, May 29, 2015.
All prices and availability subject to change without notice.