On this day in history, April 5, 1908, actress Bette Davis born in Massachusetts: ‘Strong-willed woman’
Bette Davis, a Hollywood legend whose “raw, unbridled intensity kept her at the top of her profession for 50 years,” as Encyclopedia Britannica put it, was born on this day in history, April 5, 1908.
“A strong-willed, independent woman with heavy-cast eyes, clipped New England diction and distinctive mannerisms, Bette Davis left an indelible — and often parodied — mark on cinema history as being one of Hollywood’s most important and decorated actresses,” says her biography page on Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
Born Ruth Elizabeth Davis in Lowell, Massachusetts to parents Ruth and Harlow, Davis was raised primarily by her mother after her parents divorced in 1915.
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She later attended Cushing Academy in Massachusetts, where she was voted “best looking” and “best actress” for the class of 1926, notes a 2017 article by Mike Richard published in The Gardner (Massachusetts) News.
While at Cushing Academy, Davis began acting in school productions, reportedly to get closer to her crush, fellow student Harmon O. “Ham” Nelson, said Richard.
Davis and Nelson wed in 1932 in Los Angeles — and divorced in 1938.
Davis would eventually marry three more times. She had three children.
Following high school, Davis enrolled at the Mariarden School of Dancing and John Murray Anderson’s Drama School in New York City, said TCM.
After several rejections, she made her New York City stage debut in 1928.
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In 1929 she made her first Broadway appearances, in “The Earth Between and Broken Dishes,” said Britannica.
Thanks to a successful run on Broadway, Davis was scouted by Universal Studios and asked to come to Hollywood.
Initially, she was signed to a contract with Universal Pictures. In 1931, she made her film debut in the movie “Bad Sister,” alongside Hollywood legend Humphrey Bogart.
A year later, Davis made a career breakthrough with the film “The Man Who Played God” and was signed to a long-term contract with Warner Brothers, TCM noted.
Davis and Warner Brothers had a “stormy relationship,” as the studio was “more accustomed to promoting its tough male stars,” said TCM.
After making a series of “forgettable” films with Warner Bros., her “career took a dramatic turn when she was lent to RKO to play the slatternly Mildred opposite Leslie Howard in ‘Of Human Bondage’ (1934), an unsympathetic role that several other actresses had turned down,” that site notes.
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“The role gave Davis an opportunity to cut loose, with her riveting performance garnering her first substantial critical acclaim,” said TCM.
Davis also received third place in that year’s Academy Awards for Best Actress as a write-in candidate.
(At the time, the Academy Awards briefly allowed voters to write in candidates who were not official nominees.)
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Davis received her first of 10 official Academy Award nominations for Best Actress the following year in 1935, winning the award for her performance in the film “Dangerous.”
She would go on to win again in 1938.
Her final Best Actress nomination was for her role as Jane Hudson in the 1962 film “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
Hollywood legend has it that Davis named the Academy Award statuette “Oscar,” after her then-husband’s middle name.
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“She claimed that, from her observation, the backside of the statuette — that of a nude warrior holding a crusader’s sword and standing on a reel of film — looked like the derriere of her husband and former Cushing Academy classmate Harmon Oscar Nelson,” wrote Richard.
Throughout her career, Davis appeared in 100 films.
In 1977, she became the first woman to receive the American Film Lifetime Achievement Award.
Her last significant role was 1987’s “The Whales of August.”
Davis died on Oct. 6, 1989, in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France, after a battle with breast cancer, notes Biography.com.
She was 81.
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