On December 23 1930, a 22-year-old Bette Davis arrived in Hollywood under contract to Universal Studios and began what would become a legendary career in film, television and theatre.
A Career In Hollywood’s Golden Age
Bette Davis is regarded as one of the greatest actresses of all time and an icon of Hollywood’s Golden Age. She is acclaimed for her idiosyncratic acting style, often portraying unsympathetic and neurotic characters. Bette Davis captivated audiences throughout her 60 year career with over 100 acting credits to her name. Her most well known performances include an ageing Broadway star in All About Eve (1950), a spoiled 1850’s southern belle in Jezebel (1938) and a delusional recluse in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962). She quickly gained a reputation in Hollywood for playing strong-willed female leads.
Like the characters she played, Bette was strong minded and didn’t shy away from confrontation. She sparked up several feuds in the Hollywood industry with studio executives and fellow actors. Most notable is her famous rivalry with actress Joan Crawford, which inspired Ryan Murphy’s recent television miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan (2017). In the miniseries, Susan Sarandon plays Bette Davis opposite Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford.
Bette bravely refused to conform and defied studios by demanding equal pay and better scripts with realistic female characters. She refused to play traditional one-dimensional female roles and paved the way for actresses to follow by showing the true depth and range possible for women in film.
Academy Award Nominations
Bette Davis was the first ever actor or actress to receive 10 nominations for an Academy Award, with two wins for her roles in Dangerous (1935) and Jezebel (1938). She was also the first to earn five consecutive Academy Award nominations in acting, with a nomination every year from 1938 to 1942. Below is the complete list of films for which she received an Academy Award nomination:
1. Dangerous (1935)
2. Jezebel (1938)
3. Dark Victory (1939)
4. The Letter (1940)
5. The Little Foxes (1941)
6. Now, Voyager (1942)
7. Mr. Skeffington (1944)
8. All About Eve (1950)
9. The Star (1952)
10. What Ever Happened To Baby Jane? (1962)
Bette Davis’s Legacy
In 1977, Bette Davis was the first woman to be honoured by the American Film Institute with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Bette Davis has left a lasting legacy with a huge influence on pop culture and film.
She inspired Kim Carnes’s number 1 song Bette Davis Eyes in 1981, making her known to a much younger audience. Acclaimed actresses Meryl Streep and Jane Fonda cite Bette Davis as one of their favourite actresses and as a great influence on their work. Just before her death in 1989, Bette Davis wrote a letter to a young Meryl Streep praising her acting and calling her a worthy successor as one of the most highly regarded actresses in film history.