Bette Davis: #1 Classic Female Film Star

23 Mar



   They just don’t make ’em like this anymore.  The grand dame of Classic Hollywood has to go to Miss Bette Davis.  Known for her fiery temperament, blunt responses and of course incredible acting, who but Bette could be number 1 on my list?

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born in 1908 and was a die hard Yankee till the day she died.  She started out in theatre and was discovered by Hollywood talent scouts.  When she first came to Hollywood in 1930, Universal Pictures signed her on and decided to make her a “glamor girl”.  Well, it didn’t work and after several bad pictures, Bette moved onto Warner Bros. and never looked back.

Davis’ first breakthrough film that put her on star status was 1934’s Of Human Bondage in which she played low-class, conniving waitress Mildred.  Excellent film, by the way!  My other favorite films of hers in the 3o’s are The Cabin in the Cotton  (1932) in which she famously said, “I would kiss ya, but I just washed my hair!”  Other favorites include 20,000 Years in Sing Sing (1932) with Spencer Tracy, The Petrified Forest (1936), That Certain Woman (1937), Jezebel (1938), The Sisters (1938), and The Old Maid (1939).

The 40s would definitely be the definitive decade of Bette’s film career. After winning two Oscars in the last decade, she could do no wrong.  All This and Heaven Too (1940), The Letter (1940), The Great Lie (1941), The Little Foxes (1941), The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942), Now, Voyager (1942), Old Acquaintance (1943), Mr. Skeffington (1944), The Corn is Green (1945) and A Stolen Life (1946) were a succession of hits with excellent casts and scripts.  Unfortunately Bette’s career hit a snag by the mid to late 40s and she was being handed mediocre parts.

“Fasten your seat belts, its going to be a bumpy night!” cried her character Margo in All About Eve (1950), the film that revived her career.  Following that, more hits such as Phone Call From a Stranger (1952), The Star (1952), The Virgin Queen (1955) and The Catered Affair (1956) but once again, Bette’s career hit another slump.

   Fortunately for Davis and her nemesis Joan Crawford, a little script called Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) came their way and the movie became their biggest hit in years.  It’s a cult classic and showcases Davis’ acting chops to the hilt.  She plays a mentally unstable woman who dresses in pigtails and creepy heavy makeup while torturing her wheelchair bound sister. This also brought about Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964) another horror film, this time with Olivia de Haviland.

The 70s and early 80s were very good to Davis.  She made several made for TV films and even did the stage version of The Corn is Green in which the setting now took place in present day America with an all-black cast and she as the white teacher pushing her student for greatness.  Strangers: The Story of a Mother and Daughter (1979), White Mama in 1980 (an absolute favorite of mine, you can find it on YouTube), The Watcher in the Woods (1980), Right of Way (1983) are just a few of the many films she made at this time.

In 1984, Bette suffered a major stroke and the following year, another major blow: her daughter B.D. Hyman’s tell-all memoir My Mother’s Keeper. Bette was devastated since she and B.D. had been close for several years so they never spoke again.  Bette turned to writing herself and published a couple of books as well.  She also surprisingly kept acting for mostly TV and some film while also making several public appearances and interviews.  She passed away in 1989 and will be forever missed.  I wish I could have met her but I was too small to even know who the great Bette Davis was by the time she died.  Yes, Bette may have had her faults, but no one can deny: She was a damn good actress.


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