The singular Bette Davis was born Ruth Elizabeth Davis 109 years ago today in Lowell, Massachusetts. Here are 10 BD Did-You-Knows:
Davis’ father was a patent attorney. He and his wife divorced when Davis was 10 and Davis was raised by her mother. Davis’ initial interest as a young performer was dance, but she eventually turned her sights on the stage.
Davis debuted off-Broadway in 1923 in a play called The Earth Between. Her Broadway debut, in Broken Dishes, came six years later. In 1930, she was hired by Universal Pictures, where she made her screen debut in a pictured called Bad Sister (1931).
Legend has it that a studio staffer sent to pick up Davis at the train station when she first arrived in Hollywood returned without her, saying he hadn’t seen anyone who looked like a movie star. We’ve no idea if that’s true, but if it is, we’re confident Davis made that poor fellow regret his mistake.
When she first arrived in Hollywood, it was suggested Davis change her name to Bettina Dawes. She refused, saying the name sounded too much like “Between the Drawers.”
In 1932, Davis signed a seven-year deal with Warner Brothers, where she would soon become the queen of the lot.
In 1936, Bette Davis refused a role Warner Brothers assigned her, saying it was not worthy of her talents. She scurried off to England, hoping to make pictures there, but Warners enforced its exclusive contract with her. She sued to get out of the contract, and though she lost the suit, thereafter Warner Brothers treated her with more respect and offered her better roles.
Davis was nominated 11 times for the Best Actress Oscar over a 28-year span, winning twice (Dangerous , Jezebel ). Five of those nominations (1939-43) were consecutive, an Oscar record Davis shares with Greer Garson.
In 1941, Davis was elected the first female president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She resigned the position after just two months for the putative reason that she didn’t have sufficient time to devote to the position, but there were reports that, in fact, she resented not being given that power she thought the position would carry. She had no interest in being a famous figurehead.