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Bette Davis - The Woman Who Left 100 Films

One of the greatest female Hollywood stars was the American actress Bette Davis (1908–1989), née Ruth Elizabeth Davis. The big-eyed and often cigarette-smoking star made around 100 films in almost six decades. Most of the best of these were created in the 1930s and 1940s. Bette received two "Oscars" for best actress and was nominated eight times for this award.

Ruth Elizabeth Davis was born on April 5, 1908 as the eldest daughter of attorney Harlow Morrell Davis and his wife Ruth ("Ruthie") Favor in Lowell, Massachusetts. Her Protestant parents were English, French and Welsh roots. On October 25, 1909, her younger sister Barbara ("Bobby") was born.

From 1915 the seven year old Ruth Elizabeth Davis attended the "Crestalban School" in Lanesborough (Massachusetts). Also in 1915 and at the age of seven, she saw her parents divorce. After that, the two daughters Ruth Elizabeth and Barbara grew up with their mother.

In 1921 Ruth Favor moved to New York City with her two daughters. There the mother earned a living as a portrait photographer for herself and her children. It was then that 13-year-old Ruth Elizabeth first dreamed of becoming an actress. How this came about is described in different ways. On the one hand, it is said that she was inspired by Rudolph Valentino (1895-1926) in the film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921) and Mary Pickford (1893-1979) in the film "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1921). On the other hand, she is said to have discovered her penchant for the world of the stage in a dance school in Peterborough. She first appeared in public at a Christmas party. She chose the first name “Bette” after reading the novel “La Cousine Bette” by the French poet Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850).

In 1924 the mother sent her daughters Bette and Barbara to the denominational girls' boarding school "Nordfield Seminary for Young Ladies". A semester later, the two sisters switched to the boarding school "Cushingham Academy" in Ashburnham


In 1926, 18-year-old Bette Davis visited the “Repertory Theater” in Boston and saw the play “Die Wildente” by Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906) with Peg Entwistle (1908–1932) in the lead role. By her own admission she wanted to be an actress before this performance, after that she had to be just like Peg Entwistle. What she could not have foreseen at the time: Peg became a notoriety just a few years later through her suicide: She fell from the letter "H" on the world-famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles to her death.

When auditioning for inclusion in the 1926 by Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991) founded in New York City theater "Manhattan Civic Repertoire" Bette Davis had not yet had any success. The director Le Gallienne found that Bette's attitude towards the theater was not serious enough and rejected it.

With the support of her mother, Bette Davis was later admitted to the John Murray Anderson Dramatic School of Theater in New York City. Bette was initially allowed to attend this school without pay, but had to promise to repay the money later. The dance teacher Martha Graham (1894–1991) was her teacher at this school.

Although she had received a scholarship to study, Bette Davis left the renowned "John Murray Anderson Dramatic School of Theater" prematurely. Because she wanted to work at the Provincetown Playhouse Theater in New York City for director James Light. But the planned staging was postponed again and again and Bette had to try a new arrangement temporarily.

Bette Davis was successful in auditioning for the "Repertory Theater Company" directed by George Cukor (1899-1983) in Rochester, New York. Although Cukor was not enthusiastic about her, he offered Bette her first paid theater role as a revue dancer in the play "Broadway". When the female lead actress Rose Lerner injured herself during a performance, Bette was even allowed to take on her role.

During their collaboration, Cukor and Bette had a tense relationship. When the experienced director criticized the work of the young actress, Bette mostly commented on it, which annoyed Cukor. Finally he threw out the ambitious and headstrong bed. After that she worked temporarily as an usher in a provincial theater.

The following summer, work began on the Provincetown Playhouse Theater in New York City for the play "The Earth Beetween". Towards the end of the season, Bette Davis was selected to play the role of Hedwig in Ibsen's “The Wild Duck”.

In 1929, Bette Davis made her Broadway debut in New York City in the play "Broken Dishes". Then she was on stage in "Solid South".

During a theatrical performance, Bette Davis was noticed by a talent scout from "Universal Studios". This invited her to test recordings for the planned film adaptation of the play "Strictly Dishonorable" in Hollywood. When she got there at the train station, an employee of the film studio did not recognize her as an actress and drove back to the studio without taking her with him.

Bette Davis did not get the role in "Strictly Dishonorable" (1931) nor in "A House Divided" (1931). Instead, they were used to test male applicants. She was lying on a couch and had 15 men one after the other lay down on her and give her a passionate kiss. She thought she was going to die.

In 1931, Bette Davis made her big screen debut in the film "The Bad Sister" (1931). The beginner was not taken seriously during the shooting. Production manager Carl Laemmle junior missed her sex appeal. In “Bad Sister” she stood at the side of Humphrey Bogart (1899–1957). Because this flick was a flop, Carl Laemmle Sr. wanted it

(1867–1939), then head of “Universal Studios” (also known as “Universal Pictures”), did not renew Bette's contract. But the cameraman Karl Freund (1890–1969) praised her “lovely eyes” and her contract was extended. Even with her role in "Seed" ("Meine Kinder - mein Glück", 1931) and with her supporting roles in "Waterloo Bridge" (1931) and "Way Back Home" (1932), Bette did not yet make the breakthrough. In 1932, Universal Studios loaned it to Columbia Pictures for The Menace and Capital Films for Hell’s House.

The Hollywood career for Bette Davis already seemed to be over when Carl Laemmle senior refused to renew her contract after nine months and six unsuccessful films. Luckily she chose the influential English actor George Arliss (1868-1946) for the female lead in "The Man Who Played God" (1932). The newspaper "Saturday Evening Post" praised the appearance of Bette Davis in this film exuberantly, she was not only beautiful, but literally bubbled with grace. She was also compared with the established female film stars Constanze Bennett (1904-1965) and Olive Borden (1906-1947).


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