She intimidated Marilyn Monroe so badly on the set of All About Eve that
Monroe went into the bathroom to vomit after her scenes with Davis. After one
particular scene Davis whispered to her other co-stars-- within poor Marilyn's
hearing-- "That little blonde slut can't act her way out of a paper bag! She thinks if she wiggles her
ass and coos away, she can carry her scene-- well, she can't!"
She hated colorization of her old films, called it "heartbreaking."
She called Veronica Lake "the most beautiful person who ever came to Hollywood."
Joan Collins claims that she got her earliest lessons in how to play the bitchy, demanding,
vixenish Alexis in the long-running Dynasty TV series from testing her mettle against
Bette Davis in The Virgin Queen.
After his divorce from Bette, Gary Merrill took up with Rita
Hayworth, who was between men. Once when Gary and Rita brought
Michael -- Bette and Gary's adopted son-- home after an excursion, Bette stuck
her head out of a second-floor window and called Rita a whore.
Screenwriters Katherine Albert and Dale Eunson had Joan Crawford
in mind when they wrote the screenplay for The Star-- a harsh, unflattering portrait of an aging movie star-- not a
stage refugee or dedicated artist but a movie star-- whose whole world revolves around the unrealities of
Hollywood. However, Bette landed the part and, in a way, got to portray Joan
She has said that her favorite of all her film lines is the one from her 1932 film, Cabin in the
Cotton: "I'd love to kiss ya, but I just washed ma hair!" spoken, of course, in the southern accent
she adopted for the film.
In 1973 Bette Davis began appearing in a one-woman show, a sort of retrospective of her life and
career. Her first appearance at Town Hall was a smash success, so she took it all around the country and even to
Australia and Europe. The program for the evening never varied. The first half was a series of film clips, cleverly
chosen by film historians like Don Koll. The second half had Davis fielding any and all sallies
and queries, personal as well as professional. These sessions drew a large contingent of gay men, who delighted in
her reminiscences and witty, tart remarks about former co-workers and, of course, her complex relationships with
Miriam Hopkins and Joan Crawford.
Humphrey Bogart was in her first film Bad Sister, but Davis
disliked him from the start, and nothing changed her opinion in later years, even when they did good work
Edward Albee wanted Bette and James Mason for the stars of
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee sold the play to Warners thinking they were to be the
stars. Jack Warner had other plans.
Though a lot of people told her The Little Foxes was their favorite of her films, she didn't like
Katharine Hepburn was to costar with her in The Night of the Iguana, but due
to Spencer Tracy's poor health, Hepburn withdrew from the play.
Bette felt if Kate had costarred with her, Tennessee Williams
would have written a scene for them which would have balanced the roles of Hannah and Maxine. In the finished play
Maxine (Bette) is the third lead and Hannah (Margaret Leighton) is the star part. Bette stated
that she had her pick of either part. She chose Maxine because she thought Hannah's speech in the rowboat to
Shannon "about underwear" was offensive. Bette planned to take Iguana to London, but was so unhappy in the play,
she left it in New York.
She said the biggest mistake of her career was turning down the role of Blanche in the original
stage production of A Streetcar Named Desire. She had just had her baby and didn't want to go to
New York. Interestingly Vivien Leigh won the Oscar for this part
as well as for another Bette "almost" role Gone With The Wind.
She thought Toys in the Attic by Lillian Hellman would have been the perfect
vehicle for her and Katharine Hepburn.
Robert Ryan begged her to star with him in O'Neil's Long Day's Journey Into
Night. She refused because she really didn't like the stage.
Considered her debut screen test for MGM to be so dreadful that she ran screaming from the projection room.
Her feud with Joan Crawford began when Bette was making the movie Dangerous with
Franchot Tone. Davis apparently developed a very bad crush on
Tone without knowing that he was having an affair with Crawford.
Tone would come back from his lunch with lipstick all over his face from the make-out sessions
with Crawford and when Davis found out that Tone was having an
affair with Crawford the feud began and it never really ended.
In October 1941 she was elected the first female president of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts
and Sciences, only to resign two months later, publicly declaring herself too busy to fulfill her duties
as president while angrily protesting in private that the Academy had wanted her to serve as a mere figurehead.
When Bette learned that her new brother-in-law was a recovering alcoholic, she sent the couple a
dozen cases of liquor for a wedding present.
Her real true love was director William Wyler but he was married and refused to leave his
Her real Christian name was Ruth. The Bette came from Balzac's novel Cousin
Had a legendary feud with Joan Crawford which reached its nadir when she said, "The best time
I ever had with Joan in a film was when I pushed her down the stairs in What ever happened to Baby
Bette had three children, one of whom was severely retarded.
She suffered a stroke and a mastectomy in 1983.
Nick Name: The Fifth Warner
While she was the star pupil at John Murray Anderson's Dramatic School in New York, another of her classmates was
sent home because she was "too shy". It was predicted that this girl would never make it as an actress. The girl
was Lucille Ball.
In 1952 she was asked to perform in a musical, "Two's Company". After several grueling months at rehearsals, her
health deteriorated due to osteomyelitis of the jaw and she had to leave the show only several weeks after it
opened. She was to repeat this process in 1974 when she rehearsed for the musical version of The Corn Is
Green (1945), called "Miss Moffat", but bowed out early in the run of the show for dubious medical
Attended Northfield Mt. Hermon high school.
Interred at Forest Lawn (Hollywood Hills), Los Angeles, California, USA, just outside and to the left of the main
entrance to the Court of Remembrance.
Mother of Barbara Merrill (aka B.D. Hyman) and grandmother of J. Ashley
Director Steven Spielberg won the Christie's auction of her 1938 Best Actress Oscar for Jezebel
(1938) for $578,000. He then gave it to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. [19 July
Her third husband Arthur Farnsworth died after a fall on Hollywood Boulevard in which he took a
blow to the head. He had shortly before banged his head on a train between LA and New England, followed by another
fall down the stairway at their New Hampshire home.
In Marked Woman (1937), Davis is forced to testify in court after being worked
over by some Mafia hoods. Disgusted with the tiny bandage supplied by the makeup department, she left the set, had
her own doctor bandage her face more realistically, and refused to shoot the scene any other way.
When she first came to Hollywood as a contract player, Universal Pictures wanted to change her
name to Bettina Dawes. She informed the studio that she refused to go through life with a name
that sounded like "Between the Drawers".
Nominated for an Academy Award 5 years in a row, in 1939, 1940, 1941, 1942 and 1943. She shares
the record for most consecutive nominations with Greer Garson.
After the song "Bette Davis Eyes" became a hit single, she wrote letters to singer Kim
Carnes and songwriters Donna Weiss and Jackie DeShannon, asking how they
knew so much about her. One of the reasons Davis loved the song is that her granddaughter heard it and thought it
"cool" that her grandmother had a hit song written about her.
While touring the talk show circuit to promote What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), she told one interviewer
that when she and Joan Crawford were first suggested for the leads, Warner studio head Jack L. Warner replied: "I
wouldn't give a plugged nickel for either of those two old broads."
Recalling the story, Davis laughed at her own expense. The following day, she reportedly received a telegram from
Crawford: "In future, please do not refer to me as an old broad!".
Was one of two actresses (with Faye Dunaway) to have two villainous roles ranked in the American
Film Institute's 100 Years of The Greatest Heroes and Villains, as Regina Giddens in The
Little Foxes (1941) at #43 and as Baby Jane Hudson in What Ever Happened to Baby
Jane?(1962) at #44.
After her first picture, Davis was sitting outside the office of Universal Pictures executive
Carl Laemmle Jr. when she overhead him say about her, "She's got as much sex appeal as Slim
Summerville. Who wants to get her at the end of the picture?".
Attended Cushing Academy; a prep school in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. An award in her namesake is given annually to
one male and one female scholar-athlete of exceptional accomplishment in both fields.
Joan Crawford and Davis had feuded for years. During the making of What
Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), Bette had a Coca-Cola machine
installed on the set due to Crawford's affiliation with Pepsi(she was the
widow of Pepsi's CEO).Joan got her revenge by putting weights in her pockets when Davis had
to drag her across the floor during certain scenes.
Desperately wanted to win a third Best Actress Oscar for What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962),
as three wins in the leading category was unprecedented (Walter Brennan had won three Oscars, but all of his
were in the supporting category). It was the general feeling among Academy voters that while
Davis was superb, the movie itself was little better than a potboiler exploitation film, the kind
that doesn't deserve the recognition that an Oscar would give it.
Each of her four husbands were Gentiles, while her friend Joan Blondell's husband Michael
Todd was Jewish. Blondell called Davis' brace of husbands the "Four
According to her August 1982 Playboy Magazine interview, in her youth she posed nude for an
artist, who carved a statue of her that was placed in a public spot in Boston, MA. After the interview appeared,
Bostonians searched for the statue in vain.
She was of Welsh and Scottish descent. She came to Cardiff in
1975 for a theatre tour and went to the Welsh Valleys in search of relatives - and found them. She had been
learning Welsh in order to come to Wales; however, she only used the words "Nos Da" (meaning "good night") while in
the country and had forgotten all the other phrases she had learned.
She claimed to have given the Academy Award the nickname "Oscar" after her first husband,
Harmon Nelson, whose middle name was Oscar, although she later withdrew that claim. Most sources
say it was named by Academy librarian and eventual executive director Margaret Herrick, who
thought the statuette resembled her Uncle Oscar.
Murdoch University (Western Australia) Communications Senior Lecturer Tara Brabazon, in her article "The Spectre of
the Spinster: Bette Davis and the Epistemology of the Shelf," quotes the court testimony of Davis'
first husband Harmon Nelson to show what a debacle her private life was. During divorce proceedings, Nelson was
successful in sustaining his charge of mental cruelty by testifying that Davis had told him that
her career was more important than her marriage. Brabazon writes that Davis, claiming she was
beaten by all four of her husbands, believed that she should have remained single.
In 1952, she accepted the Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role on behalf of Kim Hunter, who
wasn't present at the awards ceremony.
Is one of the many movie stars mentioned in Madonna's song "Vogue"
Is portrayed by Elissa Leeds in My Wicked, Wicked Ways... The Legend of Errol
Flynn (1985) (TV).
She said that among the jokes told about her, her favorite came from impressionist Charles Pierce
who, dressed as her, demanded of the audience, "Someone give me a cigarette". When the request was granted the
performer threw it on the floor and shouted "LIT!".
For many years she was a popular target for impressionists but she was perplexed by the often used phrase "Pee-tah!
Pee-tah! Pee-tah!". She said she had no idea who Pee-tah was and had never even met anyone by that name.
While filming Death on the Nile (1978), aboard ship, no one was allowed his or her own dressing
room, so she shared a dressing room with Angela Lansbury & Maggie Smith.
Is portrayed by Nancy Linehan Charles in Norma Jean & Marilyn (1996)
Declined a role in 4 for Texas (1963) (which turned out to be a big hit) to do Dead
Ringer (1964) (which turned out to be a big flop).
Described the last three decades of her life as a "my macabre period". She hated being alone at night and found
growing older "terrifying".
Had a long-running feud with Miriam Hopkins due to her affair with Hopkins' husband, director
Anatole Litvak, as well as Davis' getting many roles that Hopkins wanted.
When she died, her false eyelashes were auctioned off, fetching a price of $600. Previously, she had said that her
biggest secret was brown mascara.
In an interview with Dick Cavett in 1971, she said her salary at the time she shot
Jezebel (1938) was $650 a week.
Was first offered the role of Luke's mother in Cool Hand Luke (1967), but refused the bit part. Jo
Van Fleet accepted the role.
Salary for 1941, $252,333.
Salary for 1948, $365,000.
During her great film career, she reportedly did not get along with her co-stars Miriam Hopkins,
Susan Hayward, Celeste Holm and most infamously Joan Crawford.
When she died in 1989, she reportedly left an estate valued between $600,000 and $1 million, consisting mainly of a
condominium apartment she owned in West Hollywood. 50% of her estate went to her son,
Michael Merrill, and the remaining 50% went to her secretary and companion, Kathryn
Sermack. Her daughter, Barbara Merrill aka B.D. Hyman, was left nothing due to her lurid
book about life with her mother. During her long life, she spent the majority of her wealth supporting her mother,
three children, and four husbands.
Played dual roles of twin sisters in two movies: A Stolen Life (1946) and Dead
She was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute in recognition of her outstanding contribution to film
Pictured on a 42¢ USA commemorative postage stamp in the Legends of Hollywood series, issued 18 September 2008.
In Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Elizabeth Taylor does an exaggerated
impression of Bette Davis saying a line from Beyond the Forest (1949): "What a
dump!" In an interview with Barbara Walters, Davis said that in "Beyond
the Forest", she really did not deliver the line in such an exaggerated manner. She said it in a more
subtle, low-key manner, but it has passed into legend that she said it the way Elizabeth Taylor
delivered it in "Virginia Woolf". During the interview, the clip of Bette
delivering the line in "Beyond the Forest" was shown to prove that she was correct. However, since
people expected Bette Davis to deliver the line the way Taylor had in "Virginia
Woolf", she always opened her in-person, one woman show by saying the line in a campy, exaggerated manner:
"What... a... dump!!!". It always brought down the house. "I imitated the imitators",Davis said.
Her father was Harlow Morrell Davis, a lawyer. Her mother was Ruth Favor. She had
a sister, Barbara Davis.
Has a street named after her in Iowa City, Iowa.
Bette Davis had been nominated for Best Actress in her film What Ever Happened to Baby
Jane? (1962), which also starring Joan Crawford. If Bette had won, it
would have set a record number of wins for an actress. According to the book "Bette & Joan - The Divine
Feud" by Shaun Considine, the two had a lifelong mutual hatred, and a jealous Joan
Crawford actively campaigned against Bette Davis for winning Best Actress, and even told
Anne Bancroft that if Anne won and was unable to accept the Award,
Joan would be happy to accept it on her behalf. According to the book - and this may or may not be
100% true, but it makes a good anecdote - on Oscar night, Bette Davis was standing in the wings of
the theatre waiting to hear the name of the winner. When it was announced that Anne Bancroft had
won Best Actress for The Miracle Worker (1962), Bette Davis felt an icy hand on
her shoulder as Joan Crawford said "Excuse me, I have an Oscar to accept".
Campaigned for the role of Ellie Andrews in It Happened One Night (1934), but the
part was eventually given to Claudette Colbert, who went on to win a Best Actress Oscar for her
Campaigned for the part of Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) but Elizabeth Taylor, who went on to
win a Best Actress Oscar for her performance, was cast instead.
Was originally offered the role of Sandra Kovak, the hot-tempered talented pianist, in The
Great Lie (1941). However Davis declined, instead giving the part to her good friend Mary
Astor in order to take on the less showier role of Maggie Patterson as she knew that it
would make Astor, whose career had not fully recovered due to the transition from silent films to
"talkies", a huge star. Davis was right, as Astor went on to win the Best
Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance.
She was 5' 3 1/2" tall.
In the 1950's she suffered osteomyelitis of the jaw and had to have part of her jaw removed.
She suffered a stroke and a mastectomy in 1983.
On her tombstone is written "She did it the hard way".
Her performance as Margo Channing in All About Eve (1950) is ranked #5 on
Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
She was voted the 25th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine.
Ranked #15 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October
Was named #2 on The Greatest Screen Legends actress list by the American Film
She was voted the 10th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment