Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (; April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) was an American actress of film, television, and theater. With a career spanning 60 years, she is regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history. She was noted for playing unsympathetic, sardonic characters, and was famous for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films, suspense horror, and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.
After appearing in Broadway plays, the 22-year old Davis moved to Hollywood in the summer of 1930. However, her early films for Universal Studios (and as a loanout to other studios) were unsuccessful. She joined Warner Bros. in 1932, and established her career with several critically acclaimed performances beginning with playing a vulgar tearoom waitress in Of Human Bondage (1934), although, contentiously, she was not among the three nominees for the Academy Award for Best Actress that year. The next year, her strong performance as a down-and-out actress in Dangerous (1934) did land her her first Best Actress nomination, and she won the award.
In 1937, she attempted to free herself from her contract; although she lost the well-publicized legal case against Warners, it marked the beginning of her most successful period. Her portrayal of a spoiled, strong-willed southern belle in the 1850s in Jezebel won her a second Academy Award for Best Actress, on only her second nomination. Until the early 1950s, she was one of the most celebrated leading ladies of US cinema, known for her forceful and intense style. Davis gained a reputation as a perfectionist who could be highly combative and confrontational. She clashed with studio executives and film directors, as well as many of her co-stars. Her forthright manner, idiosyncratic speech, and ubiquitous cigarette contributed to a public persona that has often been imitated. Continuing from Jezebel she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress five straight years including for Dark Victory (1939), her personal favourite and a large box office success, The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941) and Now, Voyager (1942), in which she played an atypical role for her, a single woman whose tyrannical mother had destroyed her self confidence.
She is perhaps most known today for her role as Broadway star Margo Channing in the Best Picture Academy Awarding All About Eve (1950), although as both herself and Anne Baxter were nominated as Best Lead Actress, neither was able to cop the award. Altogether she had ten Academy Award nominations for acting, the first person accrue this number., with her last one being for her role as an aging actress in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? alongside her rival Joan Crawford, who played her sister in the film but did not receive a nomination. Her career went through several periods of eclipse, but she continued acting in film or on television until shortly before her death from breast cancer in 1989, and had more than 100 film, television, and theater roles to her credit during her six-decade-long career.
Davis was the co-founder of the Hollywood Canteen, a club venue for food, dancing and entertainment for servicemen during WWII, and was the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She was the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Film Institute. She admitted that her success had often been at the expense of her personal relationships, as she married four times, divorced three times, and raised her children as a single parent. Her final years were marred by a long period of ill health and a tell-all book, My Mother's Keeper, by daughter B.D. Hyman. In 1999, Davis was placed second behind Katharine Hepburn on the American Film Institute's list of the greatest female stars of the Classic Hollywood cinema era.