Bette Davis is one of the most famous and successful film actresses of the 20th century, with a career that spanned from the 1930s through the 1980s. She won two Academy Awards during her lifetime, and is memorable for her melodramatic, clipped acting style, which has been frequently imitated and parodied in successive years.
She was born as Ruth Elizabeth Davis in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1908. Following high school, she changed her name to Bette Davis, and began acting in small roles on Broadway, where she was approached by a talent scout for Universal Studios. When she arrived in Hollywood, Bette Davis's screen test was dismal; even so, the studio signed a contract with her and gave her parts in several movies, though they dropped her from their roster after six films in nine months.
Bette Davis' first big break came when she was chosen for a lead role in George Arliss' The Man Who Played God in 1932; this role led to a five year contract with Warner Brothers Studios. In a film called Of Human Bondage, Bette Davis played the role of an unsympathetic, aloof character — at the time, this was a rare part for a female actress. Davis would come to be associated with such roles throughout her career. In 1935, Bette Davis won her first Oscar for her role in the film, Dangerous. Another was soon to follow for her part as a selfish Southern Belle in Jezebel in 1938. At that time, she was one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood.
Though not all of Davis' films in the 1940s and 50s were successful, several were, including All About Eve, in which Davis played an aging diva. However, she came back into the public eye with her role in 1962's Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a creepy psychological thriller that pitted Davis against a long-time rival, Joan Crawford. The film is recognized today as a cult classic.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, Bette Davis appeared occasionally in stage performances, films, and television miniseries. With the release of Kim Carnes' 1981 hit, "Bette Davis Eyes," Davis became famous to a new generation. Davis passed away in 1989, following a long bout with breast cancer. The epitaph on her tombstone reads, "I did it the hard way."