"I have reached the top by dint of much clawing. I would even have killed to get it." Bette Davis (1908-1989) was gifted with great acting talent. But that wasn't enough and she knew it. She managed to reach the top thanks to her ambition and managed to stay with a lot of perseverance. That combination of talent and ambition of hers made her one of the greatest actresses of the 20th century. She maybe she the best.
She came to Hollywood very young determined to succeed after having acted in the theater. But she had no luck with the first roles of naive blonde of hers. Davis had already six films behind her and she had not just stood out. She was determined to return to the New York stage when Warners offered her a role in The Hidden Providence (John G. Adolfi, 1932). She liked her interpretation and the study signed the one who would be her future great star.
He knew right away that there were many other prettier and edgier girls, so he decided to enter a field that not everyone dared to tread: that of the bad, very bad. Her big break came with Captive of Desire (John Cromwell, 1934). Based on William Somerset Maugham's novel Human Servitude, the film featured a medical student, Leslie Howard, haunted by his limp, who meets a waitress, Mildred (Davis), and loses his temper over her. The girl responds to Howard's love with constant humiliation.
Critics celebrated the performance of Davis, who was soon given another good bad role in Dangerous (Alfred E. Green, 1935) where she became an alcoholic and unsuccessful actress who destroyed her lover, Franchot Tone, with her selfishness. Davis won her first Oscar with this film and launched into another good job, again with Leslie Howard as her partner. In The Petrified Forest (Archie Mayo, 1936) Bette and Leslie have to deal with a kidnapping gangster, Humphrey Bogart in one of his first big roles.
But not all were successes. Davis belonged to Warner Bros and the studio didn't always give him good parts. Determined to escape from that yoke, the actress fled to Canada and then sued the Warner brothers in the UK courts, but lost the case and was forced to return to Hollywood where she still had many evil to bring to life. .
The most remembered, Jezebel's Julie Marsden (William Wyler, 1938), the capricious and pampered southern heiress who loses the love of her life, Henry Fonda, because of her bad character, but who ends up redeemed and dedicated to taking care of her loved one who falls ill with yellow fever. The film brought him his second Oscar and then came two melodramas that were box office successes.
In Bitter Victory (Edmund Goulding, 1939) Davis played a girl with an incurable disease who falls in love with her doctor, George Brent. And in The Spinster (Edmund Goulding, 1939), she gave life to a woman who keeps a secret: her niece is actually her daughter, but she cannot reveal it. Miriam Hopkins was Davis's sister in the film and during filming a mythical enmity arose between the two.
Davis wasn't too worried about making enemies for life. So he, too, had a fight to the death with his next co-star, Errol Flynn, during the filming of The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (Michael Curtiz, 1939). But the puyas between Davis and Flynn did not prevent the actress from achieving one of the best performances of her characterized as a very mature Queen Elizabeth I in love with the attractive Earl of Essex.
"I have had to fight inch by inch for everything I own. My career, my home, the love of my husband... I have paid for everything in advance, with hours of devoted dedication to my desires... and now, I fight intensely to keep it. I am not easily convinced before handing over something that is mine and I live totally immersed in my determination not to give up anything that really belongs to me", confessed the ambitious Davis in an interview published in La Vanguardia at the beginning of the forties
The decade that began was the peak for the actress. She kicked off with one of her most celebrated performances, that of Leslie in The Letter (William Wyler, 1940). Based on a short story by William Somerset Maugham, the film is set in Malaysia and begins with Davis shooting a man. She kills him. She alleges that he has been in self-defense. The case is not expected to be complex... until a letter appears that incriminates Leslie.
But the most evil, selfish and unscrupulous character was yet to come. She did it in 1941 again with Wyler with The Wolf where Davis does anything for money including denying her husband, a very sick Herbert Marshall, the medicine she needs to the point of death. That behavior is punishable by her, because the woman loses her daughter whom she loves almost as much as her wealth.
Among so much evil, Davis had the opportunity to take on a touching character. In The Strange Passenger (Irving Rapper, 1942) she plays Charlotte Vale, an ugly duckling lacking self-esteem and subjugated to the wishes and orders of her mother. But thanks to therapy, the girl improves physically and emotionally and becomes a hottie who dazzles Paul Henreid during a cruise in South America.
Davis, who starred in nearly 90 movies, was lost in the late '40s in box-office melodramas, but the role of a lifetime still awaited her. From the hand of Joseph L. Mankiewicz in Naked Eve (1950) she was transformed into Margo Channing, a successful and mature actress who welcomes Eva (Anne Baxter) into her inner circle. Eva seems sweet and good, but behind her charm she hides a climber who all she wants is to snatch Margo from her throne as queen of the New York tables.
And while the 1950s started off well, Davis's star faded in movies that didn't make any money. In the early 1960s, the actress once again showed that she was capable of anything for her career. She did it with a peculiar initiative, she published an advertisement in the press demanding employment: "Mother of three children, ages 10, 11 and 15, divorced. American. Thirty years of experience as a film actress. I remain mobile; more friendly than I They say. Offered for stable job in Hollywood (Broadway experience). Bette Davis, att. Martin Baum, G.A.C. References upon request."
The announcement served for the star to once again show off her intelligence and sense of humor. Because she had just shot a new movie, in which she did not have high hopes, but which became a super success. Robert Aldrich teamed Davis with another of his archenemies, Joan Crawford, in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), a psychological horror film in which the two golden Hollywood divas played sisters locked up in a mansion. An alcoholic Bette made life impossible for Joan because she was an invalid.
After the film, Davis did not need to run any more ads. He did not miss work. He no longer had his star-studded roles, but he did make a few more movies, starred on television, and returned to Broadway to star in Tennessee Williams' Night of the Iguana. He had been married four times, widowed once and divorced three times. In September 1989 he traveled to San Sebastián to receive the Donostia award. He had cancer and did not have the strength to return to the US He stayed in the south of France where he died on October 6 at the age of 81.