April 5, 2012

Bette Davis at home in Beverly Hills, 1939

Ruth Elizabeth "Bette" Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) was an American actress of film, television and theater. Noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters, she was highly regarded for her performances in a range of film genres, from contemporary crime melodramas to historical and period films and occasional comedies, although her greatest successes were her roles in romantic dramas.

By the time LIFE magazine put Bette Davis on its cover in January 1939, the 30-year old actress had already appeared, as a star and in supporting roles, in more than two dozen films and had won two Oscars (for 1935′s Dangerous and 1938′s Jezebel). What many fans and most critics (even those who dislike her) consider Davis’ signature work — in movies like Dark Victory, The Little Foxes and Now, Voyager — was still ahead of her, but there was no question that the Massachusetts native was one of the most electrifying movie actors of any era.

Photos: Alfred Eisenstaedt


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