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October 5, 2019

‘Indestructible:’ Bette Davis Through Photos

“I think that Bette Davis would probably be burned as a witch if she had lived two or three hundred years ago,” wrote English critic E. Arnot Robertson in 1935. “She gives the curious feeling of being charged with power which can find no ordinary outlet.”

1939. Bette Davis skimming through the morning papers in her playroom at home. Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt-LIFE.

The first person to garner ten Academy Awards nominations, the first female president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award, throughout her 60-year career, Bette Davis established quite a number of milestones herself. With 100 acting credits and a wide range of film genres, she is regarded as one of the greatest actresses in Hollywood history.

Noted for her excessive display of unsympathetic, egocentric characters, perhaps Davis’ choices of roles also reflect some parts of her life and career. She fought Warner Bros. in court. “I was fighting for good directors and good scripts.” Davis told Dick Cavett in 1971. “Literally, that’s all I cared about.” Though lost, her suit helped pave the way for Olivia de Havilland to win a similar case some years later. In an interview with Whitney Stine in 1978, Davis shared some thoughts on her widely known defiance: “I got a reputation for being difficult – a reputation that still plagues me today. But I wasn’t and I’m not. All I ever wanted – or want now – is professionalism.”

Let’s take a look back at the legendary actress through 35 vintage photographs:

1935. Warner Bros. pictures publicity photo of Bette Davis at the beach. Photo by Corbis.

1935. Bette Davis, behind the smoked glasses, goes in for ice cream cones in a heavy way when the thermometer rises in the Hollywood movie colony. Photo by Bettmann.

1935. Bette Davis and William Keighley on the set at Warner Bros. studio. Photo by Bettmann.

1940. Bette Davis  relaxing in a deckchair surrounded by autumn leaves. Photo by Silver Screen Collection.

1940. Bette Davis as Leslie Crosbie holding a smoking gun in a scene from the film 'The Letter.' Photo by Universal History Archive.

1941. Bette Davis sitting on small hassock in front of rustic fireplace in her home named Butternut. Photo by Walter Sanders-LIFE.

1942. Bette Davis wearing a veiled hat in the film 'Now Voyager.' Photo by John Kobal Foundation.

1943. Bette Davis as Sara Muller in 'Watch On The Rhine', directed by Herman Shumlin. Photo by Silver Screen Collection.

1943. Bette Davis in a scene from the film 'Old Acquaintance.' Photo by Donaldson Collection.

1947. Bette Davis seated on a wheel beneath the wing of an airplane. Photo by Loomis Dean-LIFE.

1951. Photo by Bettmann.

1951. Bette Davis wearing a strapless blue-green evening dress with a sheer stole, long white gloves, diamond necklace and earrings. Photo by Erwin Blumenfeld-Vogue.

March 1955. Marlon Brando and Bette Davis smile together backstage at the Academy Awards, Pantages Theatre, Hollywood, California. Photo by American Stock.

1955. Bette Davis as Queen Elizabeth I of England in 'The Virgin Queen.' Photo by Silver Screen Collection.

1956. Bette Davis boldly standing outside of the burning library, while fire fighters desperately trying to fight it in the motion picture, Storm Center. Photo by Loomis Dean-LIFE.

1960. Bette Davis in a black full-length skirt and white blouse. Photo by Silver Screen Collection.

1961. Bette Davis poses for a portrait in New York City. Photo by Herb Snitzer.

1963. Bette Davis laughing during Time Magazine 40th anniversary celebrations. Photo by John Loengard-LIFE.

May 1963. Bette Davis smiling, sitting at table during the traditional banquet in La Napoule, Cannes. Photo by Francois Gragnon.

1963. Bette Davis at an interview of Chard Davis for the program Reflections of Cannes. Photo by Jean Claude Pierdet.

1963. Bette Davis on 'The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.' Photo by Gerald Smith.

1967. Bette Davis poses on her front porch at her house in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Martin Mills.

November 1969. Bette Davis poses on the set of the TV show 'It Takes a Thief' filming the third season episode 'Touch of Magic.' Photo by Martin Mills.

September 1971. Bette Davis gets out from a car at Heathrow airport as she arrives from Scotland where she had been filming 'Madame Sin.' Photo by Popperfoto.

October 1975. Bette Davis performing on stage, UK. Photo by Evening Standard.

1976. Bette Davis takes advantage of a break to keep her hand in as a painter during location shooting for the film 'Burnt Offerings.' Photo by Bettmann.

1977. Bette Davis in the episode 1 of 'Laugh-In.' Photo by Gary Null.

June 1977. Bette Davis signs copies of her new album 'Miss Bette Davis' at Don Owens Celebrity Record Shop in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Ron Galella.

March 1978. Bette Davis during Publicists Guild Awards at The Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Ron Galella.

1978. Bette Davis wearing a fez for a publicity shot for 'Death on the Nile.' Photo by Silver Screen Collection.

1978. Bette Davis as Mrs. Van Schuyler in the film 'Death on the Nile.' Photo by Keith Hamshere.

1979. Bette Davis at London's Heathrow Airport before flying to New York after making a new Walt Disney film called 'Watcher in the Wood.' Photo by PA Images.

1982. Bette Davis during AFI Life Achievement Awards Dinner Honoring Frank Capra at Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. Photo by Ron Galella.

1985. Photo by LIFE.

November 1985. Bette Davis on the set of the film 'As Summers Die,' Valdosta, Georgia. Photo by Peter Carrette Archive.


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