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April 6, 2024

20 Vintage Portraits of a Young Bette Davis From the 1930s

Bette Davis (April 5, 1908 – October 6, 1989) could utter a withering line in a way that would leave anyone trembling in her wake, and over the course of her 58 years in the movie business, she had plenty of opportunity. Davis’s best characters had spines of steel. With an icy stare from those famous eyes, and a droll delivery of a poisonous barb, she’d liquify anyone who dared cross her.

Still, Davis was far more than just an iconic deliverer of devastating witticisms. From her ingénue years in Hollywood in the early 1930s she made a home for herself in melodramas, but she spanned other genres too, also appearing in comedy, horror and gangster films.

Atypically for a star of her calibre, she sought out characters who were both unglamorous and unsympathetic, and she was always fighting for more substantial parts. In 1937, frustrated at the scripts she’d been getting, she sued Warner Brothers to be let out of her contract. Though she didn’t win the legal battle, the quality of her roles soon improved, and she was rewarded with a record-breaking run of five consecutive best actress Academy Award nominations between 1939 and 1943 (she’d earn 10 nominations in total, a feat which has only been bettered by Katharine Hepburn and Meryl Streep). 

Her career after that golden period had its inevitable peaks and troughs, but Davis kept striving for projects worthy of her talent, and continued to make interesting films well into the 1980s. Her life-long quest resulted in a rich cinematic legacy, as fascinating and formidable as the woman herself. 


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