“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.